Information overload

<i>Reports, articles, blogs, websites -- what's a broker to do with it all? </i>

The real estate industry is awash in information, from blogs to market reports, and brokers are increasingly the ones left to figure out what makes sense, for themselves and their clients.

It can make them smarter and better brokers — or leave them more confused.

“It’s difficult to gauge what’s important, what’s not important, what’s accurate, what’s not accurate,” said Leonard Steinberg, managing director at Prudential Douglas Elliman, who has written about the overload phenomenon in his monthly newsletter, “Luxury Letter.”

“There’s a whole bunch of information that is disseminated with an agenda,” he added. “I know brokers who throw up their hands and say, ‘It’s too much.'”

The biggest problem with all this information is not that it exists, but that it’s often contradictory.

“Something that people run into every day is the dynamic between the national housing statistics and the local housing statistics,” said Jonathan Miller, president of appraisal firm Miller Samuel. “All real estate is local, so there is no national housing market. … There is no one report on the national level or a local level that gives the be-all and end-all. They all have strengths and weaknesses, and everyone touts their report as the definitive one, but at best they provide a specific perspective that may or may not apply to your specific property.”

Doug Heddings, president of the Heddings Property Group, said that “in any given week, I could pick a subject like a research paper in college and I could support it and refute it with really good material.”

Many brokers are getting through this by ignoring all the opining and simply looking at dry data and doing the analyzing themselves. “I tell my agents to study the markets, to know the trends, because you don’t want the buyer having more information about a property than you do,” said Lou Belisario, associate manager at Fillmore Real Estate in Fort Greene.

Others say they pick a few sources and stick to them.

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“We’re really careful to sift through the sources and go to sources we deem reliable — Jonathan Miller, Noah Rosenblatt at Urban Digs — that have a history of accurate, honest information,” said Heddings. “I’m not interested in a hundred articles that interpret those sites. … If you’ve been in the industry for any length of time, you can make sense of the numbers yourself.”

Corcoran’s Lisa Fitzig relies on the daily summary of real estate news articles compiled by Corcoran for its agents. “I find the content is spot-on and the summary streamlines the information-gathering process greatly for me,” she said. “Given my focus on townhouses, I read everything that comes out on this topic, from every source.”

Halstead also sends out a daily e-mail of links to interesting industry articles, which broker Ayo Haynes finds helpful for cutting through all the noise.

“Since I don’t have the time to read those papers or visit their sites daily, I’ll scan Halstead’s selection and pick the articles that interest me based on the one-sentence description,” Haynes said. “With Google Alerts, I have a few topics that I have entered alerts for, including the neighborhood I live in, work in, and my developments.”

Once upon a time, a buyer in the market for a new home turned to a broker for everything from the lowdown on a neighborhood to a list of which apartments to consider.

“Ten years ago, people came to brokers because [the brokers] had the information. They came for the address, the price of a property, how many bedrooms,” said Belisario. “Today [buyers] can find out what the seller paid for the property, you can find out if the seller refinanced, when it was bought.”

This transparency is great, except that as the sheer quantity of information grows, it becomes more difficult to figure out what’s truly going on in the market. Add to that a rampant, unintentional spread of misinformation.

“The average person doesn’t read more than the first paragraph of an article,” Heddings said. “If they’re not reading the whole thing, we have a lot of misinformed people.”

Still, some see a business opportunity in this information overload.

Miller recently launched MillerQA, which sponsors programs to “filter through all the information, give some common sense and some basic rules of thumb to understanding this waterfall of data that is coming to every individual in the economy every waking minute.”