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Public MLS Real Estate Sales Statistics – A Model For Real Transparency

Public MLS StatisticsAfter the latest attempt at publishing MLS sales statistics for real estate agents in a public forum went down in an inglorious blaze, many people inside and outside the industry are still interested in the possibility of a second try.  It may be an outside 3rd party that creates such a service, but I’d be more inclined to believe that a push from within the industry would lead to the creation of a more comprehensive database.  That may or may not happen, but it makes sense to discuss the proper way to deliver it if it were to come to fruition.

No model will ever be perfect, but let’s start with the big issues:

  • MLS data input accuracy
  • Off-MLS sales
  • Teams vs. solo agents
  • Transparent interface/display
  • Agents changing offices/teams
  • MLS rules: Should we do it?

MLS Data Input Accuracy

Let’s be honest and say that many agents feel they’re too busy to spend time double-checking their data input.  Put in place a system of warnings, disciplinary measures, and monetary fines for repeat offenders.  Occasional mistakes are inescapable.  Rampant, repeat mistakes say that you don’t respect the organization and don’t deserve membership.  Random, intermittent data checks are enough to create the fear of a fine, and create the appropriate level of attention to detail.  We’ve adopted some of this in the NWMLS in Seattle.  We may not all have loved it at first, but I certainly have it in the back of my mind every time I input statistics in to the MLS these days.

Off-MLS Sales

To accomodate for agents who sell homes off-MLS and don’t get credit in the system, there would need to be an input method for these records.  This would require more scrutiny that an average system since it would be very tempting for some agents to input bogus sales to inflate numbers.  However, we can’t ignore the builder’s new construction agent who sells 60% of his homes off-MLS.  Just like the last topic, the presence of disciplinary measures should be enough to keep this at a minimum.  Each non-MLS transaction might even need a quick look-over from an MLS staffer.  This could be time-consuming, but also necessary.

Teams vs. Solo Agents:  Unique Identifiers

This is where it gets trickier.  The combination of agents’ statistics into large and small groups has always thrown a wrench in calculations of sales.

  • A single agent sells 20 homes.
  • Two agents partner and sell 20 homes, each claims to have sold 20 homes.
  • 6 agents form a team and sell 20 homes, each claims to have sold 20 homes.
  • 12 agents form a team and the team leader takes credit for all 20 homes sold

These agents would all look equal to a consumer viewing solely individual sales numbers, but there are clearly different production levels coming from these agents.

The answer doesn’t seem particularly complex, however.  MLS organizations will have to implement a team identifier.  Every brokerage, team, and agent have their own unique ID number and all three IDs are attached to every transaction the agent is involved with.  On a 12 member team, members will get individual and team recognition for each sale, but we will also have the ability to classify it as a team sale.  This gives a much clearer picture to the consumer if they’re working with John Doe or if they’ll be working with his dozen apprentices.

Transparent Interface/Display

There is no way to display this information in a snippet without bludgeoning the value out of it.  Individual agents’ stats need to be displayed within the context of their team, their brokerage, and their overall business model.  It’s the only way to ensure we’re allowing each different agent’s business to be seen in an equitable fashion.

A simple potential example of an agent’s statistics:

John Doe, Managing Broker
Big Brokerage ABC
(150 agents, Past 24 mo Total Sales: 800, Total Volume:  $300 million Office Agents’ Median Sales: 10)
XYZ Team Statistics (12 Team Members)
Buyer Side:  25 sales past 24 mo, $12 million gross, median price $300,000
Seller Side:  25 sales past 24 mo, $13 million gross, median price $300,000
Median Listing Days on Market: 90

If an agent is solo, their stats are reported in a more straightforward fashion.  The only downside to this model is when a team tries to “game the system” and lists 12 agents as individuals but still only gives 1 credit for the sales.  This would make the one individual agent look, inaccurately, like a solo real estate rockstar, which is why the office stats are needed (see the Agent median sales).  Any team or company employing this model would have a majority of agents with zero sales, and their stats would read “Office Agents’ Median Sales:  0”.  Some might think this is penalizing one business model, but we are trying to be transparent, and gaming the system in that fashion is anything but.

Number of price changes:  This stat has no value. 

