The Multiple Listing Service – Then and Now

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 rselzer@selzerrealty.com 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.

 

The Ethics of Realtors

I’ve talked in the past about all the ways real estate agents can help you, but I thought it is time to revisit this, and to share the reason I’d choose a realtor over a real estate agent who chooses not to be a realtor.

On the selling side, a real estate agent will assess your property to determine its market value and bring to light any issues that make it stand out (positive or negative). They advertise your property locally, online, and via the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), reaching thousands of potential buyers. Real estate agents are also connected to other real estate professionals and can share information about your home via those relationships.

On the buying side, realtors can act as a buffer between you and a homeowner, so you don’t tip your hand. In negotiations, it pays to have a representative on your side. When realtors communicate, they act as independent parties, providing you with information without giving away your position. (This is true whether you’re a buyer or seller.)

If you’re a buyer, realtors can save you a ton of time. As long as you are clear and specific about your needs, a realtor can filter through all the properties for sale so you only see ones of interest to you. And realtors are likely to hear of properties coming on the market before the general public, putting you in a position to know sooner.

Remember, it is in a real estate agent’sbest interest to help you meet your goal. They only get paid if you get what you want – a completed transaction. Licensed real estate agents have a fiduciary responsibility to deal honestly and in the best interest of the principal (you).  This is not just an ethical responsibility, but a legal one. Real estate agents must follow your instructions unless your instructions are illegal or “patently frivolous.” But as long as you are reasonable, your agent must represent you according to your wishes.

A realtor is a real estate agent who is a member of their local realtor association (affiliating them with their state and national associations). So in addition to a wealth of industry expertise, realtors adhere to a strict code of ethics and standards of practice, higher than those mandated by law.

Specifically, in addition to being ethically bound to adhere to real estate law, realtors are ethically bound to act in ways that put your needs before their own. Let’s say you receive two offers when trying to sell your house, and one is $10,000 higher than the other but comes with conditions that may risk or lengthen the transaction. A realtor is ethically bound to share the whole truth with you and make a recommendation that benefits you. A higher selling price would mean a better commission for the realtor, but the lower price may work better for you, and the realtor must share the pros and cons clearly and honestly. realtors don’t make decisions for you, but rather help you by sharing information and expertise.

It is my strong belief that everyone, regardless of their industry, gets paid based on the problems they solve. In real estate, it is the blend of attentive and ethical service with industry knowledge and experience that allow commission-based realtors to thrive. If you’re not sure whether your agent is a realtor, simply ask (or look at his or her business card). And to find a realtor you’ll be happy with, ask friends and neighbors for their recommendations. Cream rises to the top, and good realtors do, too.

If you have questions about real estate or property management, please contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit www.realtyworldselzer.com. If I use your suggestion in a column, I’ll send you’re 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 35 years.

 

Choosing the Right Neighborhood in 2014

People often spend a lot of time thinking about the house they want to live in, but not as much time considering the neighborhood. Here are some important questions to consider before making an offer on a house. Since the answers to these questions are different for different people, I’ll just pose the questions and let you answer them in a way that’s right for you. They aren’t in any particular order for the same reason; depending on where you are in your life, different issues may matter more.

What’s Your Relationship to Transportation?

If you use public transportation or prefer to walk rather than drive, you’ll want to make sure your house is close to an MTA bus stop and/or within walking distance of work, schools, shopping, and other services. Read this as “older Westside Ukiah.” If you commute to work, you’ll probably prefer quick access to the freeway, rather than having to traverse a country road out to a rural property at the end of a long day. Read this as “Potter Valley.”

How Important is Privacy?

For some, privacy is paramount. If you want to live somewhere private, you may require a more rural property with fewer neighbors. In addition to the quiet, it may be nice to be just far enough away from town, somewhere your mother-in-law won’t be tempted to stop by without calling.

Are Kids a Blessing or a Curse?

If you have children, you may be looking for a neighborhood with other families who have children roughly the same age. Look for basketball hoops, bikes, or a swing set in the yard to indicate what age neighborhood kids might be. Having a school nearby might be really convenient. On the other hand, if you’re retired and enjoy peace and quiet, you may not care to have 427 eighth graders walk past your house every afternoon or the neighbor’s teenager practice with his garage band late into the night.

What Does “Convenient” Mean to You?

If you want to be able to run to the grocery store in ten minutes, you’ll need to find a neighborhood close to town. If you want to be able to go for a hike in the woods by walking out of your back door, your choices about where to live will be more limited. You may want to locate close to a park or golf course, or not. Keep in mind, sometimes large events take place in parks; you may not want to hear the Concerts in the Park on a warm summer evening. Or, near the golf course, you may not want to wake to “FORE” bright and early on a weekend morning.

And Now For Your House

Once you’ve picked a neighborhood, it’s time to start thinking about a house that will fit your needs. How many beds and baths do you need today? How many are you likely to need in the next several years? Are you starting a family or a business that will require extra space? Are kids going off to college soon?

