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How serious are the errors in MLS sales price data? [stats]

For the first time ever, the accuracy of sales price data in the MLS has been analyzed, and the study’s authors express to us how these inaccuracies could have happened and what we must do now.

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For years, appraisers, economists, and other experts have quietly questioned the discrepancies between multiple listing services (MLS) prices the legal prices recorded on HUD-1 forms (and filed in local jurisdictions).

A new study published by the journal of the nation’s leading appraisal organization provides the first hard evidence that errors in sales prices reported by MLSs could be significant, especially when peak prices start to decline.

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Though the study’s scope was limited to one large MLS, its findings suggest that potential for similar errors in the nation’s 800 multiple listing services could have such serous impact on consumers that the three economists at Florida Gulf Coast University who conducted the study advised appraisers that are suspicious of a price to use another source for verification.

l6.25% of transactions overstated HUD1 data

Reported Price Errors: A Caveat for Appraisers” by Marcus T. Allen, PhD, Kenneth M. Lusht, PhD, MAI, SRA, and H. Shelton Weeks, PhD is published in the current issue of the Appraisal Journal.

The economists looked at 400 transactions in a Southeastern state from 2004 to 2008, including the two years prior to the peak price year of 2006 and the subsequent two years. They compared data from HUD1 forms with prices reported to their MLSs by listing brokers, usually after sales contracts were signed by before settlement.

They found that MLS-reported prices differed from HUD1 prices 8.75 percent of the time over the four-year period. Some 6.25 percent of the transactions overstated the HUD1 data and 2.50 percent understated the HUD-reported prices.

The largest overstated error was 21.44 percent of the of the HUD-reported price and the largest understated error was 1.09 percent of the HUD-reported price. The average overstated price was $14,038, or 6.69 percent of the HUD-reported prices.

Data suggests that errors were not random

Considering the size and complexity of MLS databases, an error rate of less than 9 percent of all sales over a four-year period is an issue to be addressed but not unexpected.

What rings alarm bells is the timeframe in which the errors occur.

Errors weren’t spread evenly over the time period, but doubled in 2006 to more than 15 percent of transactions, when prices peaked and began to fall in the Southeastern state, followed by nearly as many errors in 2007 and 2008, when the crash accelerated.

The timing of the errors suggested they were not random mistakes but were driven by marketplace conditions.

Are prices intentionally inflated?

From the evidence, the authors suggested two viable explanations for the market-driven error rates. The first was that some brokers intentionally inflated sold price information in the MLS, perhaps to make it appear that they negotiated a higher price for their clients.

If brokers and agents were overstating sales prices to bolster reputations seven or eight years ago, what’s happening today?

MLS sales price data is more important than ever for agents who want to “prove” their value to customers. The emergence of ratings services that use MLS sales data to rate agents and brokerages increases the pressure on brokers and agents to quantify their value to their customers and clients. Some rating services use public sales data to assess sales prices, others use MLS sales data and others allow agents to enter their own. MLS sales data also gives brokers a way to assess the value of agents in their local markets.

What could have caused the misstated prices

“I don’t think agents were deliberately misstating prices, though that’s a story that fits the facts,” Dr. Kenneth M. Lusht, one of the study’s three authors, tells us. Lusht is a Distinguished Professor of Real Estate at Florida Gulf Coast University, past president of the American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association, and a past trustee of the Appraisal Foundation.

“The second thing that could have happened, and it’s pretty likely, is that when you’ve got a down market, buyers get cold feet. They start thinking about not going through with the sale and giving up their deposit. So another story that’s consistent with what we found is that the price the broker submitted was the agreed upon price but between that the time he submitted it to the MLS and the settlement day the price was changed and the broker never changed the data because there is no incentive to do so.”

Lusht added that conveyances can add to the post-contract price. “In a down market that’s more likely to occur when a seller says, ‘Look, I’ll throw in the furniture to try to make the deal.’” Likewise, in down markets, sellers are more likely to subtract the cost of repairs rather than quibble over them at closing.

Whatever the cause of the errors, the study concluded, “Regardless of the motivation or source of the error, the result is the same – a misstated price.”

More research is now necessary

The authors admit that the study’s small size limits the generality of its conclusions. The geography and time frame might also be an issue. Prices in the Southeastern markets they studied were some the most volatile in the nation during the four years of the study – it was the height of Florida’s foreclosure crisis. Only one MLS was involved and policies toward gathering and checking price data vary by MLS. Much has changed in the world of MLS data and appraisal standards since 2008.

