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Data Quality

By Steve Jones,

Today we have an editorial reprinted from Dec 12, 2005 as Steve is on vacation.

My wife and I were out looking at new houses this past weekend and I was amazed at the data quality issues that we found in various listings. These weren't new houses as I'm not quite in the place where I can afford a new house with some land, at least not the 30+ acre plots we were looking at.

What we found as we went from place to place was an amazingly inconsistent amount and quality of data in the listings. Before all the IT guys that work in real estate come after me, I'm not blaming the applications, the developers, etc. This is really a data quality issue probably from the data entry people.

As we've researched properties and looked at the information online, we've often encountered conflicting information between what we'll actually see in the listings and what the property looks like. More often, we don't see the same information in each listings. We tend to look for acreage, and it's amazing how many listings leave off the size of the property, or leave off the garage spaces. It's usual in Colorado to have 3 spaces in newer homes and it seems that unless the house has more, the count is often left off, even when there are only two spaces.

My Mom is in real estate and I've been around agents my whole life, so I've seen the issues first hand. Each agent writes up their own listing, using forms that are preprinted. Most agents seem to still work on paper, which means transcribing the data into the computer. Which means the chance for lots of mistakes as the human factor is involved. I don't think it's all laziness or lack of effort, but we all just make mistakes. And the more of us involved, the more chances it will occur. Just think of how many times you mistype something in email.

I think this business could get a lot better, especially with more standardization and more IT tools in use. Using PDA-type applications or Java powered phone apps that could take listings in real time where the owner could double check things and ensure all the data is accurate. After all, better data quality will likely help the owner more than anyone.

This isn't limited to real estate, as many industries and processes suffer from data quality problems. There isn't much that DBAs and other data professionals can do about the quality of the data we get; we can only ensure that the quality and integrity remains the same.

But we sure get the blame when it's not accurate.

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Steve Jones
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Steve Jones