Monday, March 06, 2006

Non-sketchy Real Estate Listings

So just for fun last night I was browsing Craigslist's apartment listings for Boston. I was reminded from back when we were looking for a new place how much I hate sketchy real estate agents. It's amazing how many posts contain no words of any descriptive value, and instead say things like "outstanding" and "blowout!" Some don't give you a location, and only say things like "five minute walk to MIT and five minute walk to Harvard." Right, only if you live near the Cambridgeport wormhole. But the new insidious trend seems to be tricking you into thinking there are pictures of the place. I only will click on a listing if it has a picture. Craigslist puts up a little "pic" next to the listing in the search results if there's an image associated with it. But a lot of them only have a graphic with the agency logo on it. They're tricking me into clicking on the listing by making me think they have a photo.

It's not at all clear to me how being deceptive is beneficial to a real estate agent, especially when they work on commission. By deceiving your potential customers, you piss them off and make them less likely to call you. If you are not descriptive of an apartment's features and don't give a location for that apartment, people are less likely to call you. And even if they do call you and you set up a showing and it's not what the people expect, you've just wasted your time with them that you could have spent on another customer.

In my opinion, online real estate listings are about at the same level of sketchiness as porn and penis enlargers. Is there a place for (or does it already exist) for community moderated listings? On every listing, you have a simple feedback option so that people who scan them can rate the postings by how informative they are. They could also report listings that don't have logos in the pictures section, don't have addresses, or are otherwise have misinformation. Then the poster can be requested to fix the posting. These ratings would be tracked for the poster, so that you could build up a recorded reputation for honest and informative listings. You would be rewarded by having your listing appear earlier in the search results. Conversely, if you build a reputation for dishonest listings, you get put at the bottom.

I'd also build in some fields so that the listing isn't entirely freestyle. Basics like number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, appliances, parking, etc. Default for each of these would be "None" so it's in the interest of the poster to choose something. You could then get into some cool multi-parameter search. You could search for a three bedroom, greater than two bathrooms, dishwasher, laundry at least in building, at least one off-street parking spot, within 30 minute drive to X location, and within a Y distance to a T stop on the Red line. Distances and times would be calculated independently of the poster. They simply provide the address. Seems like something like this would save people looking for apartments a lot of time, and it would also help agents find apartments quicker for their customers. Unless of course it puts agents out of business, which may not be such a bad thing.

8 Comments:

At 4:48 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

This is part of the driving force behind all the real-estate vertical search engines... have you seen Trulia? They are a venture-backed startup from the west coast.

 
At 5:09 PM, Blogger Dan Craig said...

I had not seen Trulia, but it's pretty cool. It's still nowhere near as functional as it could be though. I would want to search on a lot more than just price and number of bedrooms and bathrooms. In particular, I think the analysis of distance to a location (workplace) would be a valuable tool, especially if you could plot all the houses that meet your criteria on a map. You would basically be looking at the commute contour.

One of the things holding back the purchase search engines is that the Realtors Association holds tight control over their listing database. I think they correctly realize their veritable monopoly on the housing market is very much at risk.

But for apartments it could be much looser. There are a ton of people who post by owner on Craigslist. Maybe they could be won over to a better search.

 
At 5:19 PM, Blogger Dan Craig said...

If nothing else, real estate listing websites could at least look better. A lot of them look like they were created in 1995. BostonApartments.com/ is the worst.

 
At 3:24 PM, Blogger Rory said...

There are some valid reasons for the realtors to have such vague postings.

The owners/managers of the property tend to allow multiple realtors/agencies to show the same apartment, and only pay them if they actually fill the property. So if somebody is working with a realtor, and they see an apartment on craigslist posted by another realtor, they could then ask their own realtor about that address and avoid the original poster. Or they could go strait to the owner, who also may be listing the apartment without the rental fee.

Not saying I like it, but they're trying to get paid.

 
At 3:31 PM, Blogger Dan Craig said...

I still don't see how that helps anyone. The more clear a posting is, the more likely I will call on it, whether it's to the original poster or to a separate realtor. If all the realtors put up vague descriptions of a property, none of them are likely to get called about it. If one of them were to put up a clear description, I would think that guy would get more calls.

 
At 11:52 PM, Blogger Thomas said...

First off let me say that nobody hates real estate agents more than me. That being said let me throw out my theory on the current state of things.

Many real estate agents don't have good info on these apts. They have what they put up. vague descriptions about some 2 bedroom. They do intentionally leave off addresses becuase they don't want you to side step them in the process.

Also a lot of real estate agents are just throwing out something that sounds good and hoping to show you many apts. have you ever called about an apt and actually seen it.. I haven't. It is some what of a bait and switch technique.

And the most important factor is time. posting well written and catagorized/pictured entries takes time and energy that frankly they don't want to spend. They are currently and in the past had no problems getting people into apts the old way so there is no real drive to take on extra work.

The real problem you are descibing is that nobody is on your side of this thing. Realtors are scared to death about opening pandora's box of some uber-search that potentially take them out of their job. Landlords frankly don't care becuase they can just list with a broker and get the place filled with no effort or cost to them. Who are the search engines going to charge (remember all of this comes back to who can make a buck) the landlords? I doubt you can sell that one. the searchers? perhaps and there is a pretty good search for pay thing for NYC (which apparently is in legal battles with brokers now).

So really until you find a way to make a buck or make it completly effortless for landlords this will be a hard thing to get off the ground

 
At 2:08 PM, Blogger Anthony said...

Not entirely correct there Irish. Landlords/owners need to actually pay realtors fees to get their places filled. They pay the realtor to fill the place and you pay the realtor to find the place. There is a niche here for a search engine/website to come in and do the same thing, more efficiently, for less money -- i.e. the landlords don't pay as much to get their place filled and you don't pay as much for a finder's fee.

The real issue is that real-estate is still too much of a people oriented business. The landlord trusts certain realtors to show his place, people want to talk to a person instead of looking at a website (realizing most people aren't like us), etc. Same reason most people still don't buy cars, shoes, etc. online -- an apartment is just a more extreme example of that.

Transparency will eventually drive down fees in this market as it does in every market -- the question is whether that will be in the form of a searchable website or a realtor that isn't a complete DB.

 
At 4:49 PM, Blogger El Jefe said...

I just want to say that this is one of those many cases when jerks like me point out how much more advanced the New York market is compared to Boston (and, by association, everywhere else). In New York, the prevalence of higher-end product leads to a) a class of less-sketchy (relative term only) brokers and b) rental companies that maintain their own sites. The offshoot of this is while, like the drunk guy said, you are still unlikely the rent the ACTUAL apartment you saw on the instaweb, you can hopefully either find a decent broker or go straight to the rental company, which will save you some $$$. Or, a sketchy company, let's call them Shiti-Habitats, can trick you into talking to them because they have a decent website and some exclusive listings. Maybe New York isn't better than everywhere else...

 

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