Writing blog posts every day — and writing this weekly column — isn’t always easy. The hard part is coming up with topics that people want to read about.
I spend at least an hour each morning reading, and often another in the evening if I can. I often get ideas for blog posts from what I read online.
When I am looking for a topic for my real estate blog, one my favorite places to go is Trulia Voices, which features Q-and-A on a range of topics. There are other online real estate Q-and-A sites, too, such as Zillow’s "Home Q&A."
I start by reading questions that consumers have about real estate, as those topics may also be of interest to my audience.
There are also questions about home maintenance, weather, mortgages and subjects unrelated to real estate.
As I review the queries and responses, it isn’t unusual to see 10 or more agents answer a yes-or-no question with a paragraph or two. Any agent can set up an account and answer questions.
Agents from California can answer a Minnesota real estate question. Sometimes they get it right, but often they don’t, as real estate is regulated at the state level.
Even though I read that consumers don’t trust us, they have no problem asking for free advice on Trulia Voices and having their questions answered by agents from all over the country.
Last night, while lurking on Trulia Voices, I found a question — or maybe it was more like a plea for help — from a California homebuyer who appears to be under contact with a California Realtor. He was using a screen name and he received 165 answers when he asked for advice with what appears to be a commission dispute.
The answers came from agents all over the country, including New York, Texas, Georgia, Washington and California. Agents proposed various resolutions to the problem, and some even cited a contract addendum that may or may not exist in California.
Most agents found fault with the Realtor’s actions and are recommending that the buyer file complaints with regulatory agencies, the agent’s broker, and/or the relevant Realtor board.
The agent has already been tried and convicted of malfeasance online by at least 100 of her peers. Her name is never mentioned. Chances are she will never see the post, and it is possible that she did nothing wrong.
There are answers by Realtors on Trulia Voices that make us look like crooks, and answers that make us look stupid. This is compounded when Realtors trash each other and contradict each other.
Why do agents give answers to anonymous buyers on a public platform? Where does the concept of agency and agency disclosure come into play in the states where such disclosure is required?
Is it ethical for a real estate licensee to give advice to someone who is under contract with another agent? I suspect that an analysis of the answers from Realtors would reveal Realtor Code of Ethics violations.
Our Code of Ethics has rules abut how we treat consumers and other Realtors, and those rules apply on the Internet.
Some sellers who are under contract with a Realtor will write on the Trulia Voices site and complain about their agent or ask if their agent is giving the right advice or marketing the home correctly.
I have not seen an agent directly solicit a seller’s business. Some respondents instead suggest that the current agent is not doing a good job, and then they outline what should be done.
There are instances where Realtors are answering legal questions and giving tax advice. I don’t know the laws in every state, but in Minnesota a real estate licensee cannot give legal advice or tax advice.
I found several answers by local agents who began, "I can’t give legal advice or tax advice" and then proceeded to answer the question and offer legal or tax advice.
There is some bad advice on Trulia Voices, and some good advice. We don’t know if the readers take the advice, or even who they are. I would not recommend Trulia Voices as a go-to place for consumers, but it is a wonderful source for blog ideas.
Reading it will make you laugh, cry, and maybe even wish for higher standards in our industry. It may also help us understand consumer behavior.
A tip: It’s even more enjoyable while munching on a bowl of popcorn.