Have you ever wondered about the way town listings appear on your screen when you search for houses for sale through one of the search engines? If you have already found a local Realtor’s® website (like this one!), it’s easy to search the local listings right from that site without bothering further. You’ll come up with the most current accurate information because it represents direct updated information from our town’s multiple listing service.
But whenever you go searching for area listings through Google, Bing, or any of the other search engines (there are scads of them), you will see that what comes up will be quite different. You may find individual house listings, alternating with real estate agency home pages, mixed in with aggregators like Zillow and real estate magazine ads. Depending upon which search engine and the way you phrase your inquiry, you might actually come up with an interesting listing…or one that’s peculiarly inappropriate—like a listing from another town or state—or one that’s been out of date for months.
There are reasons for such disorder. They have to do with a historical scramble that has been going on ever since computers and the web started making house-hunting something you could do from your own living room. The logical first stage came about rapidly, as local realtors everywhere started putting their listings on their websites, then working out the technical details to allow the whole area’s MLS listings to appear.
Then came the original aggregators: Trulia, Zillow, Realtor.com—the deep-pocketed media companies that worked out ways to combine web data from all over to make listings into one gigantic national database. Except for house-hunters who weren’t set on moving to a particular area, the advantage to nationalizing the listings did not really go to the consumer—it went to the aggregators (also called ‘syndicators’). Since they could offer their information to a nation-sized audience, they could afford nation-sized advertising budgets to attract more views. Since they got more views, the search engines automatically found them to be ‘more popular’ than mere local agency sites, so their listings moved to the top of the search engine results pages.
It was a self-perpetuating cycle, especially once the aggregators started selling ‘spaces’ for local listings back to my colleagues, who were watching their own sites lose out in the race to attract web searchers. The aggregators were actually charging real estate agents to place their own listings on the aggregators’ pages! Realtors did not see the humor in this—and there are some ongoing legal challenges to illustrate their lack of appreciation.
The reason that this makes a difference to you, the, is that the original purpose of the big aggregators was to make searching easier for you, the town homeowner or listing searcher. One problem is that keeping listing data current and error-free has always been a problem for anyone with a nation-wide database to administer. Another is that data from other sources (like Craigslist ads) has been known to appear mixed in with verified listings. Since their authenticity is a sometimes thing, that can be downright misleading.
The upshot is that for serious house hunters, the best place to look for local listings is right here, on a site like mine—where I have a daily local connection with the properties that appear. Then, when you find the homes that look like they could be what you are looking for, all that’s left is to give me a call!