Recently I was contacted by one of my site visitors about a property they saw for sale in Middleton Hills on The person was asking why they couldn't locate that listing on my website. After looking up the MLS number, I quickly discovered the property was no longer for sale. I thought I'd share with you my reply in case there is still anyone out there who feels compelled to search for real estate on listing aggregators such as Trulia and Zillow:

"Thanks for the Trulia link to MLS #1543347 (6933 Ramsey Rd) last night. Below is a link to the MLS sheet for this property:

Click Here to View Listings

As you can see, the current status for this property is actually "Pending". That means that all contingencies (subject to sale, financing, inspection, etc) have been removed and the property is no longer available for Realtors to show. That explains why this home no longer shows up on In other words, once a property's status changes from Accepted Offer to Pending, it is no longer included in the MLS datafeed that updates the listings on my website. Unlike Trulia's site, which includes user-contributed data that becomes stale over time, my MLS datafeed rarely includes properties that are no longer for sale. The only time you would ever see a property on my site that is no longer for sale is if a Realtor (or Admin person at the broker) has neglected to put the property into Pending or is about to put the property into Pending.

In fact, it is rare for a property to not be put in Pending when it is no longer available - for a variety of reasons. For one, the MLS is what other Realtors rely on to obtain the most up-to-date status for any given property. If a property is no longer for sale, that has to be reflected on the MLS so that other Realtors don't attempt to schedule showings for that property. In fact, in most cases once all contingencies are removed sellers won't allow further showings since secondary offers can no longer be entertained. With Trulia and Zillow, however, there is no incentive for a Realtor to update the status of properties they input on the site. Other Realtors do not use Trulia for property information so by neglecting to update the property's status, the listing agent does not risk upsetting other Realtors and also retains the possibility a buyer will contact them about that listing. At that point the agent can attempt to show the prospective buyer something else that is still available.

So, if you're ever in doubt about whether a property is still for sale, just type in the MLS number into the MLS search on the home page of If it comes up, it's still available to show. If it doesn't come up, it's no longer for sale. And don't ever worry you'll miss something if you use my site exclusively. All the listings in the SCWMLS (South Central Wisconsin MLS) are updated on my site every three hours, 24 hours a day!"

Unfortunately, the above story is not an isolated case. It happens all the time. There have even been cases where homeowners were stunned to learn that their home was for sale on Trulia or Zillow despite there being no listing agreement, no authorization to advertise, nor any other action to suggest the homeowners had put their home on the market. The problem is that Realtors can choose to automatically syndicate their online flyers to listing aggregators like Trulia and Zillow. So a flyer that was created years ago with outdated pricing and contact information shows up as a current listing on these sites even though the property is no longer on the market!

Stale listings by listing aggregators such as Trulia and Zillow are a real problem. Please don't waste your time searching for homes on such sites. Trulia and Zillow are not true search engines as they do not get their listings by direct MLS feed - instead, they rely on user contributed data. Use to search from thousands of active, available properties. We've got  the freshest listings available because our site's data feed is updated directly by the South Central WI MLS every three hours, 24 hours a day!

Happy house-hunting!

UPDATE: It's now November 2010 and Brian Boero of 1000 Watt Consulting, in addition to many others, are still complaining about stale data on Zillow and the need to clean up online listings once and for all.

Posted by Jolenta Averill on
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Hi Jolenta!

I removed the property in question but want to clarify a few things.

It looks we were getting that listing directly from the Keller Williams feed. If the listing agent updated the status in KWLS, then it would be reflected on Trulia within 24 hours. It doesn't look like they did this.

Most of the listings on Trulia are submitted via a feed and as the status in those feeds change, so does the status on Trulia.

