To Steve and Asher. In the past 12 years, I have done about 300 transactions + or -. IF an agent is really interested in helping their client, the client is very well served. IF the agent is primarily interested in the Agent, the client may not be well served. Every industry has all levels of competence. That being said, Neither of you seem to understand the underlying benefit of the MLS system--I am talking about places where the MLS serves a wide area and is pretty comprehensive. I understand in some areas, the MLS is pretty fractured and may NOT be as beneficial as it is here and was in Hawaii where I sold for two years.
I do not think there is any system that puts so much information so easily attainable in one spot. If you are working with an agent and more importantly, your agent is working for you, they can pinpoint an area, give you the sales data for the past period you desire (Right now, anything older than about 3 or 4 months is probably meaningless.) and what is currently available. For example, In the Spokane MLS, three weeks ago, there were 5800 properties w/ dwellings listed for sale. 800 were under some sort of contract and 112 of the total were bank owned properties. I was able to figure that out in about ten minutes for a blog I was writing. I could have done the same for any ten block area w/i the city or larger areas in the country. I could have told you everything that closed in the past month-3 years as you wanted and again, I could have broken that down.
On the other issue of access to the MLS, the Justice department was wrong in my mind. The attitude of those bringing the suit against the various MLS's is, "It is just not right for you to exclude the public or non affiliated realtors from the benefits of your system." I beg your pardon, does GM pass out its secrets? Does Coke tell you its mixture? Does Pfizer reveal exactly what is in the medicine? No, they can not afford to. Same with the MLS. This information is compiled by a staff and funneled in by the 2000 agents in my market area. We all pay hefty monthly dues to support the infrastructure that keeps the MLS running. We pay commission splits to support the administrative staffs that provide the date from each company to the MLS. We underwrite a very expensive system which gives the general public the opportunity, not the right, to access this information. Then, we release this information to a fairly extensive level on Realtor.com which has virtually all MLS actives posted and I think, updated daily. But, we have no obligation to let the public have access codes to the MLS and the same access as agents. Why should we? By the way, you can search my market right from my site and get fairly detailed information.
Regarding Compensating broker commission. No Listing agent owes this information or the Listing broker compensation to a buyer. It really is not his business until a relationship is established. In my area, we do owe an obligation to our buyers to reveal our compensation to our clients. In fact, the format I provide to my clients clearly states the CBC. But, I am revealing that data to people I am working with. That is the difference.
Regarding Zillow, this information is pretty generic and has its uses, but, I would not rely on it. You would be better served, I believe, at Realtor.com.
If you are a seller in a good market and are willing to deal w/ John Q Public, it might make sense to work without a realtor (FSBO). But I can not for the life of me figure out as a buyer why you would not work with an agent who is representing you. They do not "Just open a door" for 24k. Two of my last three clients looked at not less than 30 homes and one probably 40 to 50 homes. I worked with both for 4-6 months before we closed. Both were complicated transactions. I saved each client 10-20k. I found good financing for each. The approx $16,000. total I EARNED on those transactions was well earned. Of course, the $16,000. was gross revenue. Net revenue was probably in the vicinity of about 3k after salary (modest) advertising (20k per year+) gas ($200-400 per month), Office expenses (700 per month) etc were covered. Those are only a few of the many expenses. Yes, the realtor commission is a large number, but, it is only part of the equation.
Finally, the MLS morphs daily. Technology advances and so do we. The MLS today will not be the MLS of two years from now and it certainly is not what it was 15 years ago when I was looking for property in this area while working in Bangkok, Thailand. But, the fundamental idea of using professionals who know their business and market will always be valid for the vast majority of buyers and sellers. There will be a few who insist on doing it on their own or with limited representation. Some of those will come out smelling like a rose and others will curse their bad luck for ever. Dave Atherton, Spokane