Launching the latest and greatest real estate search engine seems to be the new dot com venture. It feels like every time I turn around Inman News is sending me a list of newly launched search engines targeted at the eyes of would-be home shoppers. The latest email alert on August 8th was an article titled, “20 Online Real Estate Sites You Don’t Know About… But Should”.

That’s great I thought. Add that to the 1000+ other real estate search engines and you realize that all this information is a giant step backward—not forward.

Consumers want to be able to do their own legwork—like when I’m looking for a car. I peruse all of the available models on-line, run a compare search, limit it to a few possibilities then go visit the showroom. People looking for a home want the same information and once their interest is piqued, they want to see some homes in person.

One good search engine could do that just fine; one that has all of the available homes for sale in the area they’re searching, offers interactive mapping (with aerial views), and while we’re at it a comparison page, a place to save your viewed properties, and just to add more value a list of homes that recently sold nearby.

Our local Multiple Listing Service offers only a few of these features. It does provide for the most current and accurate information on listings listed by local cooperating brokers. And albeit a small fraction of the inventory, what it lacks is for-sale by owner properties. It also lacks many of the trick features these mashed-up web pages offer like property comparisons and a personal profile to store past searches.

What the MLS’s need to do is step-up to the plate and provide more information to the consumer. No consumer wants to search ten different web pages to get the entire inventory and most consumers don’t need a national database of homes for sale. Typically, buyers have narrowed down their search radius to a few miles and boasting of a national database of homes for sale seems more about bragging rights than valuable information.

Will any of these search engines put Joe real estate agent out of business? They had better hope they don’t. Because what they are offering is essentially a data feed and interface—and without real estate agents actually in-putting data into the MLS—which is in turn fed into the secondary web search market—there would be little inventory to view.

Imagine every seller uploading their own data. First, they’d have to make sure they hit all 1000+ search engines since there would be no centralized database to draw from. Second, who would police this data for accuracy, timeliness and authenticity? What about confidential information—how would that be handled? When a home is vacant should the seller input “we’re going on vacation so show our home anytime” on the internet? What type of lock boxes would a seller use and if so would they put the combination on the internet along with their home phone number for showings?

Don’t get me wrong. I love web sites like Zillow who offer fun interactive tools that make home buying more interesting. Let’s face it they have cool maps and fun algorithms and I enjoy looking at them to see the values they come up with. But they aren’t a substitute for people in the trenches gathering data at street level and reporting back to the Mother ship.

I’d like to see a web site that had all the features the consumer wants—then sell it to the local real estate boards since they can’t seem to think of these ideas on their own.

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