Listings can be submitted to Trulia via a broker, MLS or 3rd party feed or manually. If they are not updated within 30 days they are removed by our system.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


Rudy from Trulia

Posted by Rudy on Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 at 4:23pm

Hi Jolenta,
This is Spencer from Zillow. Thank you for your post.
I definitely agree with you that stale listings are extremely frustrating to buyers, and it's true that sites like Zillow sometimes have this problem. We work hard to minimize the issue every day. Most of our listings come to us via brokerages which send us XML listing feeds. We run these nightly. In addition, Zillow connects to several hundred MLSs (sometimes directly, and sometimes through partners like Listhub or Point2). Any visitor to our website can "flag" any listing if they think it is outdated or incorrect, and then we review all flagged listings for accuracy.
By far the biggest cause of stale listings on Zillow is from agents who have uploaded a listing manually to the website. Frequently they forget to come back to Zillow and update the price, or change the status once it has sold. Manual listings from agents represent fewer than 2% of our total 4 million listings, but they cause most of the stale issues. A few months ago we changed our policy to start charging for manual listings ($9.95 for 6 months, and they're automatically "featured" on the site so they get more exposure than non-featured listings). The primary reason we made this change was for precisely the issue your blog post called out: to reduce stale listings. We believe that by charging a nominal fee to post a listing on the site manually, we'll both encourage agents to have their broker send us an automated feed and/or the agent will be more likely to remember to come back and change the listing price or status.

If I can ever help you with anything Zillow-related, please don't hesitate to email me. Spencer at zillow dot com.

Posted by Spencer Rascoff on Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 at 9:43pm

I once had a client that got all of her homes that she wanted to see off When she sent the list the first time there were 15 homes. By the time I got to the bottom of the list, there were 2 that were still available. You would think that with the power these websites have, that their information could be updated more often.

Posted by Ashlee in Fort Worth on Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 at 10:33pm

Hello Everyone!
I too have experienced the same frustration with "stale listings" and other sites, and I'm sure that some of the problem IS with agents that manually upload to the sites. I think it's great that Zillow and Trulia have posted their side of the issue, which we may not have known about. HOWEVER:

I know that here in California, we have multiple boards, and even with the merging of info from different boards (CARETS), we still don't always get all of the listings for neighboring communities. When a client calls on a listing that is showing up on a site such as Zillow or Trulia and then contact an agent, oftentimes there is frustration on both ends. The consumer is upset that we can't find the property and the Agent is upset that a property doesn't show up.

While I like the fact that the consumer can find homes for sale on these sites, I too prefer they visit our website directly because this way I know that the information is up to date, even pulling listings from other boards. I personally have shown a home that came from a site like those mentioned that wasn't for sale! I couldn't find it online, but did find it on the MLS, only to discover the home had sold 2 years before and was showing up as active on the site. Called to set an appointment, got a call back that it was ok, showed up, only to discover then that the home was not for sale and that the owner misunderstood why I wanted to show their home! Embarrassing? What do you think?

Technology is great, but isn't always reliable (probably due to user error), but I do like the website we have that pulls all up to the minute info and our clients seem to like it as well...
Check it out:

Posted by Amanda Wernick on Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 at 11:16pm

I'm not a realtor but a consumer and had at one point used Trulia and occasionally Zillow to do home searches. . .until I actually started to actively look for homes. It was not remotely unusual to come across homes that were no longer available--either because the listing was old and expired, the property had sold already, was in pending status or had an accepted offer. I guess I also find that going to someone like Jolenta, who has accurate and extremely current information on her website to be the most useful thing I ever did once my house search began. I never have never had to worry that I was wasting my time. I'm busy and don't want to waste time or energy inquiring about properties that are no longer available--for whatever reason. I am not a casual browser. I am a serious buyer and I want very current and accurate information on what is available and I find Lake and City Homes to be the site that has that information--hands down, bar none.
This is a buyers market (I know I am also a seller!) and I appreciated that Jolenta kept our home's information current so other agents had it at their fingertips as soon as we made any changes in our listing--which put our house out there for people to see so they would buy it! It flies the same way for me purchasing a house-bam, something new comes out and viola-here comes an email from Lake and City Homes letting me know something I am looking for just came on the market. The saved searches and favorites are great. You won't be getting that kind of information that fast on Zillow or Trulia (sorry Rudy and Spenser--what Jolenta is saying is true--I was a user of both Zillow and Trulia until I became so frustrated I just stopped looking there).

