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MLS Solutions Continue Search for a Problem



Needed: A Couch

Three beagles and three children can take their toll on household furniture, particularly reclining sofas. I’ve spent more than a little time over the past few months replacing bolts that either were jolted loose or broken by kids catapulting off of the sofa over an armrest or beagles using the back cushion as a trampoline to help them ambush another member of the yowling pack.

But my patience has started to wear thin and as it has done so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to buy a new couch. So, being the responsible consumer that I am, I went to the Internet this morning to find the National CLS – the National Couch Listing Service, a databse where the details of every couch for sale in America, whether being sold by a manufacturer or by a hippie trying to eliminate the odor of his hydroponic marijuana, will be listed.

Except such a site doesn’t exist.

Shaking off that disappointment, I decided maybe I ought to start pricing cars in case my soon-to-be 17-year-old finally decides to take us up on our year-long bargain that she can get her drivers’ license as soon as she gets a job and can pay for insurance.

Again, I turned to the Internet so I could find the entire inventory of cars available in America all on one site.

And again, I was stunned to discover such a site doesn’t exist.

Don’t get me wrong – there are a ton of websites available with information on cars or couches for sale, but there’s no single depository of all the possible information that I can visit to aid me in my purchase.

National MLS Based on Flawed Argument

So I can’t visit a single website and find all of the inventory of couches and cars (and countless other items, for that matter) but there seems to be a constant drumbeat from some quarters that just such a database needs to be established for real estate, that the sites provided by local MLS boards and local agents aren’t nearly enough in this day of age.

And my question now, as it always has been, is what makes housing different than any other commodity? It can’t be cost – there are bank owned homes in Phoenix less expensive than an automobile. It can’t be the necessity of buying – the bubble bloggers have been telling people to rent for years.

For the most part, the argument for a single national MLS comes from disgruntled unrepresented sellers who were unsuccessful selling their own home. By their logic: they couldn’t sell their home, they didn’t have access to the MLS, ergo they couldn’t sell their home because they didn’t have MLS access.

It’s clearly a flawed argument.

This morning, a RE/MAX broker from the Bay Area wrote in a letter to Inman News:

Many of the current, standard multiple listing service rules … continue to act as if it was meant for real estate professionals’ use exclusively.

Well, yeah. It is. The MLS and its data belong to the members who pay to subscribe to and maintain the service. It’s not actually public information, though most us do all we can to get that data in front of as many sets of eyes as we possibly can.

I would argue an unrepresented seller can sell their home without use of the MLS simply by using the wide array of web sites and tools currently available, assuming they have the knowledge and the time. But at the end of the day, it’s not the lack of exposure that dooms most unrepresented sellers as much as their own unrealistic pricing and their own inexperience in sales.

They fail to sell because they generally don’t know what they’re doing, not because they don’t have access to a single listings depository.

MLS systems are marketing tools but they’re marketing tools supported and subscribed to by real estate professionals and with that in mind, the systems generally work.

Want access? Cross the incredibly low bar to access to the industry and write the checks for dues and subscriptions and you’re in.

Personally, I think there are bigger fish to fry. There are a lot more people like me who need a new couch than there are people who need to purchase a new home these days. Let’s get us couch shoppers squared away first.

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  1. fred

    February 2, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    I’m not sure how you can compare homes for sale with couches or cars… but I do agree that a national MLS is not needed. The one reason it might be good is to make data entry uniform, but other than that, just not needed since displays all the listings anyhow.

  2. teresa boardman

    February 2, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    A national MLS might help with a few things like data mapping so I don’t have to manually input my listings on a zillion sites. It would also be nice if the sites with some of the listings instead of all of the listings that are national type sites that are supposed to have all the listings really had all the listings. On the other hand few people look for homes in several states so I don’t think individual consumers are inconvenienced, unless of course they got to one of the sites with some of the listings, which they do.

    It would make more sense to have a national couch site than a national real estate site because conducting a nation wide search for a couch makes way more sense than searching nationwide for a house. You really have me confused now Jonathan and I only have one dog.

  3. Marvin Jensen

    February 2, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Real Estate is local, period!

  4. Elaine Reese

    February 2, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    I don’t understand what benefit there would be to a national MLS, since is already that, as Fred mentioned. I find that many buyers start with, then find an easy-to-use local broker’s site which they use thereafter.

  5. Mark Eibner

    February 2, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    we’re at it again MLS Solutions Continue Search for a Problem: Get out of your feed reader and ..

  6. Missy Caulk

    February 2, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Good analogy as someone who spent last night watching the Super Bowl and scanning web sites to find some Queen Anne chairs that need replacing in my formal dining room.