However, Lusht maintains that the problem of MLS errors is longstanding and certainly not limited to one or two markets. “I would say that any appraiser who has a reasonable amount of experience already knew there were errors in the MLS. They knew that it is very possible some of the prices weren’t right. But no one has ever measured it before and found how frequent the errors were or how big they might be.”

The study is receiving a lot of interest and Lusht believes more research is warranted.

“Maybe someone else will get interested in it and look at different areas to see if what we found is typical or not. My guess is that what we found here, we will find in other markets, especially during down markets,” he said

In search of a solution

MLS price data is valuable because it is current, and available within days of settlement. But if the Florida Gulf Coast University study is right, an average or one out of every twelve sales prices is wrong, and one out of every seven during down markets.

It can take local governments as long as three months to post official sales price data.

That’s why price reports like Case-Shiller and CoreLogic that only accept public data come out as late as two and a half months after the fact. That’s a long time when you’re a home seller or buyer trying to figure out what prices are doing in your market.

There’s no doubt that long delays seriously compromise the usefulness of public data.

Currency is a major reason the use of MLS price data is widespread. Hundreds of MLSs themselves and Realtor associations at the national, state, and local levels use the data in market reports for their members and the general public.

National web sites and brokerages, from Realtor.com to Redfin and RE/MAX use MLS price data in their reports. Hundreds of thousands of agents and brokers rely on it to counsel their clients and customers.

For MLSs themselves, the sale of data, including price data, has become a significant source of income that would be even more valuable if this issue of price errors can be resolved successfully.

And now for the solution

So where’s the solution? Is there a way to make MLS data more accurate or public data more timely or both?

One possibility has been created by TRID, the new closing process that took effect last October.

Lenders are required to provide their borrowers with final costs, including final prices three days before settlement. With final numbers available earlier than ever, will brokers be able to report prices to their MLSs months before they are posted in the courthouse?

Unfortunately, this solution may not be as easy as it looks. Privacy concerns are an issue and many lenders are resisting making the new TRID forms available to agents. Discussions are underway to work out a solution.

Other parts of the solution might include:

  • Double checking broker-supplied data when public data becomes available, an expensive proposition for MLSs that corrects errors after the fact, but doesn’t really solve the problem;
  • Better education and training to encourage agents and brokers to file corrected contract prices that have changed between contract signing and settlement;
  • Clearly label contract prices as pending sales and be sure they are replaced with sold prices after settlement. This might include user-friendly software, including mobile apps, that reminds agents to file price data and makes it easy to enter data. The software could also aggregate accurate price and sales data for agents and brokers to use in their marketing efforts;
  • Conduct additional research that builds upon the Florida Gulf Coast University study to identify market conditions, geographic regions, property types, seasons of the year and other factors that correspond to increased errors; and
  • Undertake periodic analyses of errors by MLSs to identify specific brokers and agents who might account for a preponderance of errors.

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Steve Cook is editor and co-publisher of Real Estate Economy Watch, which has been recognized as one of the two best real estate news sites in the nation by the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Before he co-founded REEW in 2007, Cook was vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Realtors.

Real Estate Big Data

With housing demand so high, why are sales stagnant?

(REAL ESTATE NEWS) The housing market is on fire, yet some serious constraints are holding back sales levels – let’s discuss.

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housing optimism

If you have a pulse and are on the internet, you already know that the housing market is white hot, with bidding wars in more cities than ever. So why in the world are home sales stagnating?

Pending home sales rose only 0.4 percent in March, according to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR’s) Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI), decreasing 3.0 percent on an annualized basis – the third consecutive month of annual dips.

Despite a strong economy, NAR points yet again to “unrelenting inventory constraints” which they recently said would only be relieved by builders stepping up production, more homeowners putting their home on the market, and/or investors releasing inventory.

NAR’s Chief Economist, Dr. Lawrence Yun says contract activity is moving sideways and not breaking higher despite the strong job-creating economy.

“Healthy economic conditions are creating considerable demand for purchasing a home, but not all buyers are able to sign contracts because of the lack of choices in inventory,” said Dr. Yun.

He continued, “Steady price growth and the swift pace listings are coming off the market are proof that more supply is needed to fully satisfy demand. What continues to hold back sales is the fact that prospective buyers are increasingly having difficulty finding an affordable home to buy.”

