If you’ve bought or sold a house in the last 10 years, you know that there is an abundance of searchable real estate information out there. Real estate sites are designed with features meant to attract people who need to be technologically wowed, and they tend to do just that.
But what exactly are those features?
What do they mean?
How can they help you?
That’s the problem. If they don’t mean anything, then they can’t help people.
This article is aimed at helping you by bestowing some meaning on what you’re seeing when you search online. Because not all sites are created equal.
The terms you need to know are as follows:
MLS stands for Multiple Listing Service. These are localized listings that can be accessed by Realtors or through the help of a Realtor and they are the most accurate, up to date, and complete. The accuracy and timeliness is guarded by about 40 pages of rules and regulations — and stiff fines/suspension for those who don’t abide by the guidelines.
An MLS is not open website, but buyers and sellers, when represented, can access that database through a Client Portal, something that only a licensed Realtor and member of the local MLS can provide.
Now, as a professional database, it is not designed with the same user experience and Trulia or Zillow, and thus the reason that the public tends to default to the use of those sites. But for the serious buyer or seller, access to all of the info and in real time, makes MLS the best choice, even if the user interface in the Client Portal may be a bit clunky.
IDX (Internet Data eXchange) is the actual feed of data on properties that are ‘for sale.’ The data comes from MLS, so it’s reliable, and for the public, IDX is the best mix of unfettered access and accuracy.
If you’re looking at a broker or agent website, it probably features the IDX feed. Other than being a little slow—maybe a day or two behind any MLS changes—the IDX feed is really powerful data and a great way to search.
An important note is that the IDX feed does NOT include closed sales so if you are doing pricing research, having accurate data on recent sales is what is required. You cannot get that from the IDX feed.
Now, of course you know sites like Trulia and Zillow, yes? These are what we call aggregators or portals. They do NOT get their data directly from MLS, which is why you really need to be careful with these kinds of sites. The rules that guide their data collection are less rigid (ok — nonexistent) which means what you’re getting may be incorrect or delayed information. That means that you’re not going to be seeing the most recent data and you may not get a good idea of the market.
It’s also important to note that aggregators sell advertising, and that’s going to influence which properties you see and in which order. So your attention is continuously diverted from what you may want or need, to the homes (or agents!) that have the most advertising money behind them.
Each of these types of sites have a purpose, and one or another might suite your needs, depending on your personal situation. But it’s important you understand the difference so you can pick the right tool for you and ensure you make the best decision possible when it comes to your home.