Are you an avid gardener who wants to vacation in your yard by replanting annuals every spring or would you like that tastefully done rock garden? Do you need room to build raised planters for veggies or will you use a frequent flyer pass to the Farmers’ Market?

Are you a handyman or woman when it comes to restoring this fixer upper, or do you need a house that’s been recently redone? Do you need a mother-in-law unit or just separate living areas under the same roof? Is the home Fido-friendly? Does it have a fenced yard? Do you want one story or two?

Trust me, you won’t find a home that meets all your needs so you need to make a prioritized list, and be clear about what you want versus what you need. Be sure to be honest with yourself, and to share this list with your realtor. He or she knows neighborhoods and houses, and can scour the Multiple Listing Service offerings to make sure you find what you’re looking for.

Just a quick reminder about tomorrow’s “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” fundraiser and awareness raiser for Project Sanctuary. I’ve done this. You don’t have to walk a whole mile in heels, but more like 30 minutes (long enough). Learn more by visiting the Project Sanctuary website (www.projectsanctuary.org) or by calling the office at 462-9619.

Next time I’ll write about rules for renters. If there’s something you would like me to write about or if you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit our website at www.realtyworldselzer.com. If you make a suggestion I use, I’ll send you a $5.00 gift card to Schat’s Bakery & Café. 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 35 years.

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How to Hire a REALTOR: 4 Simple Questions

A few months back, I wrote about why you should consider hiring a realtor if you plan to buy or sell a home. What I neglected to mention was how to hire a realtor. Like anything, if you’ve never done it before, it’s hard to be an expert out of the gate.

Briefly, here’s a reminder on why to hire a realtor.

  1. Licensed real estate agents have a fiduciary responsibility to deal honestly and in the best interest of the principal (you) — this is not just an ethical responsibility, it’s a legal one.
  2. Win-Win. It’s in your realtor’s best interest to help you meet your goal, because realtors only get paid if you get what you want – a completed transaction.
  3. realtors know their stuff and can save you time and money. Just ask people in the industry, because they hire realtors.  Even lenders and people in related industries with the knowledge to do the work themselves feel it’s worthwhile to hire realtors. To the extreme, when I want to list or buy property I use a realtor other than myself.

So, how can you pick a good realtor? First, talk to your friends and neighbors to find out whom they’ve used and would recommend—and maybe more importantly whether there is anyone they would not recommend. Ask your insurance agent, your accountant, your attorney and your local banker, too. These professionals understand the economics of real estate and are likely to have a valuable opinion on the subject.

The realtor you ultimately choose to engage in a business relationship needs to be someone with whom you can have a personal relationship. It’s critically important that your search not be a popularity contest, because we’re talking about dealing with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Before you pick up the phone to talk to any of the potential realtors on your list, make sure they have integrity, a good reputation, and are well connected to all kinds of information. By the end of the interview, you should be really comfortable (hopefully even impressed) with answers to these questions.

  1. Does their communication style work for you? Do they use all the communication tools you like (e.g., cell phone, text, email, even that old fashioned standby face-to-face)? Are they available on weekends or during evenings? How long do they usually take to respond to questions?
  2. Do they have the expertise to meet your needs? When measuring expertise, pay attention to years and type of experience, as well as professional designations as realtor (instead of simply real estate agent). Some realtors even have additional education like GRI (Graduate, Realtor Institute) or CRS (Certified Residential Specialist).
  3. Do they have the capacity to take you on as a client? Although the agent may have wonderful credentials, it is important to find out about their current workload. Can they give you the time and attention you need to buy or sell a property on your timeline?
  4. Do they have the technical tools to do the job right? In this world of constant communication and electronic marketplaces, can your realtor excel? Do they or their company have a mobile app? Website? Blog? Access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS)? Franchise affiliation with impressive online networks?

In addition to answering all these questions to your satisfaction, was the realtor organized? If you plan to list your house for sale, did the realtor come with a marketing plan, a market value analysis of your property, and information about themselves and their company? If you want to buy a home, did the realtor review prospective contracts and walk you through what to expect at each point in the buying process?

If you responded positively to all these questions, you’re probably in great shape. When it’s all said and done, the realtor you choose should be someone you trust and get along with, and someone who has the expertise, capacity, and company support to accomplish your objectives.

Next time I’ll write about how to hire a lender. If there’s something you would like me to write about or if you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit our website at www.realtyworldselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 35 years.

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What is this “MLS” everyone’s talking about?

I’ve referred to the MLS in previous blogs, but I don’t know that I’ve explained what it is and why it’s so valuable, so here you go.

MLS stands for Multiple Listing Service, and it is a system whereby real estate agents in a specific geographic area share information about all the properties for sale (“listings”). Access to the MLS is restricted to real estate brokers, and by extension the agents that work for them.

For each property, the MLS includes address, photos, price, detailed descriptions, disclosures, access information (so the realtor can show the property), and more. The information’s available online and, ideally, offers everything a person would need to make a decision about whether to buy.

The MLS can also be used to match buyers with their ideal property by entering a wish list. The system will automatically inform potential buyers when a property matches their list.

