Do you wistfully dream of having a little corner of the city to call your own, but balk at the “Homes” section of the classifieds with its hyperbole-strewn ads and dead-eyed realtors? A new Google Maps-based website, housing123.com, tries to make things a little easier for potential home buyers across the GTA.
The Canadian Real Estate Agency (CREA) operates a database known as the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which allows realtors to view virtually every home for sale in a certain market. In recent years, a limited version of the database has been available online at mls.ca, allowing the general public to peruse the market without having to go through a realtor.
The catch? The MLS’s search feature is horrendous. For an industry that is always toeing the line of “location location location,” MLS has no way of concentrating your search on a particular area. As an example, say you’re trying to find a nice little Victorian in the Annex. In MLS, you must look in zone “C01,” which covers Yonge to Dufferin, and Bloor to the Lakefront. (That includes the Annex, the Waterfront, Kensington, Chinatown, Little Portugal, Little Italy, Trinity-Bellwoods, University and the downtown core.) And if you’re not specific about what type of unit you want, then the MLS explodes because it can’t list more than 500 entries at a time (yes, MLS assumes you’re picky enough to want a triplex and only a triplex, but that you probably aren’t too particular about what neighbourhood it’s in).
So you can see why Torontoist is so giddy about housing123.com, which provides potential buyers with what Viewit.ca gave to renters: the ability to search for the units on the database through an online map. Housing123 scours the net for listings, looks up the property address, and then plots it on Google Maps. This elegantly simple concept makes all the difference. Now you can search by choosing “The Annex,” and the site will plot all available units in the area onto a map. You can also search by a specific address (“10 Yonge Street,” say) or by intersection (“Queen and Bathurst”). The location-based system has the bonus of enabling the potential buyer to ascertain the average selling price in a given area. Best of all, searching for a home is transformed from an exhausting list-trudge into a virtual promenade of the city’s streets.
But it’s not the home-buyer’s holy grail just yet; currently, housing123 uses the MLS almost exclusively for its listings, which means you still have to deal with the database’s substandard (read: tiny!) photos and the embellished pitches from the realtor listing the property. However, Kevin Lai, one of the creators of the Housing123, says that in the near future, the site will pull some of its data from non-MLS sites, including posts from FSBOs (that’s “For Sale By Owner”). Since CREA claims that 75 to 80% of properties in Canada are sold by realtors, potentially 25% of real estate is being sold independently by the owner. As a realtor typically takes 5% from the sale price, housing123 could be a godsend to sellers who want to cut out the middleman but were previously reliant on MLS’s nationwide coverage to advertise their unit. Until that happens, MLS is still pretty much the only game in town when it comes to real estate listings, but luckily for Toronto, housing123 makes it much more palatable.
Photo by avp17.