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Why can’t houses have clear, concise labels like cars?

When shopping for appliances, we rely on the big yellow Energy Star stickers. When shopping for cars, we rely on the big stickers in the window outlining the basic standard features. But what about houses?

As a consumer shopping for homes, I am at the mercy of whatever flyer is possibly in a box outside a home or whatever information an agent has put into the MLS (and hopefully a picture) that is syndicated all over the web.

Is this good enough? Maybe it’s my inner consumer advocate, but I just don’t think so. As a consumer myself, I want to be able to have some consistency in information I am seeking while house hunting. I am well educated on the topic, so I know that each MLS system is different- input fields are different, business rules are different (ex: how the DOM is calculated), etc. But guess what? Car manufacturer data is different, each line is made of different materials and contains unique features, but they still manage to feature a logical label.

Why not houses?

Recently, the EPA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed new fuel efficiency labels for vehicles. There are two styles currently under consideration (vertical and horizontal):
Click images to enlarge.

See where I’m going with this? Imagine a similar label on the front door of a listing or on the back of your real estate sign.

Now the EPA is adding fuel efficiency labels to give them a grade. Energy Star essentially does the same. I don’t think that’s necessary here, but why not something like this? I think it would look good on an 11″x17″ sheet:

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The reality:

Getting a nation on the same page is an extremely difficult process and the above sticker idea is mostly a pipe dream. It is a possibility on a local level however, if a large brokerage decided to make things easier on buyers and enticing for sellers.

Imagine if Keller Williams adopted the label (or printed paper taped on the inside of a listing’s front window) and every KW listing had a colored dot and standard info, some of which is visible from the road. Sure, you might cut down on the “opportunity” of the lookie lou buyers (that are going to buy in 12 years), but as a listing agent, the point is to sell the home and someone looking for a 2 bedroom is not likely going to buy a 5 bedroom house- they’ll recognize the color and keep moving. On the other hand, if the dot is in the right color range and they can immediately see the price, you’ve got an opportunity to open that door right away.

It’s a rough idea, but it could work to serve the consumer better by standardizing and making transparent (the internet’s favorite buzzword) the basic information that buyers are seeking. If a brokerage got the ball rolling by adopting a standardized color coding system, I believe it would garner consumer trust but more importantly, consumer attention.

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Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. Jay Myers

    February 19, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Let’s not forget it was only within the last 10-15 years (I believe) we finally got the FDA to put standardized Nutrition Facts on our food. So I would not be expecting HUD or any government agency to start the charge on this idea. Although, it sure would be a great to start with HUD foreclosures.

    I absolutely agree that top real estate companies, like Keller Williams, would be great to initiate something like this, but then standardization would become an issue.

    Let’s face it, we still have agents who cannot manage to get a sign on a house in a reasonable amount of time and even with many MLS’s requiring at least 1 front photo of a house – countless agents do not abide by those guidelines..why don’t they? I believe it is because there is no enforcement by the local boards or state associations. So it would be an incredible effort to get a standardized “sticker sheet” on a listing and then for it to be enforced or done legitimately. But I really like my HUD owned foreclosure route.

  2. Ken Brand

    February 20, 2011 at 8:35 am

    How bout adding an Original List Date. Wonder what kind of impact that would have? Cheers.

    • Lani Rosales

      February 20, 2011 at 2:33 pm

      Ken, I personally advocate for that but I know that local boards have business rules against it and sucky agents would flip. I see both sides- puts sellers at a disadvantage, but pushes agents to sell faster. #PIPEDREAM!!

  3. Jason

    February 20, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Cool metaphor. Thanks for the post.

  4. stephanie crawford

    February 21, 2011 at 1:06 am

    I love the concept, but what happens when you need to change the price? That would be a pain. Perhaps you could use non-permanent markers on vinyl signs in the window? That might cut down on cost. Who know, maybe our yard signs will all be digital in a few years?!!?

    • Lani Rosales

      February 21, 2011 at 11:52 am

      Stephanie, I considered that and I think the most effective way would be for it to be on paper printed inside the house. That way an agent would have to at least physically go out to the house to change the sign if a price changes. I also think this would be the most contentious point as many agents believe price transparency to be crippling (which I don’t).

  5. Mike Cooke

    February 22, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    I don’t know which is more depressing … that someone wants the government to regulate something else or that almost everyone who comments thinks it is a great idea!

    • Lani Rosales

      February 22, 2011 at 6:10 pm

      Oh Mike, if only you knew my position on governmental regulations, you would know that I do not advocate for it, rather this concept as indicated in the article would be BEST used on a brokerage level and if it took off, a local or state board could implement it, but this is far from governmental regulation. You and I are on the same page, this is none of Uncle Sam’s business, just creatively solving some basic real estate problems. 🙂 Cheers!

    • Jay Myers

      February 22, 2011 at 9:04 pm

      HUD is already there, I was merely suggesting they earn their keep by doing something useful. I didn’t see anyone say “Let’s start a whole new government subsidy”

      On the brokerage level I can see some not so ethical companies “mis-marking” some properties.

      Local and state associations is where this should take place, if such a thing was ever created, but in my experience they lackluster in any enforcement except collecting dues.

  6. Genevieve

    April 19, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Have you seen the AP story about KB homes released on 4/17? They have been doing it for months now….

  7. Heather Ostrom

    January 2, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    If anything that needs to be standardized, it's clear and concise labeling of short sale "contingent" homes. It's frustrating and exhausting for buyers as well as for listing agents.

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