In my opinion, your real estate agent must be a member of their local MLS to provide you with the service you deserve. Without the MLS, they’re working in the dark – offering you a narrower set of choices than you’d get with a realtor who checks the MLS regularly for updates. In addition to listings, the MLS also includes data about recent sales, so your realtor can accurately assess the fair market value of your home or the home you’d like to buy.

In the last year or so, some private listing services have tried to compete with the MLS. Within a region, a small number of offices have opted out of MLS and chosen only to share with each other. I really feel this is a disservice to the buyer and seller. Candidly, I see no advantage to these private programs because the MLS, when used as designed, provides the most information to the broadest audience. Also, with the traditional MLS, rules and a strict code of ethics have been designed to improve the relationship among all parties to make the entire transaction smoother and easier.

The MLS also feeds public and governmental online listing services. So, while brokers are the only ones who access the MLS, their willingness to enter all that data allows public sites like trulia.com, zillow.com, and realtor.com to be populated. “For Sale By Owner” (also known as FSBO) properties are not on the MLS, but nearly all other properties are.

A note of caution when listing your home: if you’ve upgraded your home without the appropriate permits, government databases fed by the MLS may give you away. If the county has your property listed as a house with three bedrooms and one bath, but you are selling a three-bedroom, twobath house, flags may go up.

Next time I’ll write about why I’m optimistic about the housing market. If there’s something you’d like me to write about or if you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit our website at www.realtyworldselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who’s been in the business for more than 30 years.

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What to Expect from a Real Estate Agent

For those of you who may not have noticed, the real estate market has changed recently. Prices are up, inventory is down, and buyers outnumber sellers. This makes it a seller’s market. Buyers are in the market because rates are still at historic lows (and have only one way to go in the future). Prices are still affordable, and the economy is looking stronger. If you are thinking of selling in the near future, you should consider starting right now.

Whether you’re thinking of buying or selling, the question is whether to employ a real estate agent to help you. Are they expensive? What do they do for you, exactly?

To answer those questions, I thought I’d define a real estate agent’s legal obligations, as well as the difference between a real estate agent and a realtor®. All realtors are real estate agents, but not all agents are realtors.

Licensed real estate agents have a fiduciary responsibility to deal honestly and in the best interest of the principal (you) — this is not just an ethical responsibility, but a legal one. Real estate agents must follow your instructions unless they are “patently frivolous.” But, as long as you are reasonable, your agent must represent you according to your wishes.

A realtor is a real estate agent who is a member of their local realtor association (which also affiliates them with their state and national associations). So, in addition to being well trained, realtors adhere to a strict code of ethics and standards of practice, higher than those mandated by law. Membership in the associations also makes it easier for realtors to stay up to date with the latest legal issues. The question remains, should I hire a realtor to help me buy or sell a house? I’d say yes, and here’s why.

First, it is in a realtor’s best interest to help you meet your goal. realtors only get paid if you get what you want – if you complete a buying or selling transaction.

Second, people in the real estate industry hire realtors – brokers and lenders with the knowledge to do the work themselves. They know the value of a good realtor. It’s kind of like when you find out your doctor goes to a specialist when he needs one. Don’t you want to do the same?

On the selling side, a realtor will assess your property to determine its market value and bring to light any issues that make it unusual (e.g., is it in a flood plain? Does it have historic value?). realtors advertise your property locally, online, and via the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), reaching thousands of potential buyers. realtors are also connected to other real estate professionals and can share information about your home via those relationships. And, the realtor doesn’t make a dime unless your house sells. As a mater of fact, they spend time and money marketing your property on the prospect of collecting a fee when it sells.

On the buying side, realtors can act as a buffer between you and a homeowner, so you don’t tip your hand. In negotiations, he who speaks first loses. However, if realtors communicate, they may act as independent parties, providing you with information without giving away your position. (This is true whether you’re a buyer or seller.)

If you’re a buyer, realtors can save you a ton of time. As long as you are clear and specific about your needs, a realtor can filter through all the properties for sale so you only see ones of interest to you. Also, realtors are likely to hear of properties coming on the market before the general public, putting you in a position to know sooner.

The idea of saving money with a For Sale By Owner (FSBO) isn’t really accurate. From a seller’s perspective, unless you’re a marketing genius, your property just won’t get the same exposure it would with a realtor. And, advertising can get expensive. If you are not well versed in real estate law, mistakes can also be very costly. Not surprisingly, most FSBO homes end up being listed with a realtor.

On the buyer’s side, you do all the work and receive none of the benefits of an agent. Without a realtor, you may not know what’s for sale or what legal rights you have, what sellers should provide and/or pay for, or other legal issues. And, real estate contracts have a lot of details. If you aren’t familiar with them, you may agree to things you shouldn’t.

Whether you are buying or selling a home, if you have a smart phone you can download a free app that will give you a lot of information about what’s for sale. Text “Selzer” to 87778 and you’ll be sent a link to an app that uses your location to identify all properties in the MLS (not just Realty World listings). It also offers recent sales so you can compare your property to others.

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