  • $500,000 home’s price is lowered 12x – $5k/wk for 3 months, sells for $440k
  • $500,000 home’s price is lowered 3x – $20k/mo for 3 months, sells for $440k
  • $500,000 home sticks to price for 3 mo, asks to bring all offers, sells for $440k

What does the number of price changes tell us?  Nothing more than that there are different marketing strategies.  All homes sold for the same price, in the same amount of time.  It doesn’t produce a valuable comparison tool for the consumer.

SaleTo List Price Ratio

I don’t think there’s a lot of consensus on this stat.  It’s interesting, but so difficult to really draw conclusions from.  REO agents sell homes under value and get multiple offers on the first day, many times above the list price.  Does that make them great marketers or do they just have less-concerned clients?

Having a good sale/list ratio may say more about an agent’s ability to talk a seller into a lower price than their marketing ability.  Could the sellers be pricing their homes too low and leaving money on the table based on the recommendation of an agent with a great ratio?  It’s a great ability to have as a salesperson, but is that really what consumers perceive when they read this statistic?  At the same time it can show an agent’s ability to price correctly vs. “buying listings”.  I’m on the fence about this stat’s relevance, but if consumers want it, so be it.

Agents changing offices/teams

We can certainly create an amalgamation of one agent’s stats from a number of teams and companies, but it will be a mess.  I’m going to take the easy way out here and say that it’s one of the sacrifices agents make when they change businesses.  Their stats will be off, and it will be up to them to educate their clients on their track record until they’ve built up a better one with their new company.  I’d be happy to hear suggestions.

MLS Rules:  Should we do it?

Herein lies the crux of the whole issue for agents.  It’s not as much about whether or not we can publish our own stats on our own websites, but whether our competitors are allowed to advertise our stats.  To take it further, can they attempt to gain market share online by advertising a web page with a title, content, and statistics all about a competitor’s business?  I think that this is the real fear of most agents.

(NOTE:  The Realtor Code of Ethics will be an issue in some ways.  Not all agents are Realtors, but many are.  Some will construe “refrain from making unsolicited comments about other practitioners”  to include reporting competitors’ sales statistics unsolicited.)


Plenty of other businesses in the marketplace have competitors write about them and their statistics, but this is different.  We would be providing a database that’s officially approved by those competitors.  In effect, the stats on Company A’s site about Company B would have Company B’s seal of approval.  This isn’t done in other industries.  It’s why agents are so concerned that if it’s done, it’s done with exhaustive research and deliberation with all parties.

While I’m fine with the idea, I also won’t throw on the halo of transparency and flog my fellow agents who aren’t.  This isn’t some public government database that, by its nature, must to be available to anyone who wants it.  Tens of thousands of agents spend hundreds of dollars and countless work hours every year to update, maintain, and improve it.  I know that all of my tech friends are screaming “Why don’t they want anyone to see it, then?”, and I understand your frustration.

But, it’s not your choice.  It’s theirs.  You have to understand the mindset of a real estate agent if you want to convince them to change.  Some of these people have poured their hearts and souls into their communities for decades.  They don’t care about your tricked-out new website.  They’re not some fly-by-night salesperson looking for a quick IPO payout.  They care about selling their neighbors’ homes.  They truly are well-respected figures in their communities and have worked their whole lives to earn those reputations.

The “old guard” might have been coaxed along slowly with a gradual transition to an agreed-upon format.  Instead, they feel that they were slapped across the face with a sloppily-tested affront to their business.  It will be very difficult to undo the damage that was done to the reputation of the idea itself.  This is one tough industry to crack, and anyone trying would be well-served to offer agents the ability to opt-in to their ideas as opposed to throwing a wet blanket on them and yelling “Surprise!”  Right now, this industry is a hornets’ nest and it’s boiling.  The next contender had better be on their best behavior.

About Sam DeBord

Sam DeBord is a former management consultant and web developer who writes for for Inman News and REALTOR® Magazine. He is Managing Broker for Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and 2016 President-Elect of Seattle King County REALTORS®. His team sells Seattle homes, condos, and Bellevue homes.

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  • Mark Twain

    Too bad there isn’t a National Association of Realtors to lead this sort of charge.  …Wait a second, someone just told me there is such an organization.  Any idea what they do?

