MLS Insight: Thinking About an RMLS™ Without Area Numbers

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This post is part of MLS Insight, a series about how things work at RMLS™.

1992RMLSAreaMapAn MLS without area numbers: this idea might strike terror in your heart….or you might say to yourself, “it’s about time!” In any case, it is not a proposal that is currently on the table, but with the changes in technology and the way people think about location, it is probably not too early to start the conversation.

When RMLS™ opened its doors in 1991, it was to the REALTORS® in the Portland metropolitan area in Oregon. At that time, the major advertising vehicle for homes for sale was the newspaper—The Oregonian, in our case. RMLS™ based its MLS area numbers on the map and classified ad numbers of The Oregonian. The 12 core areas for Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington counties have remained basically unchanged for 23 years.

When regions were added, local preferences regarding area numbers were retained. Clark County, for example, is divided into more than 30 areas, while Coos County is contained in one area.

The end result is more than 200 area numbers in RMLSweb, without a common reason why each geographical area is an “Area Number.” In some cases, a single area comprises several large but dissimilar communities. In others, areas may have so few listings and sales as a sample size that few, if any, conclusions could be drawn from looking at their data. In fact, there are rural areas that had no new listings and no closed sales in all of 2013.

In the world of today, The Oregonian posts its real estate ads online and there is no search option for area numbers. GPS location services have replaced maps to a large degree. It is a very different world than the world of 1991, when there was a Thomas Brothers map in the car of virtually every REALTOR®.

Here are some things to think about:

What role do area numbers play in the life of an RMLS™ subscriber today?

Has map search replaced searching by area number? Could it?

What could replace area numbers for searching besides map search—counties? zip codes? There should be something to narrow the initial search that pertains to location.

What about Market Action and other statistical reports? (Some counties are already reported in terms of zip codes in Market Action.)

If and when we ever do move away from area numbers, we need to have a good plan to meet the needs of our subscribers. Ideas?

Thanks for voyaging into the future with me. Next month we will talk with the various departments at RMLS™ and their plans for the upcoming year. If you have any questions you would like to have answered about how things work at RMLS™, I encourage you to post a comment to this blog.

UPDATE (November 20, 2014): RMLS™ is not the only MLS engaging in this interesting discussion. Here’s an article from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer about NWMLS area numbers.

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9 Responses to “MLS Insight: Thinking About an RMLS™ Without Area Numbers”

  1. Jeff Yake September 25, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

    I like the RMLS areas because they relate to geographical zones that one does not have to enter city or zip codes as search parameters. The computer server does not have to look through the whole RMLS for your desired item(s). Faster all the way around.

    Another subject, the SentriLock Boxes. The Iphone app that does not require the card to enter is predicated on the lock box “waking up” when one pushes the Enter Key. I had a lockbox not wake up when the Enter Key was pushed and I had not updated my card nor was it on my person. I put a regular CC into the SentriLock Box and it woke up. Then I used the App to enter.

    • Gail Hare September 26, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

      Thanks for your ideas on the RMLS™ areas and for sharing your quick thinking that woke up the sleeping lockbox. In a perfect world, the lockbox would always wake up by pressing the “enter” key but if the box has gone completely to sleep to preserve battery life inserting some form of card into the card slot will wake it up. Luckily, it does not have to be the SentriCard itself. As you discovered, a business or credit card will do the trick.

  2. Rob Levy September 29, 2014 at 9:56 am #

    I’d love to see “common sense” boundaries, such as 217 as a western boundary for 148 (or another number) rather than streets that make no sense and cause homes to be listed in the wrong area frequently. Also, I have always envied other cities where the area numbers are for much smaller geographical areas so a more refined search can be made. I think Gail is dead-on right, now is the time to address this as its all changed from when we switched from OMLS to RMLS “way back then”.

  3. Jim Hale September 29, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    No, RMLS should not become just another Zillow – with market data pulled by ZIP Code.
    What does the Postal Service’s mapping decisions have to do with real estate? Answer: Far less than the old newspaper classified breakdowns. (Or, if you prefer: ZIP, i.e. nada.)
    We need market data at lower than the county level.
    Using ZIP codes in rural areas makes no sense…..they follow rural carrier routes, not school districts.
    Using ZIP codes in urban areas makes no sense, either — ZIP codes are created based on mail volume which has nothing to do with the decisions of home buyers.
    We could use school districts (in rural and some parts of urban areas) and high school attendance areas in urban areas for market reports. But that has a weakness, too. Many urban or suburban high schools draw students from rural as well as urban areas. We can search for buyers seeking city-only or country-only homes within a high school area most easily by using the old newspaper zones (RMLS market areas) to define the search.
    The RMLS market areas are neither outmoded or broken. Please do not mess with them.

  4. Kevin Sucher September 29, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    Looking at this you can not lump GPS and searching a database into the same thing. GPS is directional for traveling to a property. Searching a database needs categories to allow a search to happen and zip codes are too small of an area. Like Rob said above these area numbers need to be more logical by real boundaries and density. Clark County with more than 30 areas is overkill.

  5. Erik Bjorge September 29, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    As Rob mentioned above, more “common sense” boundaries are what is needed. As has been mentioned in the past, the challenge with this (and any system changes) is how to make the transition. In this case it means that some areas will change quite a bit (and for good reason ex: anything around Raleigh Hills), but others will change very little, if at all. Sure, to get more accurate results will mean running comps primarily by map search for a while, but many of us do this anyway due to how inaccurate the MLS areas are anyway. In my opinion, the benefit of defining the market areas in the way that the market itself (the buyers/sellers in those areas) defines itself, far outweighs the challenges during the transition. And the future value to us as Realtors of retaining a more logical and proprietary system (instead of “being like zillow”) is even greater over the long run.

  6. Glen Eggers September 30, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    Yes, Clark county has some areas that could be combined, but as I see it, the areas are seperated by kinds of housing types and/or geographic locations.
    Some are defined by the age of the area and the type of homes in that particular area. I would not like to see a change.
    I was looking for an address in Greasham recently ang that area incompassed a huge area –way to big.

  7. Dennis Harlow October 7, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    The area number searches always works when the map search will not. Don’t take away a back up tool.

  8. Larry Janson February 5, 2016 at 1:31 pm #

    I am for it, using the new map search feature would be the easy way to search for homes in or around a current listing.

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