Contact a Local Expert – Your go-to source, boots on the ground
The big three online housing search engines Zillow.com, Trulia.com, and Realtor.com get the lion’s share of the attention from house-hunters looking for answers to their housing needs, but they all lack one key ingredient – local context. While the home listing information and photos are presented in a slick, tech-savvy interface, they do not come with much local insight about conditions on the ground. The listings from these national syndicators are kind of suspended in a sort of vacuum, and do not contain relevant details about the community. For that, you need to make sure you track down information from a local realtor, who can help you uncover key aspects about the community, such as information about homeowners associations, flood zones, and upcoming school zone changes. Often times, the most significant issues that can affect property values in some neighborhoods are still in the planning stages. Whether it is a new highway extension, like I-526, or new grocery stores like Whole Foods, the real-time nexus of local intel can affect the future desirability of a home, and therefore your interest.
For many folks, this process of discovery is a time-consuming dance between web sites to find out what is going on locally. Occasionally buyers don’t find things out til they get on the road first hand. Driving around can sometimes result in a massive let down, when for instance, you find out on your house tour that the beautiful Arts & Crafts cottage that you came across on Zillow and were beginning to fall in love with was actually situated in a smell-zone. The picturesque setting described in the listing notes was now marred by the sulfur fumes wafting over the street from the local mill.
It is possible to avoid this kind of obvious deal breaking letdown by going to the local expert, the guy who can help you avoid wasting your precious time.
Fortunately the public does have access to legitimate listing information. Individual realtors and real estate brokers have access to Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data feeds. The individual agents and local real estate brokers publish those MLS data feeds directly to their websites with the help of IDX and RETS service providers. The information on these individual agent and local brokerage websites is more timely and accurate than that of Zillow or Trulia. More importantly realtors who do not comply with the MLS rules can either be fined or potentially lose their MLS service. There is no such incentive for the listing aggregators like Zillow or Trulia.
In the Charleston area, there are many websites that solely display information published by the local MLS and often with local context and neighborhood data that doesn’t appear on sites like Zillow. They are operated by individual, dues-paying members of the Charleston Trident Multiple Listing Service, and are straightforward sources of listings without the noise and clutter of invasive and distracting commercial advertisements.
These local websites are also established by folks that, unlike Zillow and Trulia, have a vested interest in playing by the rules. The Charleston Trident Multiple Listing Service requires that it’s member agents abide by strict standards that are meant to protect the public and the reputations of it’s member realtors. If inaccurate information makes its way onto a listing, the local MLS member has two business days to clear it up or face sanction. To address the potential for outdated listings, local realtors must update the status of their listings with the MLS within 48 hours after an offer is accepted from a potential buyer, and must mark them as either contingent or pending. In addition to state law, realtors must follow a strict set of rules with regard to MLS listings and advertising, and are subject to a variety of sanctions and fines up to $15,000 for violations. There are no such rules or consequences for Zillow, Trulia and Hotpads.com.
In As always, caveat emptor.
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Realtor, Dunes Properties, Member of the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors,