Andrew Wetzel's Musings

October 3, 2020

Data Integrity: How Accuracy Impacts Searches and Profits

“Data integrity” ensures that reported information is accurate and can be relied upon.  In Real Estate this could be the status of a property, the price, the type of property and its features.  The importance of accurate information cannot be overstated as people make costly decisions based on what is reported.

A seller needs a “ready, willing and able” buyer to complete a sale.  Buyers “acquire” Real Estate information from a variety of sources.  They expect that all properties matching their search criteria will be in their search results so that they can evaluate them and decide whether to take any action.  Suppose they get wrong information or they do not know that a property is available?  They may never get to see it so they cannot buy it.  Houses may sit on the market unsold causing the listing agents to ask the sellers for an unnecessary and costly price reduction which reduces their proceeds but does not make it any easier for buyers to find their property in their search results.  Think Google search.

Errors will affect a market analysis for both sellers and buyers.  Sellers looking to price their property according to its location, features and condition may rely on bad information causing them to overprice or underprice their property.  Their house could sit on the market unsold or they could accept less than they should have.  Buyers need accurate information when deciding how much to offer a seller.

Houses that do not sell typically have a pricing or a marketing problem.  By marketing I mean wrong or missing “searchable” property features, missing or poor-quality pictures and missing or poorly written property descriptions/ remarks sections.  In addition to excluding properties that really matched their search criteria, poor marketing may cause buyers to dismiss properties because they “look” bad.

Bad information can also impact the mortgage appraiser.  They evaluate selling prices based on reported comparable sales.  They rely on and verify what is reported but how would they know if something is missing?  Appraisers rely on pictures, features and the public remarks to try to identify the prior sales most similar to the house they are appraising.  What is the cost of inaccurate or missing information?  If relying on bad information makes it appear that a buyer paid too much, their sale may stop unless the seller lowers their asking price OR the buyer comes up with more money OR they somehow work it out.  Mortgages are based on a percentage of the appraised value so errors matter.

To conclude, data integrity is a BIG deal.  Many sellers have wasted months or even years on the market when they really had little chance of selling given the inaccurate information.  I call these “fatal errors”.  Marketing exposes property information to potential buyers, their agents and anyone else who may need or want to rely on what they hope is accurate information.  Garbage in; garbage out!

The Internet has made this more complicated.  Most buyers “shop” online, many even after hiring an agent.  The MLS syndicates property information to the major search engines.  If the MLS information is inaccurate, this magnifies the problem because the information is going directly to the consumer, unfiltered. Your printout is literally like a resume.  Unless your house is on a well-traveled street exposing your “For Sale” sign to lots of traffic, the MLS and Internet may be the only ways anyone will know you want to sell.  Does that make you feel comfortable?  What is the cost of delaying your plans or being asked to accept less money than you should?  What does your printout look like?

I recently met two couples looking to work with me, one to buy and the other to sell Real Estate.  Both plans involved my searching the market to identify comparable properties.  Let me briefly discuss my experiences with both.

First let me discuss the buyers.  They are ready to buy their first home, have saved the necessary funds, done a little exploring on their own and are ready to conduct their search.  We discussed their budget, their “needs” and their “wants”.  Fortunately, my experience enabled me to share how the best search can get messed up because listing agents or those they utilize to upload the details of their property listings often enter incorrect information or, just as bad, incomplete information.

These buyers had two specific “wants”:  a porch and a yard.  I performed a search without those features, found 26 “results” and sent them to my clients.  Then I did two additional searches, adding the two specific “wants” separately.  I found only 3 listings that showed there being a porch and only 3 showing some yard.  I knew that seemed low but never expected the results to be so wrong.

I looked at the more basic search with 26 results and identified an additional 17 properties with porches, raising the real total to 20, and found an additional 21 properties with a yard, raising that total to 24.  How pathetic!  If I wanted to take the time I might review the pricing history to see how long the incorrect listings had stayed on the market and then to see how many took price reductions.  The bottom line is that I assume nothing:  porches and yards are salable features but not present on every home so not entering them when they are present can be costly.

The other couple is looking to sell a 4-unit building.  It features a large lot with a detached 2-car garage and ample parking so nothing is truly comparable.  However, determining a range of potential pricing should not be as difficult as it was.

Using my experience, I knew that I had to start my analysis by looking at multi-unit properties without specifying the number of units.  When I do this I often find “commercial” properties, meaning they offer more than 4 living units, but that did not happen here.

My search identified 22 properties.  7 were listed as offering 2 units; 1 was listed as 3 units; 1 was listed as a 4 unit.  All were correct but there were 22 in the search results?  13 properties were listed as only having ONE UNIT!  So sad and so avoidable!  My best guess is that the people who uploaded the data thought “unit” referred to “buildings” and not leased, income-producing units.  Who entered the information?  Did the property owners know?

Of the 13 errors, 11 offered 2 units and 2 offered 3 units.  Had I been searching specifically by number  of units and not known better, I would have missed information that could be helpful to these sellers.  I wonder if any buyers missed these 13?

One additional point.  Only 7 of the 22 showed annual income, an important measure used by investors.  I understand that some of these buildings had vacant units but think it important to enter “projected rent” rather than assuming that every investor knows the area they are searching.  Many investors own Real Estate located far from where they live.  One agent actually had the monthly rent instead of the annual rent.

The bottom line is that buying and selling residential or investment Real Estate can be challenging enough without hiding property from people.  Data integrity issues can cause buyers to miss the best listings and some sellers may take needless price reductions when price may not be an issue. 

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

HIRE WISELY: We are not all the same!

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