    I think you have great ideas, but they are great ideas from an agent’s perspective.  The MLS has no incentive to increase its data accuracy nor does it have any incentive to fine its paying members.

    Do you see a real estate industry without local MLS systems?  I sure do.  Then again, I see one without real estate agents, at least in their present form.  

    Maybe it’s time for a real estate revolution.

    • NAR doesn’t cover all agents which makes them ineffective in some scenarios.  MLS members would have to push for the change (we do have fines in our MLS).  Thank you for comments, Mr. Clemens.

  • Excellent Post! More change happens in a weak market, usually. When the market is hot…everyone is too busy to implement new things. It’s one of the advantages of a weak market.

    Given the choice between the market getting better and more change happening…I’d have to go with the market getting better. 🙂

    • Well put.  There are a lot of agents with more time on their hands to think and innovate right now.  When the boom hits, we’d rather have the industry just sit in place and support our sales.

  • The state of inertia in the market remains responsible for certain new yet innovative activities out there. While it’s in a state of boom, business overlooks those new things. Still, the well-being of the market is prior, I suppose.

    • Most homeowners would also prefer the market to get better as opposed to having sales stats on a website.  Since it’s not our choice, we’ll keep discussing change for now.

  • Sam – these are all great questions that would need to be answered.  It does seem like each transaction would have a basic type: regular resale, short sale, REO, new construction.  I believe these are likely present in most MLSs.

    Then, as you say, accurate agent associations need to be made. Perhaps team leader and agent on both sides; or up to two partners on each.  Defining an accurate, yet simple data association is imperative.  Tricky.

    Once ‘who made the sale’ and ‘what type of sale was made’ is clear for each record, basic and meaningful reporting can be made.  The proper statistics (list-to-sales, price changes, etc.) could be fleshed out later.  For listing agents doing re-sale, I believe that the % of homes sold is critical which clearly calls out those agents to over-promise and don’t deliver. This would require analysis of all MLS records for a home (sold plus withdrawn/expired).  This may also require the addition of another element that the agent would enter for withdrawn with a ‘why’ code (home went to foreclosure, owner decided not to sell, home rented, etc).  Agents will want consumers to know why they had to withdraw the listing.  If another agent lists the same property, this code goes to “agent couldn’t sell”.

    Should we do it?  It’s obvious to see why this would be important to consumers, so I think yes – definitely.
    Who should do it?  Only an MLS can do this fairly and consistently for all brokers.   For areas served by multiple MLSs… ugh.

    How to do it?  Here’s my current thoughts. The MLS would facilitate the solution with the brokers so everyone understands how the measurements would be made and how agent performce will be reported. After minor system changes are made, they would spend a lot of time communicating and training.  Initially, it would be available only to agents and brokers so they can see their data and make corrections as needed. This would take months.  Then, the MLS would provide a public view.  Brokers and agents would be given the means to display all stats on their websites.  Each broker would opt-in and be given the option to allow agents within the broker to opt-in for public rollout.  Some brokers (the better ones) will opt-in all agents – like it or not.  Others will let this be the agent’s choice.  As consumers are given a trusted source of agent performance for their area, they will value those agents to choose to show their stats. The absence of stats would be as revealing as bad stats.

    • Great points, Bruce, and that really brings to light the complexity of the statistics.  A shallow, quick interpretation of stats would actually be worse for the consumer at this point–it creates the false impression of knowledge if it’s not a truly transparent measure for comparison.

      This will take a lot of time and a lot of informed voices putting together a very complex framework if it’s going to be a truly useful tool for consumers.

  • Will this idea really works? It seem to be fresh and implementing one such stats on a real website will make things clear. To my opinion it is an wonderful option to add on a site. it eventually builds trust of a real estate firm. Thanks for sharing that piece of idea. It really worth.

  • Hi Sam – I recently sent flyers to home owners showing them the top 50 realtors in our area based on Wardex/MLS stats. The thought behind my flyer was to encourage the sellers to request their property be advertised in my real estate guide. 56% of these top producers advertise in my publication, while 26% advertise with my competitor.
    My local Board of Realtors sent me a letter today asking me to cease and desist distributing my flyer. Am I breaking any rules? What should I do to cover my a**?

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