Dr. Yun forecasts that existing home sales will hit 5.61 million this year (up slightly from 5.51 million last year), also forecasting the national median home price will rise 4.4 percent.

He notes that affordability and availability are holding back home sales, combined with price appreciation outpacing incomes, and mortgage rates rising, sales will soon peak.

“Much of the country is enjoying a thriving job market, but buying a home is becoming more expensive,” said Yun. “That is why it is an absolute necessity for there to be a large increase in new and existing homes available for sale in coming months to moderate home price growth. Otherwise, sales will remain stuck in this holding pattern and a growing share of would-be buyers – especially first-time buyers – will be left on the sidelines.”

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Real Estate Big Data

Home sales surge in half of the nation, slump in the other half

(REAL ESTATE NEWS) Home sales rose last month, despite challenging inventory and affordability conditions – but not in all markets.

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home sales

Talk about mixed signals. We ended last week with alarm bells that affordability is restricting the housing market, yet home sales in March actually surged in the Northeast (up 6.3 percent) and Midwest (up 5.7 percent) compared to just one month prior.

Meanwhile, home sales slipped 0.4 percent in the South, and a whopping 3.1 percent in the West. Sales levels in all four regions are lower than they were at this time last year, reinforcing the supply and demand challenges, putting homeownership out of reach for a growing pool of potential buyers.

NAR Chief Economist, Dr. Lawrence Yun has indicated that the only way to loosen the noose is a combination of more current homeowners opting to sell, builders increasing new home production, and investors releasing inventory.

In the last year, the median existing home price rose 5.8 percent to $250,4000 with March as the 73rd consecutive month of annual gains.

The average number of days on market decreased to 30 days from 37 in February and 34 in March of 2017. Half of all home sold were on the market for less than a month, and in some cities, bidding wars and immediate sales are common.

“Although the strong job market and recent tax cuts are boosting the incomes of many households, speedy price growth is squeezing overall affordability in several markets – especially those out West,” said Dr. Yun.

That said, there is a silver lining.

NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall, a sixth-generation Realtor® from Columbia, Missouri and CEO of RE/MAX Boone Realty notes, “First-time buyers continue to make up an underperforming share of the market because there are simply not enough homes for sale in their price range.”

Supply conditions improve in higher up price brackets,” concluded Mendenhall, “which means those trading up should see considerable interest in their home, as well as more listings to choose from during their own search.”

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Real Estate Big Data

Housing prices rise, outpacing wage increases

(REAL ESTATE NEWS) A new joint report from NAR and realtor.com reveal that affordability conditions are eroding and there are very few cures to this problem.

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housing sales

Good ol’ economics – housing demand continues to outpace supply, and bidding wars are now common in many cities. On a national scale, affordability is increasingly threatening many peoples’ ability to buy, based on their income.

The realtor.com and National Association of Realtors joint report, the Realtors Affordability Distribution Curve and Score, examines affordability conditions compared to income levels for active inventory in local markets. Higher scores suggest a particular market has more affordable homes in proportion to local income levels.

It’s no surprise that in March, the report indicates the least affordable (in proportion to income) is Hawaii, California, Oregon, the District of Columbia, Montana, and Rhode Island. In these states, households at the median income level can only afford 19 to 23 percent of the active housing inventory.

In contrast, the most affordable states are Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Iowa, and West Virginia, where a a typical household can afford 54 to 62 percent of all active inventory.

The report also indicates that more local markets are seeing worse affordability conditions compared to last year, with L.A., San Diego, San Jose, Ventura, and San Francisco leading the pack. In these markets, the typical household can only afford 3.0 to 11 percent of homes available for sale in their markets.

The typical household can afford nearly 75 percent of homes for sale in Dayton, OH, Toledo, OH, and Scranton, PA.

NAR’s Chief Economist, Dr. Lawrence Yun stated, “The survey confirms that the lack of entry-level supply is putting affordability pressures on too many buyers – especially those at the lower end of the market, where demand is the strongest.”

The report makes even more apparent why first-time buyers “struggle finding affordable properties to buy and are making up less than a third of home sales so far this year,” said Dr. Yun.

Although wages are on the rise, housing prices are outpacing these increases, and Dr. Yun points to the solution being “more homeowners selling, investors releasing their portfolio of single-family homes back onto the market and more single-family housing construction.”

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