Debunking 20/20 Investigation Into Real Estate Tricks of the Trade

Posted by Judy Orr on Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 at 2:33pm.

I was laughing out loud at an article I read about ABC News 20/20 interview with some real estage agents and their claim of "blowing the whisle on shady real estate tricks." I'm not saying this stuff is never done and there are bad apples in real estate like any other business.

Here is my personal response to some of the so-called tricks based on interviews with 2 reality TV real estate agents, Ryan Serhant, the star of a Bravo reality show and Sandra Rinomato, the former host of Property Virgins on HGTV:

Bait and Switch

Serhant, an agent in New York City (which I've heard does not utilize an MLS like we do in Northern IL), states that agents keep listings up long after they've been sold.

My response is that if an agent does that in our MLS they could be facing a hefty fine - usually $100.00 a day for every day the sold listing has not been reported as such. We get 72 hours from date of closing to make the status change in our MLS.

I will say that agents have little or no control over most of the Internet sites that syndicate our listings. Many times I'll get an inquiry from a buyer on Zillow regarding a property that sold and closed over a year ago. Then there are 3rd party real estate websites that we have no accounts at and absolutely no control over.

The bottom line is, with the exception of these 3rd party websites, Northern IL agents cannot keep a closed listing up for sale unless we want to be fined.

Wall of Silence

Wall of silence: If someone was killed or hurt in a home up for sale, the real estate agent would often keep mum about it.

being silent about real estate issuesThere are rules that we must abide by and disclosures that are mandatory, but required disclosures relate to the condition of the home itself (along with zoning or property lot line disputes, etc.), not what might have happened in it. Listing agents are working for their clients, the sellers, and only need to disclose property condition that they are aware of.

Here is what Illinois law says about disclosure: "Illinois law requires you, as a seller, to tell a prospective buyer, in writing, what you know about the quality, healthfulness, and safety of your property. This includes things like past flooding and flood risk, unsafe conditions, municipal code violations, environmental issues, boundary line disputes, and material defects in specified structures, components, and systems."

Advertising False Listings

This was also considered a bait and switch tactic, but one that I am rolling my eyes at.

Serhant states that an agent can create a fake listing by providing a photo found on the Internet and acting as if it's a listing in his area. Then when people call on it he says it is sold and attempts to show them something else.

Once again, in Northern IL an agent would get into a lot of trouble if it was found that they took the time to do such a stupid thing. In my experience, an agent that has the know-how to even create a false listing using some kind of web site (or maybe he means some kind of advertising using a photo) then that agent probably already has a website with an IDX feed on it that allows buyers to search for thousands of properties that actually are listed. Besides offering an IDX feed, an agent cannot advertise another agent's listing without express written authorization to do so.

The Language of Real Estate

Sandra Rinomato was a little more realistic when she admitted that real estate agents use their own set of words to better describe a property. Instead of saying this house has a really small living room, we'd describe it as "cozy." "Awaiting your touch" means it's a handyman special that needs lots of work.

Those descriptive words may get you out to view the home but most buyers get the idea. Even first-time buyers will learn the lingo very quickly.

The Truth About Open Houses

I am very honest with my sellers about open houses and I explain why I don't do them as part of my marketing. Having a house sold at an open house is as likely as open house factswinning a contest. It was explained that open houses are really held to promote the listing agent (or agent holding the open house).

Truthfully, it is to keep the sellers happy since they've always heard about open houses as part of marketing and it is really a way to troll for unrepresented buyers, who may also be sellers. So this is one thing I fully agree with, but I don't hide it from my sellers.

Double Ending

In Illinois, Dual Agency is legal. That is where the listing agent is also representing the buyer and consent for Dual Agency must be granted by both the buyer and the seller, because now the agent cannot offer fiduciary duty to either party. The show stated that some agents will not present an offer from another agent if they have a buyer of their own interested in the property, even if the other offer is higher.

Unfortunately, I think some agents have done this in my area. By law, we are supposed to present every offer to our sellers. I would never consider withholding an offer no matter what. An angry buyer could easily contact the seller to see if their offer was presented (unless it's a foreclosure - then good luck contacting anyone - but many foreclosure agents do not show their own listings).

Recommending Expensive Staging When DIY Would Suffice

I tell my sellers up front that I want to help them show their home to its best without spending a lot of money. Some sellers don't do anything at all, some do some of the things I suggest and some do it all (and transform their homes, which usually sell quickly because of their efforts).

I have suggested some kind of staging to owners selling vacant homes. Many times, vacant homes appear smaller than they really are because there is no depth with a lack of furniture. Personally, I would never list a vacant home, I would stage it using a professional or just rent some furniture and do it myself. I also do not want my sellers to spend more money than they need to. No tricks, just good common sense. I never ask sellers to do something I wouldn't do.

To Summarize

As I stated above, there are some bad agents. I'm not exactly sure how they work real estate in New York City, but I know it's very different than how we do things in Northern IL. There are different laws in each state. An agent is taking a real risk using any kind of bait and switch or putting up false listings online. They are also taking a big risk if they don't present all offers to their sellers. Those risks are not worth it to me and I have no need to even consider any of them, anyway.

Whenever I watch any of these so-called exposes, because of some of the stuff put on TV regarding real estate, I have to laugh because so much of this information is so ridiculous and a bunch of fluff. Because I know my business very well after 3 decades of selling real estate, it also makes me think twice when I read or watch or hear something about other things and take it with a grain of salt that it's just a ratings bid for TV shows and we all know how written articles can be so inaccurate.

If you're looking for Orland Park real estate or any of the southwest suburbs, give our team a call at 708-536-8200. We're not in this for a quick sale - we want to create lifetime clients. You can't do that by being underhanded.

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