Category Archives: ethics



A while back I was at a real estate seminar for agents.  I ended up being quite disappointed before walking out… because the ethics of the business model were lacking, in my opinion.

Sign coconut

Sign coconut (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

The basics of the seminar revolved around acquiring more and more listings, which isn’t a bad thing… however, the problem was that the “leader” of this particular seminar was advocating agents ignoring the needs and desires of the sellers they are supposedly “representing” by using the listings to their own advantage, even if that means misrepresenting their purposes.

I have dealt with sellers for whom selling the property was desirable, but not necessary or imperative.  Others NEED to sell and expect their agent to do everything in their power to make that happen.  While a seller that is on the market looking for a specific price may be fine with their agent using their property as a promotional location (high traffic for the rel estate sign, etc.), a seller that has to sell is much less likely to feel the same way.

And the problem is when an agent uses the property of a “must sell” seller as a personal promotion, all of the while telling that seller what they want to hear… that they are doing everything in their power to get it sold.  That is exactly what this seminar advocated.

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It’s the Photos…

One of the most important things you can do to make your home stand out, whether it is on the MLS, Zillow, Trulia, Craigslist or some other site, is to have exceptional pictures.  Not just for bazillion dollar homes, either…

Vivienne galleria, in the 2nd arrondissement o...

Vivienne galleria, in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris. This panorama is made from 6 portrait pictures taken at 10mm (16mm in 35mm equiv.), f/8.0 and ISO 100. 3 exposures were blended to extend dynamic range and keep details in heterogeneously lit areas. All work was done with Hugin, Enblend, Enfuse and Gimp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are some challenges, like vacant houses or those that really could use some freshening, but still, pictures are the first step in selling your house.  Video is nice… and virtual tours can add to the pictures… but in the end, having 5-10 great pictures, along with 15-20 good or better pictures (our local MLSs only accept 25 pictures) can be what gets eyeballs INSIDE your house.

Where the problems start are that few real estate agents take the time to learn how to shoot good pictures, or worse yet, they think that grabbing a few pictures with their phone will be just fine.  I know, phones have come a long way… but that doesn’t mean that they take pro-quality pictures.

Even better would be to hire a photographer to shoot the home.  Again, most agents just don’t feel that “this listing warrants that type of expenditure”.  Oddly, I have had agents tell me that when we were talking about $1M+ homes…  If they aren’t willing to hire a pro for a “seven digit home”, when are they?

Image created using the redscale technique wit...

Image created using the redscale technique with Kodak MAX 400 film. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luckily, I have a background in photography… and I still have hired in pros to shoot some of my listings.  It is simply too important.

But there is another problem that I run into… although not as frequently… that is manipulated images.  A little tweaking is fine, and some HDR shots might even be appropriate (HDR is High Dynamic Range, allowing both highlights and shadows to retain detail).  But, I see large areas of homes being digitally enhanced.  In fact, there is a service that digitally adds furniture to listing photos.

Of course, there actually IS a place for digital manipulation.  I have used a service that allows prospective buyers to “digitally remodel” a house.  They could go into key rooms and digitally alter details like wall and trim colors, floor surfaces and cabinetry and counters.  The big difference is that THEY started with a true representation of the room, and THEY made the changes.  They weren’t presented with an unrealistic portrayal of the area.

Some common things that get edited that might be ok would be trashcans by the street (seems easier to me to move them…) or a reflection of the photographer in a bathroom mirror.  But some things that cross the line… at least in my mind… are editing out power lines in the backyard, getting rid of stains on the carpet, cracks in the driveway and other defects which are factually accurate.

One direction that we have as REALTORS® is that we HAVE to honestly represent the property.  And as real estate licensees, we aren’t allowed to hide or lie about defects of which we have knowledge.  Advertising a proeprty should put it in its BEST light, but it should be honest, as well.

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Garbage In… Garbage Out…

Garbage Only

Garbage Only (Photo credit: Peter Kaminski)

It is an axiom among data types… Garbage in = garbage out.  you can’t derive good data from bad.  If you put garbage into the system, you are destined to get garbage back out.

MLS (Multiple Listing Service) data is the same way.  Real Estate Agents have to use strange and unique search patterns to overcome the bad data put in by other real estate agents… in some cases because the inputting agents are lazy, in others because they are incompetent… or a combination.  Mix in some “over-confidence” because they “have been doing this forever and don’t you dare think you can tell them what’s what” for good measure.

In this case, I’m talking about school district data.

Some of Butte's School Buildings (1915)

Some of Butte’s School Buildings (1915) (Photo credit: Butte-Silver Bow Public Library)

One of the main motivators people have in looking at a certain area will revolve around picking the best schools they can find.  In fact, the last areas to go down in value and the first to begin to rise are those with solid schools.  And the areas with solid schools had less of a slide to begin with.

Getting the schools right is a BASIC part of our jobs.

Unfortunately, we can’t rely on the seller (home owner) to know which schools serve their area.  Unless they currently have children in all of the schools, their data may be out of date.  Sometimes, even when they DO have kids in school.

In the case of one local area, there was a re-districting that went into effect in June, 2010.  A new High School, Middle School and Elementary School were added in the area.  But, we are almost 3 years into this change.

You’d think that agents would have a handle on it…

Wheelwright's tools

Wheelwright’s tools (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, you’d be wrong.  In fact, you’d be wrong 30% of the time.  Yep, out of 210 listings in this High School cluster, 64 of them had bad school data.  Usually one wrong school out of three… sometimes two.  I didn’t look to see if they were in the wrong cluster totally…  The one area that really surprised me was that 2 of them were new construction.

