It used to be simple(er).
When I first became licensed (1993), things were far different than they are today. Back then, if you wanted to know what homes were available for sale, you used to have to wait for the Richmond Association of Realtors to deliver the ‘MLS Book.’ Each Friday, our local Multiple Listing Service would deliver us a stack of MLS books, approximately the size of phone books (I am not making this up) every Friday afternoon to each and every office in the Metro. As an agent, you would thumb through the pages and make copies and fax them to people or (GASP!) hop on the landline phone and call clients to tell them about the latest and greatest property for sale.
No text. No e mail. No cloud. No Authentisign. No DropBox. Just a phone book in black and white with a picture of the front of the house. That is all you got to go on. Good luck.
You know what? We got it done.
Access. Access. Access.
Fast forward to today and I now have access to MLS via desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet. I also have online access to the City and County tax records for assessments, past sales or other searches. From MLS, I can download bunches of records and export them to a spreadsheet to help with analysis, or I can also use one of the numerous functions inside of MLS to see trends and find neighborhood highs and lows. If I am too lazy to analyze my own info, I can have it spoon fed to me by a myriad of statistical services that can slice, dice, merge and layer sales and demographic data into neat little charts and graphs.
Outside of MLS, I can look at Zillow’s estimates of value (as well as about 20 other automated value estimates) and gobs of research from Case Shiller or the NAR. And all of this info is available to me BEFORE I ever type anything into the Google bar and see what I can find out there floating in the web, on blogs or in research papers.
On one hand, it makes wonder how we ever did our job before all of this information was available. And on the other hand, it makes me wonder what is coming next … but that is another post for another day.
Easy as 1, 2, 3 … 4, 5, 6, 9, 37, 142, 359 … Wait, this is Hard!
The relative ease at which we can all access information is, in my opinion, the signature development in the last decade. So it would stand to reason that with all of this access, being an agent, buyer or seller should be easier than ever … but is it?
I don’t think so.
Simply put, with access to an almost unlimited amount of information, it is getting incredibly difficult to tell what data is meaningful, what data matters and most importantly, what it all means.
Look at the chart above … does it really tell you anything?
As a buyer, should I care that the 2nd Quarter’s sales of 1,800 – 2,000 SF homes in 23832 is 11.1% above the same quarter last year? Or down 35.2% from the previous quarter? What do I do with these facts? Should it change my strategy? Does it make my offer lower?? Should I rent??? Should I pay cash???? Should I move to Canada????? Or should I just paint my house mauve and fuchsia and stay put …
What Do I Do Differently?
As an agent, it now takes me about 3 times as long to explain my role than it did in 1993 … that’s all that has really changed. I still do the same basic things, it just takes me far longer to explain it than it used to and thus I have about 20 new speeches to help people make sense of the process.
Here are a sample of my new speeches –
- ‘Why isn’t this house for sale in MLS when I see it on Trulia?’ (Answer – Trulia is not MLS)
- ‘Why is the house for sale on Trulia but not in MLS?’ (Answer, Again, Trulia is not MLS)
- ‘Why is some other agent’s picture next to my home on Yahoo Real Estate when it is your listing?’ (Answer – because Yahoo isn’t MLS, either)
- ‘Why can I get a 3.9% mortgage from USAA when the lender you recommended is at 4.25%?’ (Answer – because closing dates don’t mean anything to them)
- ‘Why does Zillow say my house is worth $375,000 when I just paid $400,000 last year?’ speech (Answer – Because it is a computer generated estimate)
- ‘What do you mean we aren’t closing Friday?!?’ (Answer – Because Dodd-Frank/TRID just mandated a 3 day wait period for changes to closing statements)
And many more.
My Job is Still the Same
The bottom line is that all of the changes in the past decade haven’t really changed what I do, it has only changed how many things I have to cover with my clients before they understand the process.
And guess what – the public is more confused than ever before.
A recent study showed that the number of people using agents has actually increased in the past 5 years. So despite the relative ubiquity of information with blogs and message boards explaining the home buying (or selling) process in great detail, the public is entrusting their real estate transactions to Realtors at increasing levels. I find this trend both fascinating and refreshing.
At the end of the day, having information and knowing what it means are two different things. A good agent knows the difference and can help you make sense of an increasingly complex and complicated process.
Its our job to make sense of it all. Use us.