real estate

'Lying listings' fool more homebuyers

New era

Izso says the Internet and the explosion of mobile devices like smart cell phones largely have made listing comments irrelevant.

The National Association of Realtors' 2008 Home Buyer and Seller Survey found that 87 percent of homebuyers use the Internet to search for homes. Nearly as many buyers (32 percent) first learn of a listing online as from their real estate agent (34 percent).

Now that buyers can easily view the condition of the roof, siding, lawns and surrounding neighborhood from overhead or street level on Google Earth and many MLS Web sites, what's the point of obfuscation?

"Today's buyer wants the facts, not the fluff," Izso says. "When they pull up in front of a listing, they're on their iPhone to retrieve the hard data from the MLS.

"Back when buyers shopped through the classifieds or real estate magazines, the sales pitch was the first thing they read. Now it's the last thing they read, if they read it at all."

Lost in translation
Jon Boyd, past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents, joined forces with NAEBA members worldwide to compile a translation guide of listing agent euphemisms.

They include:

  • Grandma's house: Realtors interpret this to mean a) the house hasn't been updated since Grandma moved in or b) it still smells like Grandma.
  • Great potential: The operative word here is "potential." The "potential" in one case pointed to the fact that there was a large crack through the center of the foundation caused by an earthquake.
  • Light and bright: Bring your sunglasses because everything in this baby will be white: walls, cabinets, tile. Where have you seen this before? Oh yeah, the hospital.
  • Meticulously maintained: It could mean the owners never bothered to update the property. Maintenance is admirable for plumbing and HVAC, not so much for cabinets, carpets and windows.
  • Mile to the beach as the seagull flies: And you'll wish you had wings. Those straight-line calculations can mean some pesky traffic lies between you and the lifeguard shack.
  • Needs TLC: You may freely substitute "OMG" for "TLC" here. Boyd says the phrase "TLC" often means the house has been abused and requires more than mere redecorating. "The average homebuyer who sees HGTV a couple times before they go looking is not sensitive to that," he says.
  • Newer furnace and AC: "Newer" has a certain "truthiness" to it. In one case, both units were 25 years old. When the listing agent was asked why she made such an audacious claim, she replied, "Because each one of them had received a new part within the last year."
  • Retro decor: It's '60s flashback time. Can you dig the original paisley vinyl floors and avocado appliances, man? Groovy!
  • This house just had a total facelift: Loosely translated, it means the seller painted everything. But paint, like a facelift, can only hide so much.
  • This house will go fast: Might have been believable in the first 30 days on the market, but not anymore. One home with this description had been on the market 247 days.
  • Turnkey: Meaning they don't want to have to haul away all that orange-and-brown-plaid-polyester-covered furniture.
  • Very bright, sunny home: Often true because there's not a tree in sight.
  • Water view: Of course, you'll need to stand on the upper deck railing and crane your neck. With binoculars. On an extremely clear day.

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Texas.

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