In 1975 (just like today), real estate brokers in the Ukiah Valley belonged to a local association called the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) to share information about properties they were trying to sell. This is back when houses in Oak Manor sold for about $30,000 and today’s Ukiah High School on Low Gap Road wasn’t built yet.
When a Realtor secured a new listing, he or she would type up the pertinent information about the property (location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, etc.) and then share that information with the MLS office. There, the information was reduced to a half-sheet of paper using what would now be considered an antique device—a mimeograph. Those of you who have been around awhile may remember mimeographs from your elementary school days.
Information was carefully typed onto a master copy, of which there was only one. To create the master copy, you punched letter-shaped holes into the paper. Once completed, it was put on a drum saturated with ink. When the drum turned, the ink came through the holes and created copies of the original form. Mimeograph copies of each listing were created for every Realtor. The mimeograph required a whole room of its own in the MLS office. The room was about 15-feet square and everything in it was coated with varying amounts of ink dust.
Each week every Realtor received a packet of all the new listings—typos and all. To keep track of the properties for sale, Realtors filed each mimeograph copy in their 18-ring binders. Then, as now, the housing market changed constantly. Listing agents would have price changes. Sellers would decide to take their properties off the market. Houses would go into escrow and fall out of escrow. All that information was reported to MLS to be distributed the following week. Then Realtors (or their assistants) updated their MLS binders, pulling out sold properties and keeping them in a shoebox to use when determining pricing for future listings. They manually crossed out the old price and wrote the new one on the MLS listing form for that property. They noted any status changes by painstakingly going through the binder, finding the listing form, and handwriting the change.
Believe it or not, as I’m working on this column, I’m looking at my MLS binder from 1975. There was a property for sale on Pomo Drive in Oak Manor—a four-bedroom, two-bath house with a two-car garage—for a whopping $36,000. It would probably go for $375,000-$400,000 today.
In 1976, I was able to convince the MLS finance committee and board of directors to discard the mimeograph in favor of a photocopier. It was incredibly expensive, costing $5,000 at a time when houses were selling for $30,000. In today’s dollars, that photocopier would be about $25,000. Ultimately it paid for itself by requiring far less office space and fewer hours of staff time. It took ten minutes instead of all day to prepare the MLS listing information for all the agents. The binder was replaced by a bound book shortly thereafter.
Fast-forward to the mid-1980s and computers arrived, revolutionizing real estate. We could take “dumb terminals” to a client’s house and upload information about the new listing directly to the MLS database and a printer using a landline telephone hooked up to a coupler as a modem for the lowest-speed connection you can imagine.
In today’s world, we upload detailed information with pictures and sometimes video for listings, and within moments, other Realtors have instant access to it. If I want details about a listing I happen to drive by, I can park my car and pull out my phone—and say “Hey, Google.”
If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 40 years.