If you're shopping for real estate, here in Sullivan County or anywhere for that matter, you've likely spent hours online searching for properties. It's addictive. Undoubtedly, you've spent time on one or more of the 'Big 3' real estate sites — Zillow, Trulia or Realtor.com. They're locked in a fierce battle to be the Google of real estate, the 'go to' site for buyers.
All 3 sites have some grea features, but also some drawbacks, particularly for home searching here in Sullivan County. On the plus side, the Big 3 have put a lot of effort into being tablet and mobile friendly. (They still have a ways to go, though, largely because of the limitations of smartphones and tablets. Serious house shopping is still better on a desktop.) They also augment listing information with other data, like Zillow's often-flawed 'Zestimates' or lists of recently sold nearby properties.
While their huge size and nationwide reach afford them the resources to develop slick interfaces, it's also their Achilles heel. They pull in listings from hundreds of different markets and multiple listing systems, and scrunch millions of listings into common databases searchable by a single interface. The result is a sort of lowest common denominator equalization that isn't necessarily responsive to the needs of specific markets. And that's the rub.
These nationwide listing aggregators largely have 'one size fits all' search functions, which is fine if you're looking for a suburban house on a quarter of an acre with 3+ bedrooms in a certain price range, location or school district. But try searching for a lakefront house or a riverfront house, or even better, a farmhouse with a pond in Sullivan County, and you'll be more frustrated than trying to pick quills out of your dog's snout after a run in with a porcupine.
One of the great beauties of multiple listing systems is that they are largely local. They were developed by local Realtors working in local markets and incorporated key features important to those markets. For example, here in Sullivan County, the Sullivan MLS includes a searchable field for water features such as lakefront, riverfront, stream, pond and lake rights rather than the more generic "waterfront" catch all. Likewise, we even have an option for "motorboating", to identify properties on lakes where motorboating is permitted. Just like the Eskimos have about 50 words for 'snow', we have about a dozen for different types of water or water access.Why? Because in this market it's a key property feature.
Likewise, in NYC, an MLS would have 'doorman' as a feature, something pretty irrelevant up here. In Vail, Colorado, ski access, like "ski in / ski out" would be an important field. Local brokerages offering MLS property searches on their websites largely preserve these more local features as searchable options.
The 'Big 3' definitely have their place. I use them, too. I'll get interested in an area, like Asheville, NC (one of my faves at the moment) or Miami (hey, chalk it up to the long, cold winter.) If I'm couch surfing from my tablet, I'll hit one of the Big 3. But when I want to get serious and drill down, I'll switch to my desktop and look for the best local real estate brokerage site I can find with the most comprehensive MLS search. The interface often isn't as slick, but inevitably there are a lot more search options and usually more detailed information about the listings.
If I'm really lucky, I'll hit paydirt and find a real estate site with BOTH a good MLS search and curated lists of properties like Paul Kaplan's mid-century site in Palm Springs, CA. The Big 3 just don't have that local focus or drill down. They're sort of like the McDonald's of real estate — OK for a quick lunch on the go, but don't expect a lobster roll in Maine or a grouper sandwich in Florida.