Internet advertising dominates the home-sale industry, which is not to say that print ads are dead. A good home-for-sale ad — either online or in a newspaper — should contain enough factual information to interest a buyer without overstating reality.
Sellers and listing agents can go overboard selling their listings. It’s usually better to undersell. For instance, your house might have three bedrooms and a bonus room that you use as a fourth bedroom. Unless the bonus room was permitted as a bedroom, you could face adverse legal consequences if you advertise it as a fourth bedroom.
A buyer who is looking for four bedrooms might be turned off by the fact that the bonus room doesn’t have a closet and technically is not a fourth bedroom. From a sales standpoint, you’re likely to have better results if the buyers think the house has three bedrooms and discover on their own that there is a bonus room that could be used as a fourth bedroom.
It’s not a good idea to promise more than you can deliver. Be careful about representing square footage and about what you say regarding the local schools.
In many areas, the schools are overcrowded. In some places, there is no guarantee that your child will be able to attend the school that is closest to the home you are considering buying. As a seller, it would be better to say nothing about the local school than to lead people to believe that their child will be guaranteed a spot there.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Misrepresenting square footage is risky. If you use square footage in advertising, make sure that you give the source of the information and include a disclaimer that notifies a buyer that the information might not be accurate and that you will not verify it. The buyer’s appraiser will measure the house for the new mortgage lender. Buyers have sued sellers in cases where the appraiser’s measurements differed significantly from what the seller represented. …CONTINUED
There have been recent changes in appraisers’ guidelines regarding home mortgage appraisals. Currently, many appraisers don’t count work done without permits as livable square footage. This is ripe territory for lawsuits. If you finished off a room in the basement to create a recreation room, this area might not be considered livable square feet by the appraiser unless the work was done with planning department approval. Make sure the buyers are aware that what you might be calling a recreation room was added without a permit.
It’s illegal to discriminate when advertising your home. This can be as simple as stating that your house is within walking distance to shops. By saying so, you are discriminating against buyers who can’t walk. Instead, you could say the house is close to shops.
Some sellers want buyers to know their house has potential for expansion. This is another area where you need to be careful. In some communities, you don’t know for sure you can do a renovation without going through the planning department’s design review, which can usually be done only after closing. You wouldn’t want buyers to rely on your statement about expansion possibilities and later find out they can’t do it.
Don’t advertise personal property, like a washer or dryer, unless it’s included in the sale. Likewise, don’t advertise the dining room chandelier that might normally be included if you intend to take it with you.
Review all advertising of your property to make sure your agent isn’t potentially getting you into trouble. Sellers and listing agents have been sued for false advertising.
THE CLOSING: Misleading advertising can result in fraudulent inducement, which can bring legal action against the seller and the seller’s agent.
Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."
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