Dangers of online home shopping

The internet has caused major disruptions in the home selling industry, not the least of which is the wide availability of volumes of information about homes for sale.

As recently as 30 years ago, realtors functioned as gatekeepers of information about almost all homes that were for sale. And realtors are required to subscribe to a strict code of ethics. In addition, they are regulated by state governing authorities nationwide.

What good does that do? Well, when one group controls the market and the information the public wants, they can set rules regarding truth in advertising and other aspects of the transaction.

For better or worse, the truth is that realtors did a good job of policing themselves. But today, many sellers set up their own websites and post their own descriptions on sites like Zillow and Weebly. And with no one to regulate that online flow of information, some sellers are tempted to take liberties with the truth.

What should the online home shopper look out for? According to real estate expert John Adams, several things: 

  1. Beware of pictures that are professionally enhanced to make the property look spectacular.  Today, it’s common to use a widescreen lens to make even cramped homes look huge. And there are online staging services that will take your pictures of empty rooms and decorate them with artificial images so real you can’t tell the difference.
    As a result, buyers are often surprised at how small the place really is. These practices have become widespread.
  2. In addition, look out for images that have been altered by high definition graphics programs like photoshop. Professionals can digitally alter a picture to make a dump look like a palace.
  3. Doctored photos can actually go so far as to give the property a sumptuous landscape, giving the impression of the house being in a beautiful forested and landscaped setting. Very peaceful.
    Don't be surprised if the actual property is in a rough neighborhood with gang activity and drug sales on the corner!
  4. Finally, know that online listings will almost NEVER share the bad news with online viewers. Instead, sellers count on buyers to build up their expectations so much that they are willing to accept the serious flaws of reality. When they hear gunshots in the neighborhood and smell the hog farm next door, reality sinks in.

What can a shopper do to protect him or herself from this problem? 

Three suggestions:

  • Don’t get too attached to any single property.  Wait until you visit the house in person to get the full story. Make sure you see the good, the bad, and the ugly!
  • Find a good REALTOR and consider a BUYER’s AGENT.  A REALTOR has signed a Code of Ethics and will make sure you see both sides of every property. And a buyer’s agent will represent YOU, not the seller.
  • Finally, try to be patient in your search for a home. Impulse decisions now can cost you thousands of dollars down the road.
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