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REALTORS® and Our Love-Hate Relationship with the Internet

The internet has obviously transformed our lives, but as a REALTOR®, I sometimes have this love-hate relationship with it. I love it because it saves me countless hours of time and helps me sell homes faster, but it also causes some of my clients to be upset, frustrated, and even downright angry. Sometimes that misguided anger is directed at me as if I’m personally responsible for websites like Zillow because it falls under the heading of “a real estate website”.

I’m sure back in the days prior to the internet, real estate agents had different problems, but at least they could control the flow of information on homes for sale in their local communities. Back then you pretty much had one choice if you wanted to preview homes for sale. You came into a real estate office and looked through a large binder of homes that were currently on the market. They would be categorized by area of the city and price so home buyers could sit down with their agent in the conference room and go through them together. A REALTOR® had a more hands-on approach and could communicate one-on-one together with their client. They could answer questions and give advice more efficiently. Yes, the information was sometimes dated as these binders were only updated and delivered to the various agencies once a week, but a quick phone call to the listing agent was all that was needed to make sure the home was still for sale.

I got my real estate license back in April 2005 so I’ve never known real estate sales prior to the internet. It’s certainly changed a lot in the last 14 years. In 2005 there was no Zillow or Trulia. The number one website at that time was and I remember being surprised at how few consumers actually used that website to search for homes. It was slow and clunky in its design so it was sometimes hard to navigate. There was no Facebook at that time either. Today, Facebook has become a significant tool in real estate along with many other social media websites and apps.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not wishing for “the good old days.” I love that my clients can view homes online from the comfort of their homes. More than 50% of consumers are now using their mobile devices to search for a home. I love how they can map out a handful of homes for sale and drive by them to see if they like the neighborhoods. They can get in-depth information, photos, and prices. Just think how much more time I would spend researching, touring, and showing homes if we didn’t have that instant availability. There is no way my real estate team could sell over 100 homes per year if we didn’t have the internet.

The problem lies in the monster itself. Today’s consumer wants to log into a website, punch in exact criteria, and then have it spit out a list of perfect homes for them to see. I wish it was that easy, but it’s not. Too many websites are just plain wrong. The information is missing, incorrect, or outdated. Zillow is the absolute worst about this. They now have homes on their website called “pre-foreclosures“. Every single week I get a phone call from a random consumer wanting to see this “foreclosure” that looks like the deal of the century. They are upset when they find out a “pre-foreclosure” is not actually for sale. It’s simply a homeowner that is behind on their mortgage payments. They want to know why Zillow has homes on its website that are not for sale. I typically tell them, “I’m sorry, but Zillow doesn’t consult with me about how to run their website.” I wish they would though. The first thing I’d do is remove their ridiculous “Zestimates”.

When an agent on my real estate team sits down with a home buyer, we tell them, “I’m going to punch your home criteria into the MLS. The system will automatically email you when a new home comes online. It’s actually instantaneous with no delay. This is the very best, most updated system there is, so you’ll see absolutely everything for sale that fits your criteria.

The problem is in this strong seller’s market, there just aren’t enough homes coming on the market every day. Home buyers get impatient so they go to the various online websites looking for homes. I’m sure they are thinking, “There must be something else out there. There just has to be!” They search through multiple websites hoping to see something that wasn’t on our MLS feed or any other websites. Then one day they call me or one of the agents on my team and say, “I found a home online at 7505 Sycamore Avenue for sale. It’s perfect and exactly what we’re looking for!” Unfortunately, I then have to give them the disappointing news, “That home is under contract with another buyer. It’s been under contract for two months but just hasn’t closed yet. That’s why you didn’t see it in the automated emails I set up for you.”

My agents and I were having this discussion last week and they were telling me how frustrating that is for their clients. I told them, “It was worse in the downmarket years of 2008-2012. During those years there were too many homes on the market. Because home buyers had virtually endless numbers of homes to preview online, they had a tough time making a decision. They may have had 30 homes that fit their criteria and every single day another two or three new ones would come online. Even when they found “the one” and were ready to make an offer, they hesitated out of fear that tomorrow an even better one would come along. Sometimes I just wanted to shut down the internet so they’d stop looking at homes.

Yesterday I spoke with one of our home buyers. He was pretty frustrated with all the wrong information out there on the internet. He confessed that he’s going to just stop looking online and let us find the home for him. I told him, “Tim, it may not feel like it to you, but finding the home is the easiest part of the whole process. It’s all the other stuff that’s complicated, but we are here for you every step of the way. I promise, we will find you a great home that you’re going to love.

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