    Don’t get me going on couch repairs, I keep buying ones from sellers and the kids keep breaking them.

  7. Russell Shaw

    February 3, 2009 at 3:01 am

    Great post, Jonathan. The Re/Max broker you quoted also had several other destructive (read anti-Realtor) ideas besides the one you quoted.

    A national MLS that does not offer co-broke commissions (which is the actual purpose of the MLS) was another gem he proposed.

    If he wants out of the real estate business, just leave.

  8. Vicki Moore

    February 3, 2009 at 11:26 am

    That information is not free. I pay for it. If anyone wants access to it, it’s available – for a fee.

  9. fred

    February 3, 2009 at 11:34 am

    If there were a national mls it could benefit everyone, possibly allowing for national commission offering, and one single point of entry. That doesn’t mean it would be free, of course we still would pay for it.

    On the flip side – Think about all the local mls locations that would close… that’s alot of folks out of work.

  10. Jonathan Dalton

    February 3, 2009 at 11:38 am

    But who would a national commission offering benefit? a) I have no knowledge of most states outside my own and b) I’m not licensed in other states so collecting a commission would be illegal.

  11. fred

    February 3, 2009 at 11:48 am

    Good point… maybe we should nationalize the real estate license too! In this day and age of the Internet, agents could sell homes out of state.

  12. Matt Stigliano

    February 3, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    By their logic: they couldn’t sell their home, they didn’t have access to the MLS, ergo they couldn’t sell their home because they didn’t have MLS access.

    I love the logic of this. You also mentioned sellers using the various tools and websites widely available today. Its interesting because most of the things we use on a regular basis – anyone could use. There’s no “insert license number” section on most of the sign ups for sites, so the tools are there, but because a seller isn’t using them day in and day out, they don’t know where to look or how to use them.

    I agree with your idea of, if you want to use the MLS, then go get a license and pay your dues. There are plenty of non-MLS ways to look at homes or list homes and these days with buyers looking online before even approaching an agent, I’d propose that the MLS isn’t really the be-all end-all of real estate that it used to be anyway. With so many listing tools out there, you could list your home yourself and get it seen, much like an agent could. Of course there’s time, money, and effort involved…which is what keeps so many away.

    And that’s without even covering the actual sale of the home – I’ll leave that for another day.


  13. Lisa Sanderson

    February 5, 2009 at 6:42 am

    I get so mad when I hear people saying that the MLS should be open to the public. We designed it, maintain it, pay for it, etc…how dare people try to come in and take it from us. Pay the piper, baby!

    As for nationalization of the MLS (which is a separate issue, is it not?) – I don’t really see the point. However, I do see the point of some of the small MLS’s regionalizing a bit to accommodate consumer needs and agents’ businesses. Some of these Associations are trying to protect their imaginary-to-everyone-but-them borders for, it seems to me, selfish reasons.

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Short sales: the top 3 title insurance troubles

Short sales are not without challenges, but knowing the answers to the most common obstacles and questions can aide in a less stressful transaction.





The importance of title insurance

When my husband and I purchased our first home, I was very young and very green. At the closing, our agent passed us our title insurance policy and said, “Put this in a safe place, and do not EVER throw it away.” At the time, I had absolutely no clue about title insurance, why it was important, and how it could save you from a world of trouble.

Decades later, working short sales, it’s the title reports and those dreaded liens that seem to be what gets us into all sorts of trouble. In fact, most of the reader questions that I received this past week related to title woes.

Three common short sale questions

Question: When I run the Statement of Information for my seller, it comes up with a child support lien and a mechanic’s lien. My seller says that he is aware of those liens, but has no money to make good on those debts. What should I do?

Answer: In short sales, the first lien holder will authorize funds from the proceeds to pay off a variety of expenses associated with the sale. These include commission, settlement fees, title insurance fees, and other mortgage liens. However, it is extremely uncommon for the short sale lender to offer to pay off a seller’s personal debts. Before you spend months and months processing the short sale, I’d strategize to ascertain whether you will be able to help the seller make good on these debts prior to closing. Otherwise, you should probably run like the wind.

Question: I am dealing with the IRS on a tax lien that needs to be released prior to short sale closing, and the IRS won’t budge. What should I do?

Answer: First off, it’s always a good idea to get non-institutional liens released early. At the time that you take a short sale listing, work with the title company to run a Statement of Information on the property owners. That way, if something comes up (like an IRS lien), you have plenty of time to work it out.

Generally, the IRS and the state tax authorities have mechanisms in place to remove these liens from title at no charge, since there is no equity coming from the sale. A tax attorney can guide you through the process. However, ask your title officer or title representative if they can work with you on this problem. The good news is that some title companies can help agents and you can avoid working with the IRS.

