A few years ago, my in-laws were in town, and we all went to the local farmers’ market to get our veggies for the week and peruse the wares. My father-in-law wandered off, and we found him in front of a stand where the vendor insisted his wife made “the world’s greatest peach pie.”
The proud husband told us about the awards and titles she had won, and — 20 minutes later — we pulled out our wallets to try it for ourselves. After a pitch like that, how can anyone resist?
After dinner, with much anticipation and fanfare, we cut into the pie. It looked good. It smelled good.
But it tasted like wet drywall.
The world’s greatest peach pie, it most certainly was not.
In hindsight, that vendor hawking deceptive baked goods has an awful lot in common with listing agents — the ones we hate working with.
Just like biting into a tasteless chunk of carbs and sugar, I get a bad taste in my mouth when listing agents are, at best, fudging the details and, at worst, lying to my face.
These misleading seller’s reps may be able to rope in buyer’s agents once, don’t expect them to buy a second pie.
Here are my top five ways to become an infamous listing agent.
1. Embellish your listing pictures
Seven years ago, when my husband and I were looking to buy our farm, we went to tour properties that looked amazing online, only to be unpleasantly surprised in person.
After one particularly disappointing showing, my extremely frustrated husband blurted out, right in front of the listing agent, “Who the hell took the listing pictures, Annie Liebowitz?”
For those who don’t know, Annie Liebowitz is an amazing celebrity photographer who makes even the ugliest person look like a rockstar, both literally and figuratively.
Ever since then, when I show houses that fit the criteria, they earn the label, “Annie Liebowitz houses.” Just in case I’m not clear, this is a compliment to Liebowitz, and not a compliment to the listing agent.
Buyers are seeing this sort of “creative” photography as a form of misrepresentation, just as if you said the home was 5,000 square feet, and it’s actually 1,200.
Sure, we all want our listing photos to look amazing online, as that is how we get buyers to even think about purchasing our listings. Clear up the clutter, but don’t make the rooms look twice their size using expensive camera lenses or doctor the lighting to add 12 non-existent windows.
I will also point out that photoshopping things out of pictures, like high-voltage power lines and the rat-infested backyard shed, is unethical.
Unless there is some form of paranormal activity on the property that explains where the 400-foot cellphone tower went the day the photo was taken, be honest, and leave it in the photo.
For everyone’s sanity, limit your photoshopping to Facebook selfies.
2. Use the ‘we have a backup’ excuse
You show the house, your client loves it, and you decide to write an offer. You call the listing agent to tell her the good news, and she replies, “Great! I’ll add that to the 35 other offers I’m expecting at any minute!”
Really? The house has been on the market 175 days — there’s been no price change, no additional marketing, no open house — and all of a sudden you now have multiple offers?
Color me skeptical.
Friends, there is never a good reason to lie. You may think doing so will help you get a better price, and in some cases, maybe it will, but think ahead to when you’ll have your next transaction with this buyer’s agent. He or she isn’t going to believe a single word out of your mouth.
Rather than making up other offers, none of which are in hand yet, relay that you have had a great deal of interest, and ask that agents come with their best offer.
The other shady moment that makes buyer’s agents go ape? When formerly easygoing and amicable sellers flip the switch on doing any repairs after receiving the home inspection contingency removal form — because “they have backup offers.”
Again, how does the buyer’s agent know you are telling the truth? What would happen if the buyer decided to call your bluff and send the notice to void the contract?
And when it comes to a home that has a nonfunctional septic system, leaking roof or electrical panel that nearly fried the home inspector, even these “backup buyers” are likely to give the side eye. What’s in the seller’s best interests? Probably sticking with buyer no. 1.
3. Pull a Houdini
A buyer’s agent sends off a generous and uncomplicated offer and simply asks that the listing agent give notice that the offer has been received. The buyer’s agent hears nothing back. The silence becomes increasingly deafening as days pass and all attempts at communication fail.
After another polite email and phone call, still nothing. A call to the broker reveals that the listing agent is indeed still alive, and hasn’t disappeared in some freak accident.
Three days later, after making every attempt at contact aside from showing up at the listing agent’s house and demanding an answer, the buyer’s agent gets a text back: The sellers have a signed contract with someone else.
The level of hot hatred flowing through a buyer’s agent’s blood at that moment could melt the polar ice cap.
There is never a good reason to be unresponsive unless it involves a hospital, a funeral or a hostage situation. Being unresponsive is not only poor business etiquette, it’s just rude.
Although agents deal with the sale and purchase of homes daily, it’s not an everyday occurrence for most buyers who are waiting with bated breath to see if their offer will be accepted. It’s an emotional and stressful experience.
In any scenario — if you are waiting for another offer to come in, the sellers want to hold off a few more days, or the sellers are out of town and cannot review the offer until they return — just let the buyer’s agent know what’s up so everyone is in the loop.
4. Set off a dual agency duel
Imagine the scenario above — a buyer’s agent is strung along with no response only to have the offer rejected.
Fast forward 45 days: The property closes — for less than the buyer’s agent’s offer — and the type of agency listed in MLS is dual agency. This is one of the few times in life when you can actually hear a buyer’s agent’s blood pressure hit the ceiling.
Dual agency will always be controversial.
There are plenty of agents who perform as dual agents regularly and believe there is nothing wrong with it; on the flip side, there are others who never do it as they believe it’s a conflict of interest to represent both parties.
We aren’t going to debate the pros and cons here, as that topic could itself be a book.
Listing agents just need to be aware that they are playing with fire if they are being underhanded in their dual agency responsibilities.
Hell may hath no fury like a woman scorned, but don’t underestimate the hatred of the bamboozled buyer’s agent.
5. Withhold information you should disclose
Buyer’s agents talk, and there’s a decent chance that word of the home inspection that killed a deal is going to spread. If the structural engineer said that the house was going to cave in, and the buyers bailed, the listing agent had better be upfront about that to the next batch of buyers.
Listing agents are not at liberty to say: “It’s not my job to tell you that — that’s what a home inspection is for.” If you don’t know what a material defect is — latent or not — you need to find out.
Also, if something looks like a problem, listing agents should be prepared to explain it — for example, water stains on the ceiling.
If the seller says the roof was professionally repaired after a hurricane and he just hasn’t repainted it yet, great. Repaint the ceiling; problem solved.
However, if the client says that every time it rains he needs a bucket, the listing agent must disclose that information if the sellers refuse to fix it before listing.
Between not following up on paperwork and asking buyer’s agents to cut their commission “to get the deal done,” this list could go on.
I have to give the pie man credit — he had his wife’s trophies and ribbons on display, and the awards were honestly won. But the “world’s greatest” designation was nothing but a stretch.
In general, flat-out, bald-faced lying is what will make you a listing agent pariah. But like that mediocre pie, it’s the subtler untruths — the ones you sometimes could get away with, and sometimes not — that are more common in this industry, and what separates the listing agents you want to work with from the ones you don’t.