MLS Data Accuracy – Should We Care?


I hope the obvious answer to the question cited in the subject line is a resounding yes! Perhaps a better way to address the topic is to ask how much should we be concerned with MLS data integrity? But first, let me digress.

In my former life’s work, and also being afflicted with an engineering background, I spent a good deal of time analyzing data in search of trends and in support of business decisions. Would you think that this is a transferable skill to the land of residential real estate? My goal is not to become bogged down in statistics and data, but to be able to support buyers and sellers with “numbers” to validate their “emotional” purchase and sales transactions. Statistics have a place in the process but will never replace the emotional elements in the transaction. MLS data integrity also has a significant impact in the daily property searches we all execute. Let me paint the backdrop for this discussion.

If you are frequent visitors to The San Diego Home Blog, you will recall many a post from Steve and Kris reflecting on a previous month’s/year’s sales activities or a particular market segment trend. They tend to stay at a macro level and ignore some of the gnats buzzing around my head! I find myself periodically downloading MLS data either to confirm my predisposition towards a perceived trend or just trying to collect data on a new neighborhood or condo complex that a client is exploring. Most recently, while downloading 2007 transaction data, I came face to face with the data base integrity issue to the point of making the effort akin to placing needles under my fingernails. After many a download, I have yet to experience the pleasure of an accurate data set. The inaccuracies come in many flavors, and I find some of the errors are unintentional but unfortunately many are surely intentional. From my list of “favorites”:

• No estimated square footage for the home – could it be that this is a very small home and my list price is rather high? Why not use the data in the public records, or data from a recent appraisal, builder’s brochure info, or homeowner’s records?
• No lot square footage – most often this omission is found on homes where the lot size is quite small, and also a matter of public record (I willingly concede that not all lot sizes are included in our beloved data base). So as a listing agent let’s just assume that nobody on the other side of this transaction will be smart enough to figure out that this lovely home is on a postage stamp size lot!
• No complex name (condo/townhome development) – Am I an out of area agent and all I know is that the property is located somewhere in a given city? I’ve driven by the monument with the complex name on it but it hasn’t quite sunk in. I wear a clever disguise and promote myself as your neighborhood specialist.
• No subdivision listed (single family detached listing) – see above; in many cases we see the name of the city, or perhaps the subdivision listed in Here you thought you lived in the Renaissance subdivision of Scripps Ranch and now you read your listing only to find out that you really live in McMillin Scripps 03 Unit 05. Welcome home! It will just be a little more challenging for the buyer’s agent to find your listing if they are doing an MLS search based upon the subdivision field.

As a buyer’s agent I find it challenging to set up custom searches for clients given the inaccuracies found in the above MLS fields. How lame is it to have a conversation with prospective buyers and utter comments about MLS data base “errors or omissions” preventing their search program from locating all homes meeting their expressed criteria? The flip side of this conversation is explaining why they are seeing properties clearly not meeting their search criteria because you did not enter a minimum square footage so as to not eliminate properties with no square footage entered but in reality meeting their requirements. Hmmm, seems like we’re going in circles here! Bottom line for listing agents…take the time to market your product intelligently and truthfully! Help me help you and your seller to ensure we find your listing during the MLS search process, and cross your door step as a result of finding the basic home amenity data properly and accurately entered.

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