One of the tools that EVERY agent needs to use is the online data from school systems.  Granted, some school systems are a decade behind the times on getting districting maps online, but that is NOT the case here in Gwinnett.

But often, agent think they know the schools (since they have been an agent in this area since it was farmland) or the look to see what other agents have put in for the neighborhood… or worse yet, they look at the schools listed by Trulia (which can even be in the wrong county).  So, they don’t spend 10 minutes checking online.

I expected that with the agents listing bank-owned properties over the last few years.  They were churning their listings, not caring about serving the needs of buyers.  But as we have moved back into an era of private sellers again, I’m a little surprised at how few agents have the right info…

And Where Does This Go?


WRONG WAY (Photo credit: CarbonNYC)

First… as a seller, how many buyer searches are you missing out on because your agent doesn’t have basic information like schools entered properly?  Buyer search by school…  And they BUY based on schools they search.

Second… if they aren’t paying attention to things like schools, what other details are they not noticing?  I run across poor descriptions, bad pictures and other faulty data all of the time.

Third…  how much actual money or time are YOU wasting, as a seller, while buyers skip past your home because the data isn’t correct?  The average days on market for homes listed in this cluster over the last year with the RIGHT info is 86.  The average for homes listed with the WRONG data is 108.  Do YOU want to spend an extra 22 days on the market… almost an extra full house payment?

Fourth… and this is the one I don’t have the ability to find data for… how many times were homes put under contract, only to fall out of contract when the buyers discovered that they weren’t in the school system they thought?  How much missed market time was there?

Want to know more? Give Lane a call…






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Wayback Wednesday… Long Distance Listing (or Selling) Agents

A couple of years ago I was dealing with this situation… actually cleaning up after it.

I had a client that had an offer on their house with an out of town agent (the agent was the buyer’s niece).  She was very nice, but she couldn’t be there for any of the 6 inspections we had, nor could she be there for the closing.  In effect, her clients were largely unrepresented in the sale… they were constantly asking me (the agent that is contractually bound to represent the best interests of the seller) how they should proceed or what would be in their best interest.

It came to a head at the closing…  The closing attorney got a bit testy with them for continually asking me to explain the forms to them.  He asked where their agent was.  They replied that their niece wasn’t able to come up from Valdosta.  He then asked if she was there for inspections or anything else.  One of them stated that she usually was able to help them via phone, but that often they had to rely on me.  The husband made a comment that I had declined answering some of their questions.  The attorney busted out laughing.  After a moment, he said that since I was contractually tied to the seller, there were few questions I could answer for them, and that I should NEVER have ventured an opinion about any issue they faced.  The wife chuckled and gave her husband an “I told you so” look.  The closing attorney held up the check that was going to their agent and asked what she had done to earn it…  She hadn’t answered their questions, she hadn’t shown the property, she didn’t even find it and send them information on it.

There are a lot of agents that tag their listings with language like “If I show this property to your client, commission will be X%” (generally about 1/6th of the offered split in the listing).  I don’t usually employ such language because I want to get the listing sold for my client, not punish other agents for not doing their job.  But, I understand the reason.

The bottom line is that employing an agent (whether on the buyer side OR the seller side) that isn’t in the area doesn’t result in solid representation.

Check out the original post here…

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Wayback Wednesday… The Bigger Price Myth

This is one of those things that I hear about all of the time.  I face it all too often.  I go on listing appointments and either an agent before me, or one that comes later “buys the listing“.  Of course, not literally, but figuratively.

They tell the seller what the seller wants to hear… regardless of reality.  They tell the seller that they will sell the house for more money.  It is an appeal to the ego… and sometimes even defies logic.  But, it gets the listing.  Obviously, the seller generally wants to hear that their house is worth more.

It usually happens for one of two reasons… the innocent one and the not so innocent one.

The innocent reason is that the agent just doesn’t know any better.  Through inexperience or bad data or poor technique working with the data… or even misreading the market climate… they arrive at a price that isn’t really realistic.  And the window for a price is pretty small.  At 20% over real value, the house likely won’t be seen in the current market.  At 10%, many of the prospective buyers will dismiss the house even if they come look at it (most buyers won’t make a serious offer more than a few percent off of the list price).  Even at 5% over reality, many prospective buyers won’t offer… or they will push it to the back of the line.

The “not so innocent” reason is that the agent KNOWS that the sellers will list with them if they give a higher price estimate.  It is a LOT more common that most sellers would think.  In fact, there is an entire sub-industry in real estate involving strategies and support for these agents.  One of the popular strategies is to build in price reductions at predetermined intervals.  The sellers should ask a simple question… “If you are confident of the price, why would you build in price reductions?”  Of course, the market DOES shift, sometimes unexpectedly.

The idea, as stated in much of the materials supporting this strategy, is that the agent can tell the seller, “OK, we’ll try it at your price, but if nothing happens in 30 days, we’ll cut the price to ____.”  There is always the chance that there will be a buyer that will drop out of the sky, with cash (since the asking price might not clear an appraisal) and no desire to have an appraisal of their own done.  But… not that likely.  And that is where the issue I take with this as a deliberate strategy begins.  We know, from tons of studies, that over-priced houses generally end up selling for less, after spending more time on the market.

It goes like this…

  • The house starts off as over-priced, so it gets fewer, if any showings.
  • After a period of time, the price starts to ratchet down… but it has already missed that magic window (when a house is first listed) when the most buyers look seriously at it.
  • Since it has been on the market longer, the buyers that DO run across is wonder WHY it has been on the market so long.
  • Vicious cycle…
  • Price gets cut more to get showings.
  • When the offer comes in, it is lower than it likely would have been to start with.

Here is the post I wrote about this very issue a couple of years ago.

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