Question: I have a second lien on title with Chase Bank. Yet, when I contact Chase Bank, they tell me that the loan has been charged off and I need to contact the company where they transferred the loan. However, they do not have a record of where it was transferred. I’m between a rock and a hard place. What do I do?

Answer: This kind of chaos happens all the time with short sales, and it is very frustrating. Generally, if you contact the executive offices at the bank where the loan was held originally (in this case, Chase Bank), they can have their research department obtain information about where to call.

Another option might be to ask the lender for a “zero demand”. If they charged off the loan and show a balance of zero, then maybe they will send a zero demand and not further short sale negotiation would be necessary for this lien. Hey… without a second lien on title, maybe this won’t even be a short sale any longer!

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How to avoid short sale buyer frustrations

Minimizing the frustrations that come with a short sale is often seen as a mythical possibility, but with these simple tips, any short sale transaction can go more smoothly.





Short sale frustration all around

Representing a buyer in a short sale can often be very frustrating. Primarily, that’s because of the unknowns associated with the short sale transaction. For one, nobody knows how long it’s going to take to obtain short sale approval. Actually, you don’t even know if you will get short sale approval. Not only that, but you also have to wait a fairly long time to learn the approved terms of the purchase. It’s frustrating to wait and wait, and then learn that the direction of the short sale is not the direction that the buyer is interested in taking.

Good communication is the key to short sale success. It’s vital for short sale listing agents to make communication with the buyer’s agent a regular and systematic part of the week. No matter how insignificant the short sale task, it is important to communicate with the buyer and the buyer’s agent and let them know that there are baby steps towards short sale approval.

One significant step towards short sale approval often comes after the bank’s valuation (BPO) when the bank makes a counter offer. Depending upon the short sale lender, this counter offer can come via email (in an email message), via telephone, or through an online platform such as Equator.

And then there are the counter offers…

Buyer’s agents and buyers often request to see the counter in writing. However, depending upon the short sale lender, this is often just not possible. Bank negotiators have contacted the short sale agent via phone, reviewed the settlement statement, and alerted the short sale agent as to what they will approve and what minimum net they might take accept in order to move forward with the short sale.

Since these counter offers usually do not come in writing, it’s important for the buyer’s agent to set the buyer expectations accordingly. Make buyers aware that there is lots of ‘verbal’ back and forth during the process. Many times it is only the short sale approval letter, the document that allows them to close, which comes in writing.

If buyers are willing to wait and keep the faith and understand that this process is a little more challenging and unique then most, they may find that they are getting a great deal on a wonderful property—often in better condition than the abandoned REO down the street.

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Short sale: are there situations when agents can’t earn a commission?

Short sale: are there actually situations where an agent would not get paid? There are some complicated situations when it comes to short sales, and we address one here today.



short sale agent

short sale agent
A short sale listing agent recently reached out to me to ask whether an agent principal can earn commission in a short sale transaction. This agent, Agent Alice*, was told that there are certain situations where licensees cannot earn a commission when buying a short sale.

The question:

Agent Alice received an offer on her listing from Agent Alex. Agent Alex is both the buyer and the principal. Agent Alice wanted to know whether the bank would pay a commission to Agent Alex at closing, since he is both the buyer and a principal.

The answer:

All of the major lenders including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac employ some sort of arm’s length affidavit in which the buyers, the sellers, and the agents acknowledge (often in front of a Notary Public) that none has a business or familial relationship with another party outside of the transaction. Between this affidavit and investor guidelines for short sale commission, it is uncommon for the short sale lender to permit a commission to be earned by an agent principal.

Agent Alice then asked me whether Alex’s Broker, Broker Bob, could represent Agent Alex and earn a commission. While I do not work for the short sale lenders and cannot predict each short sale lender’s response, I’d say that it would be best to avoid this scenario, since the two have a business relationship outside of the transaction.

My two cents:

When I recently posed these scenarios to a group of agents, many shared creative ways to obtain a commission for Agent Alex. Remember that any creative solution whereby Agent Alex earns commission must also show his commission on the HUD-1 that is approved by the short sale lender prior to closing. As such, it is highly unlikely that there is a legitimate workaround for this problem.

The solution:

The easiest and safest way for Agent Alex to purchase Agent Alice’s listing is to seek representation outside of his brokerage. Not only will this assure that the buyer’s agent earns a commission, but it will also assure that all parties comply with the requirements of most lender short sale addenda.


*The names of the agents and the brokers in this post are pure fiction. Any relation to real listing or buyer’s agents is merely coincidental.

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