Ten years ago, a search for real estate would have were only available in the office of an area real estate agent or by simply driving around town. At the agent’s office, you would spend an afternoon flipping through pages of active property listings from the neighborhood MLS (MLS). After choosing properties of interest, you’ll spend weeks touring each property and soon you found the correct one. Finding market data to help you assess the price tag would take more time and much more driving, and you still might not be able to find all of the information you had a need to get really comfortable with a good market value.

Today, most property searches start the Internet. An instant keyword search on Google by location will probably get you a large number of results. If you spot a house of interest on a real estate web site, you can typically view photos online and perhaps even have a virtual tour. After that you can check other Web sites, such as the local county assessor, to get a concept of the property’s value, see what the current owner paid for the house, check the true estate taxes, get census data, school information, and even check out what shops are within walking distance-all without leaving your house!

While the resources on the Internet are convenient and helpful, using them properly could be a challenge because of the level of information and the issue in verifying its accuracy. At the time of writing, a search of “Denver property” returned 2,670,000 Internet sites. Even a neighborhood specific seek out real estate can easily return thousands of Web sites. With so many resources online how does an investor effectively utilize them without getting bogged down or winding up with incomplete or bad information? Contrary to popular belief, understanding how the business of real estate works offline makes it easier to understand online property information and strategies.

The Business of Real Estate

Real estate is typically bought and sold either through a licensed real estate agent or directly by the owner. The vast majority is purchased and sold through real estate brokers. chester estate agents (We use “agent” and “broker” to refer to the same professional.) That is due to their property knowledge and experience and, at the very least historically, their exclusive usage of a database of active properties on the market. Access to this database of property listings provided probably the most efficient way to seek out properties.

The MLS (and CIE)

The database of residential, land, and smaller income producing properties (including some commercial properties) is commonly referred to as a mls (MLS). Generally, only properties listed by member real estate agents can be put into an MLS. The primary reason for an MLS is to enable the member realtors to make offers of compensation to other member agents should they find a buyer for a house.

This purposes didn’t include enabling the direct publishing of the MLS information to the general public; times change. Today, most MLS information is directly accessible to the general public over the Internet in lots of different forms.

Commercial property listings may also be displayed online but aggregated commercial property information is more elusive. Larger MLSs often operate a commercial information exchange (CIE). A CIE is comparable to an MLS but the agents adding the listings to the database are not required to offer any specific kind of compensation to the other members. Compensation is negotiated beyond your CIE.

Normally, for-sale-by-owner properties can’t be directly put into an MLS and CIE, which are typically maintained by REALTOR associations. The lack of a managed centralized database can make these properties more difficult to find. Traditionally, these properties are located by driving around or searching for ads in the local newspaper’s real estate listings. A more efficient solution to locate for-sale-by-owner properties would be to search for a for-sale-by-owner Web site in the geographic area.

Exactly what is a REALTOR? Sometimes the terms agent and REALTOR are employed interchangeably; however, they are not similar. A REALTOR is a licensed real estate agent who’s also a member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS. REALTORS must adhere to a strict code of ethics and conduct.

MLS and CIE property listing information was historically only available in hard copy, and as we mentioned, only directly available to realtors members of an MLS or CIE. About a decade ago, this valuable property information began to trickle out to the web. This trickle is currently a flood!

One reason is that the majority of the 1 million or so REALTORS have Web sites, & most of those Web sites have varying amounts of the local MLS or CIE property information displayed on them. Another reason is that there are several non-real estate agent Sites that also offer property information, including, for-sale-by-owner sites, foreclosure sites, regional and international listing sites, County assessor sites, and valuation and market websites. The flood of property information to the web definitely makes the information more accessible but also more confusing and at the mercy of misunderstanding and misuse.

Real Estate Agents

Despite the flood of property information on the Internet, most properties remain sold directly through realtors listing properties in the local MLS or CIE. However, those property listings do not stay local anymore. By its nature, the web is a global marketplace and local MLS and CIE listings are normally disseminated for display on many different Web sites. For instance, many visit the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS Internet site, http://www.realtor.com, also to the local real estate agent’s Web site. In addition, the listing may be displayed online site of a local newspaper. In essence, the web is just another form of marketing offered by today’s agent, but it includes a much broader reach than the old print advertising.

In addition to Internet marketing, listing agents also may help the seller establish a price, hold open houses, keep carefully the seller informed of interested buyers and offers, negotiate the contract and help with closing. When an agent provides most of these services it is known as being a full service listing arrangement. While full service listing arrangements will be the most common type of listing arrangement, they’re not the only real option anymore.

Changes in the technology behind the real estate business have caused many agents to change the way they do business. In large part, this is due to the access immediately most consumers will have to property listings along with other real estate information. Furthermore, the Internet along with other technologies have automated much of the marketing and initial searching process for property. For example, consumers can view properties online and make inquires via email. Brokers can use automated programs to send listings to consumers that match their property criteria. So, some agents now limit the services they provide and change their fees accordingly. An agent may offer to advertise the property in the MLS but only provide limited additional services. In the future, some realtors may offer services in more of an ala carte fashion.

Because of the level of real estate information on the Internet, when people hire an agent today they should consider the particular services offered by the agent and the depth of their experience and knowledge in the relevant property sector. It really is no longer just about access to property listing information. Buyers and sellers historically found agents by referrals from family and friends. The Internet now provides methods to directly find qualified agents or even to research the biography of an agent referred to you offline. One such site, AgentWorld.com, is quickly becoming the LinkedIn or Facebook for realtors. On this site an agent can personalize their profile, start a blog, post photos and videos and also create a link to their web site for free. Once unique content is put into their profile page the search engines notice!

Some have argued that the Internet makes REALTORS and the MLS less relevant. We believe this is false in the long term. It could change the role of the agent but can make knowledgeable, qualified, and professional REALTORS more relevant than ever before. In fact, the number of realtors has risen significantly recently. No wonder, the web has made local property a worldwide business. Besides, Internet or not, the easy fact remains that the purchase of real property is the largest single purchase a lot of people make within their life (or, for most investors, the largest multiple purchases over a lifetime) and they want specialist help. As for the MLS, it remains probably the most reliable source of property listing and sold information available and continues make it possible for efficient marketing of properties. So, what’s the function of all online real estate information?

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