Photos of roach poison, missing tiles and taped-up toilets may not paint the picture of a dream home.
But they do inject more reality into the real estate market.
Frank Borges LLosa, a real estate broker for Frankly Real Estate Inc., in Alexandria, Va., is hoping to save agents and buyers alike the time, headache and heartache of traveling to properties that are like counterfeit gems, with overly glowing descriptions or gross omissions in photos and information that could present a false picture about their condition.
Likewise, LLosa hopes his FranklyMLS.com site, which he refers to as an MLS "wiki," will help buyers find diamonds in the rough that may otherwise be overlooked in online searches.
While wikis, like the wikipedia.com Web site, allow users to generate and amend site content, the core MLS data at the site will remain unchanged while users will have the ability to add content around that MLS data. The MLS data is supplied by participating brokers through an online sharing agreement.
The Web site incorporates data from the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems multiple listing service in the Greater Washington, D.C., area, the largest MLS in the nation with about 56,000 subscribers.
Real estate professionals and consumers can add content, including photo galleries and comments about the properties, that is displayed below the MLS-derived information. This additional information carries the disclaimer: "The following listing enhancements may not have been reviewed or approved by the listing broker."
David Charron, president and CEO for MRIS, said MLS rules and regulations do not prohibit blogs or comments, though they do "prohibit any change or modification of other brokers’ listings content."
Rules related to new online content surrounding MLS property information are evolving, he said, and "in the case of blogs or user-generated content I believe the bloggers’ risk is less about monitoring that we might do (let alone enforce) than it is about any impact and consequence within the professional community in which they operate."
LLosa said the site opens the door to more cooperation among agents who are working with buyers and provides consumers with more options to narrow their searches. The Web site features a keyword-based search of MLS information, and properties with added information are highlighted in yellow.
"It’s the world of ‘coopetition.’ While you are competing with these other people, we all work together," LLosa said. "Everyone can save hours."
Some agents already snap photos of properties that they visit to compile albums for their clients to view, LLosa said, and the Web site takes that a step farther by sharing it with an Internet audience.
"The more information they have — both good and bad — will actually increase the chance of someone making a purchase," he said.
Users can flag objectionable content for removal, and LLosa said he will review whether it is appropriate to remove content.
LLosa said that the site can shed light on some property assets or weaknesses that may not be included in the listing agent’s description. For example, a property may be very close to a freeway or busy street, and a new high-rise development planned in the area could potentially block views.
He cited the example of a property he visited in which he discovered a container of cockroach poison within a home.
"Beware!! This place was (maybe is) infested with roaches," he wrote in a property comment at the FranklyMLS.com site. "Also, the wood floors are rolling to one side and they are laid in mixing directions." He also uploaded images that include the roach bait and a roughly patched window hole.
Even so, he noted that the property, in Falls Church, Va., may be a "perfect place for an investor to fix and flip."
Such comments and photos could potentially rile a home seller or an agent. LLosa has not been one to shy from controversy, and earlier this year he shut down a real estate Facebook site at the request of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors — a local trade group of which he is a member.
The site could be designed to work with MLSs in other market areas, LLosa said, though he hasn’t announced any future plans for the site and it’s completely free to use at this point.
Karen Kaufman, an agent with Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. told Inman News she was surprised to hear that the FranklyMLS.com site allows users other than the listing agent to supply interior property photos.
A for-sale property that Kaufman is handling in Woodbridge, Va., has attracted comments and a photo gallery from Vipul Pawani, an agent with Exit 1st Choice Realty in Woodridge, Va.
Pawani also included his contact information with his comments.
"As for my private clients, to think that an agent is showing my home when I’m not there and taking photos and submitting those online would make me, as a homeowner, extremely uncomfortable," Kaufman said, adding that in some cases sellers "do not want us to take pictures."
The Web site rules do state that photos should only be submitted for vacant homes, or of the exteriors of homes if they are occupied: "No photos are allowed of interiors that are being lived in."
Kaufman said that it’s also questionable for an agent to place their contact information in the comments section at the site, even though she noted that her contact information is include in the MLS-provided data at the site.
"I find this to be extremely uncomfortable and an invasion of privacy," she said.
Property comments are a topic of controversy for the real estate industry, with some real estate professionals opposed to the idea that others could potentially steer business away from them based on negative comments about a home. Supporters say that such comments can better inform consumers and industry professionals about a property’s condition. There is a similar debate over sites that allow ratings and reviews of individual agents.
In Washington state, Seattle-based online brokerage company Redfin was fined $50,000 by the Northwest MLS for blog reviews of for-sale properties that were listed for sale by other companies. The MLS held that the property reviews violated regulations that prohibit the advertisement of other brokers’ listed properties.
Meanwhile, property valuation and marketing site Zillow.com and brokerage company ZipRealty are among the companies that allow users, including consumers, to offer up information about properties. Zillow.com allows users to participate in question-and-answer discussions about specific properties with other users and to submit property photos.
Samuel Jacknin, a broker for Fairfax, Va.-based Green Dot Realty, said he believes in the FranklyMLS.com concept. "I think it’s fantastic to get additional information on the Internet. I think it’s well-suited for any buyer. The more information, the better."
Even if the comments are negative about the property condition, that will help to identify and fix problems, he said. "If a property needs renovation … that’s helpful, too."
Cindy Jones, an associate broker for RE/MAX Allegiance in Burke, Va., who has shared comments and uploaded photos at the FranklyMLS.com site, commented and submitted photos to FranklyMLS.com for a property listed by Jacknin’s company.
"Nice place. Water issue in bathrooms?" she asked in her comment. The photos included some unflattering shots of scraped-away bathroom tile and taped up fixtures.
Jones said the new Web site seems to be a useful tool for both agents and buyers.
"Obviously buyers are on the Internet and they’re looking for as much information about a property as they can get before they hit the road," she said.
There are glaring omissions in property descriptions sometimes, Jones said, citing the example of bank-owned foreclosure property she visited this week with a client that had problems with mold or water damage. "If I had known that upfront we probably would not have put those on our list," she said.
While Jones said the cooperative element of the site is positive, in that agents can share information with one another, she acknowledged that in some cases it may be best to hold off in sharing photos of a property if the client plans to submit an offer on that property, for example.
Generally, though, the site should be helpful in "moving these properties on the market," she said.
"I just see it as: ‘Let’s keep the lines of communication open and keep people educated about what’s out there."
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