Posted by Karen on Thursday, March 11th, 2010 at 10:40pm

I must chime in as I've had this experience several times. One in particular sticks in my mind. My listing sold and was marked appropriately in gsmls which feeds the agency site...several months later, it was still showing for sale on one of these sites. The new home owner noticed people driving slowly by the home, stopping the car...looking, looking. They figured it out and called me. I felt like a fool. I had done everything appropriately and the listing should've dropped off these sites. Its not easy getting this fixed...lots of calls, etc. Additionally there was the time when my listings were reflected with a picture of a different agent. I won't mention which event happened with which site. Sorry Rudy and've been great in trying to help with these issues, just wish they didn't happen at all.

Posted by Susan Zanzonico on Friday, March 12th, 2010 at 9:37am

Jolenta - we have the same issue with certain website / listing providers up here, and despite what 3rd parties say, there really is no reason for them to actively police their listings. 3rd party websites are what are known as aggregators, and derive a revenue stream from paid advertising that appears alongside listings on their websites (either PPC ads or as sold ads). What this means is the more eyeballs everyday that land on their pages the better, as they are generating ad revenue from impressions and click-thru's. While they might claim to want to provide an accurate reflection of the market, they do not - to the best of my knowledge - actually levy penalties to agents / brokerages / listing streams that update listing statuses (in the same way a local board has the power to). That being said, there ARE lazy agents in every city I know of who are guilty of not updating listing status in a timely fashion. I suggest we penalize them more heavily (rather than a $50 fine for late updates make it a $500 fine). Lets see if Trulia &/or Zillow would be willing to do the same.

Posted by Jim Sparrow on Sunday, March 14th, 2010 at 10:59am

@Ashlee @Amanda @Susan Those are incredible, if not disturbing, anecdotes! Thanks for weighing in with some real life case studies of why stale listing data by aggregators is still such a big problem in our industry. To them it may only be an occasional bad listing but to us it's hours and hours of our precious time (and that of our clients and customers) WASTED.

@Karen Great to hear from a real life consumer! Thanks for sharing your experiences and perspectives.

@Rudy: Thanks for sharing your perspective, Rudy. So, if I understand what you're saying, listings can be outdated for up to 30 days before they're deleted from your website? That's a long time in market that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

@Spencer: Great to hear from you. I have to admit I chuckled when you said that in order to reduce the problem of stale listings a few months ago you changed your policy to start charging for manual listings ($9.95 for 6 months). IMHO by charging for manually input listings you're making it even less likely that an agent will update the status of their listings because now they're really going to want to get their money's worth, aren't they? I know I would want to. (On the other hand, I do agree that in theory it encourages agents to ask their broker send you an automated feed although I highly doubt the average agent will have much control over that decision.) But I really had to wonder when you said that those manually input listings are now automatically "featured" on your site so they get more exposure than non-featured listings! That totally defeats the purpose of what you're trying to accomplish no? FEATURING manual listings on your site means that you are building in an extra incentive for agents NOT to update manually input listings - after all, they had to pay AND now their listing stands out so they're getting more bang for their buck than before. I agree with @Jim Sparrow: "despite what 3rd parties say there really is no reason for them to actively police their listings." Let's face it. The main objective of listing aggregators is to aggregate as much content as possible for the purpose of attracting eyeballs and therefore advertising dollars. The only thing that is going to be a game changer is if Trulia and Zillow start fining agents and brokerages that fail to update their listings like Jim suggested, the same way a local board has the power to. Is Zillow willing to do that? Is Trulia willing to do that? If not, then one must naturally conclude that the advertising dollars aggregators aim to attract trump toiling over data integrity. Moreover, web-saavy agents understand that aggregators are in competition for their SERPs, yet another reason it makes little sense for agents to GIVE aggregators their listings at all, let alone PAY to submit them.

Posted by Webmaster on Sunday, March 14th, 2010 at 1:30pm

Most listngs(INCLUDING-MLS) Don't update. In my looking for homes in the Madison area- many listings I thought were available were under contract. I believe too many people are wanting back up interest in the selling(under contract) home in case the initial offer does not pan out or are wanting leads for interest in new/different properties.

