Do you steam when you follow up on a newspaper advertisement for “cozy cottage” and find a falling-down fixer? Can the term “waterfront access” accurately describe a public boat launch three miles away?

Advertisements sometimes are too complimentary and do not accurately describe the property for which they were written. Some homeowners and creative real estate agents, like many people in the sales game, dress up a product prettier than it actually is to lure the largest number of potential buyers — especially when the market has slowed in many neighborhoods.

Does the medium in which the ad appears have the obligation to check these ads for accuracy? In a capsule, you don’t shoot the messenger. Most of the time, when an ad is out of line, so is its author.

Ordinarily, the medium would not have the obligation to check the accuracy of the ad. The magazine or newspaper would be held to the ordinary standard of care. This basically means that unless the publication knew, or should have known, about an inaccuracy, it has no real duty to investigate the factual statements made in the advertisement. Most of the time, it is up to the seller or real estate broker to verify information.

The publication is not in the business of confirming classified advertising content, unless the error is a blatant misrepresentation. However, if an ad stated, for example, that a home was a waterfront property and in a totally homogeneous neighborhood and it was neither, the medium could be held accountable.

There’s no doubt that it is extremely difficult to continually find ways to describe homes. Let’s face it — ordinary places are ordinary. Many agents dread the task and some firms now have designated ad writers. Some get carried away, but how many lovely adjectives really exist to camouflage an absolutely tiny kitchen?

Ten years ago, when national home sales last experienced a significant slowdown, agents and ad writers were faced with the difficult task of merely getting buyers to look at homes. Some ads were clearly in dreamland. But the downturn was quickly forgotten when an extraordinary, decade-long run of home appreciation was the sparkplug of the economy, and potential buyers flowed into weekend open houses. If there was a complaint, it usually involved perennial “Looky Lous,” or window shoppers, who constantly tour but seemingly never make a competitive offer.

We may see more creative writing than usual, as many agents have to sharpen their marketing skills after years of taking orders. The housing correction is expected to last about two years in the markets that were overheated and subject to speculation, especially Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami, Washington, D.C., and many markets in California. Economists have advised buyers to examine market fundamentals such as employment and population growth before making a move.

In a capsule, a media advertisement is nothing more than a solicitation to make an offer. If a consumer feels misled by the ad, the question becomes: “How have you been damaged?” Other than your disappointment, how has this been to your detriment other than losing some time and fuel expense?

Most major real estate advertisers — large realty firms — not only are given booklets to explain newspaper policies and copy guidelines, but they are also reminded that misleading advertising usually reflects negatively on the advertiser’s business or product. Typically, when the newspaper gets a complaint — even the basics of misrepresenting the number of bedrooms or bathrooms — classified managers send a note to the advertiser about the inquiry.

Although newspaper advertising is extremely popular, some companies rely on other means to secure borrowers, including the Internet and television. In 1984, the television industry was deregulated, allowing commercial content programming. Previously, programming was limited to seven minutes of commercials for each 30 minutes of programming.

In Washington state, Puget Sound residents are spoiled and often take for granted the number of properties with amenities in this region. The numerous bodies of water coupled with terraced hillsides offer area residents view opportunities not available in most areas of the country.

But don’t get carried away if you are a seller attempting to write an ad. A “peekaboo Sound view” should be more than standing on a toilet and cranking your neck to get a glimpse of water through the neighbor’s trees in winter.

Tom Kelly’s new book, “Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico: How to Buy, Rent and Profit from Property South of the Border,” was written with Mitch Creekmore, senior vice president of Houston-based Stewart International. The book is available in retail stores, on and on Tom can be reached at

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