Today many people begin their search for a new home on the Internet. Over the last decade or so the resources for finding and reviewing properties have increased and improved significantly though some online resources are considerably more reliable than others, according to a release sent this week by Saul Rosenthal on behalf of the Colorado Association of Realtors.

Until the arrival of Internet-based real estate tools, information about properties for sale in a given geographic was collected and made available to Realtors and other real estate professionals through a local Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Only Realtors and other MLS members may search the database for properties appropriate for particular buyers. Changing technologies have brought this information directly to the consumer, the release said.

Many Realtors responded to consumer demand in recent years by creating public-facing versions of their databases. and are such examples, allowing users to search their database to find properties of interest. Many real estate companies have placed search engines on their own websites which allow consumers to search not only the listings of that company but all listings available through the local MLS.

Public-facing search engines can be helpful to buyers in focusing their search geographically, by price, square footage, number of bedrooms and baths and similar factors. The most important characteristic of any real estate database is accuracy and that accuracy depends primarily on frequent and careful updating of the listings, Rosenthal said.

When a Realtor lists a newly available property or updates an active property listing on their local MLS, that information is typically available to MLS subscribers within 15 minutes and the public very soon thereafter. Realtors depend on rapid and frequent updating of the data so their own listings are properly represented and so they don’t misrepresent any properties to the buyers they are helping.

Some national real estate web sites that aggregate information from local MLS services throughout the country, while popular, do not update their listings as frequently as the local MLS and as a consequence a significant number of properties visible through their search engines are no longer available as people are viewing them, he said. Buyers using these sites are often frustrated when they find a property they like only to learn from their Realtor that it sold the previous week.

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These same sites offer sellers the opportunity to price their own house before talking to a local real estate professional. The estimates that are provided online aren’t necessarily based on properties in your specific area or with all of the unique features of your home. They are rough estimates, at best, Rosenthal said. If a potential seller uses one of these sites to price their home and takes the suggested listing price to a Realtor they may find that recent comparable sales in the area won’t support that price.

The one national aggregator of real estate data which updates its listings as frequently as the local MLSs from which it draws its data is

“So by all means take advantage of Internet-based tools to get your home search started,” Rosenthal said. “Then find a Realtor in your area who knows the market, can learn your specific needs and uses the Internet tools designed specifically for real estate professionals to access the most accurate, up-to-date information available.”