Posted by Jeff on Monday, March 15th, 2010 at 9:28pm

Rudy and Spencer are absolutely right when they say that these days, the majority of their data comes from broker or association feeds. I belong to HAR - the largest association of Realtors in the country, and they syndicate their feeds to both Zillow and Trulia directly. However the matter starts to get tangled when agents start using marketing solutions such as Postlets, Vflyer etc that automatically syndicate the entered info to these sites as well. And I think that's where both Zillow and Trulia are currently failing at quality control. Because after all, I would assume that this data is being aggregated in their algorithms to calculate Zestimates, median sales prices, inventory figures etc. And if that's true doesn't that raise serious concerns about the accuracy of those calculations?

Posted by Erion Shehaj on Monday, March 15th, 2010 at 9:37pm

@Jeff Thanks for sharing your views - that's a twist I hadn't thought of!

@Erion You raise several great points. In our market, agents can actually opt out of auto-submitting their listings to listing aggregators. Also, I occasionally have clients who mention Zestimates as the rationale for what we should offer on a property. Naturally I feel compelled to tell them not only how the accuracy of Zestimates is being distorted by "stale" listings but also how the accuracy of Zestimates is distorted when Realtors opt out of submitting their listings. Afterall, it's a fact that more and more Realtors are wising up to the fact that aggregators are in direct competition with Realtors and brokers in the SERPs. Thus, listing aggregators like Trulia and Zillow by definition are missing key data, as well as including data that shouldn't be there at all. And the sad fact for them is that no matter how hard they try, they always will be. Bottom line: agents and brokers who value their SERPs should stop submitting their listings to listing aggregators. And consumers who value their time should stop patronizing listing aggregators who merely re-purpose data (often unreliable) simply to sell advertising.

Posted by Webmaster on Monday, March 15th, 2010 at 9:51pm

I have had that experience several times. It seems to happen most often when advertising in some of the online magazines. The magazines themselves do a decent job of keeping things up to date, but the companies that aggregate the listing are horrible. I have had some cases that people have called on that are three to four months old. I have learned to try and educate those clients how to properly search for homes and have turned some into clients.
One of the worst offenders was Zillow I made an account with Zillow and then let it go stale. I am not sure where they got the feed, but when I logged back in months later I found a property that was six months old on my account. I am not an expert at Zillow and it took some effort to get it removed. I emailed with no response, however I finally figured it out on my own. It was frustrating.

Posted by Mike Harrison on Tuesday, March 16th, 2010 at 6:04pm

I would just advise the buyers in my initial buyer appt. Sometimes if they take a lot of time looking and find that the places are under contract it helps to create a sense of urgency so they dont dilly dally when they find a good one. So i would just advise them once and not mention it again. Buyers biggest objection is usually that they feel they havent seen enough or looked enough. If they blow 10 hours on trulia etc. it will help them overcome this feeling. unfortunately it is a necessary step. other than that, we could listen to them and comb thru mls and show one house, but they never believe us, they have to feel as if they looked

Posted by Patrick Lydon on Saturday, March 20th, 2010 at 11:42pm

Other culprits of expired/ out of date property listings are free listing sites. Many of these, but not all, are FSBO. It's particularly bad in the markets we cover (Central America) as there is no MLS or other central registry of property information with which to do a double check.

Posted by Claudia Gonella on Thursday, March 25th, 2010 at 8:55pm

Hi Claudia, Thanks for stopping by. It was mind-blowing to hear that you don't have an MLS or central property database where you can verify property listing data. How on earth do you manage? That has got to be terribly frustrating.

Posted by Jolenta Averill on Thursday, March 25th, 2010 at 10:02pm

Yes not having an MLS is a major headache over here. The problem is compounded by the fact that many US buyers and sellers assume that things work like they do back home. This can set them up for trouble.

They often don't realise that it's practically impossible to get reliable comps (we have to rely on asking prices); that they have to put in tons of time, trudging around with every real estate agent in their market if they really want to see every property that fits their criteria; and sellers often don't get the kind of marketing support they deserve as 'open listings' as the norm.

Posted by Claudia Gonella on Friday, March 26th, 2010 at 11:20am

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