No, I’m not talking about all of the so-called empty subdivisions better known as “fields”. Today, I am talking about form fields.
When a real estate agent gets a new listing the agent usually enters the listing data into the local MLS which includes all of the property information, uploads photos and documents, then clicks the magical submit button which syndicates the listings to various marketing platforms like Trulia, Zillow, and brokerage websites like TetonValleyRealty.com. When a consumer views a listing on one of these various marketing platforms, they can see the data entered by the real estate agent. The data is usually entered into predefined fields within the agent’s MLS software.
Most local agents spent quite a bit of time and entering these listings to make sure that we are not misrepresenting the data displayed to the public. Almost all of the form fields require some sort of input before the listing can be submitted. If an agent doesn’t know the answer (or in some events think they know the answer), this data is sometimes inadvertently misrepresented. I would like to think I know my way around local real estate, but even I have been guilty of this.
Because of this, there are many circumstances when I find myself arguing with a prospective Buyer about certain amenities that a property does, or does not have. Some of these are obvious, such as the view. If the listing says it has a Teton view when it in fact does not, it’s a pretty easy argument. Some, however, take a bit more time to research. I have seen listings state that water systems are available when they are not, and vice versa. These amenities (or lack of amenities) can have a significant impact on the perceived value of the property.
In the event of an advertisement error or misrepresentation, what recourse would a Buyer or Seller have? The answer (in my opinion, and depending on the situation) is; not much. Not only does the MLS and most of the advertising platforms have a disclaimer with respect to information being “reliable, but not guaranteed”, but the real estate purchase forms also have statements advising a buyer to perform their own home inspections and verify issues related to the home, including the square footage.
My advice to Sellers in these situations is simple, closely review the data entered by your real estate agent to verify its accuracy.
My advice to Buyers would be to query your agent and perform your own inspections to the best of your ability, and watch out for things that might be too good to be true. Most agents (particularly local agents) will not only normally have a sense as to the overall accuracy, but will also know what resources and contacts to provide for this research. I mentioned water systems above because it’s an easy box to check or not to check with respect to an available public water system or connections. Other common errors include miscalculating square footage, homeowners association dues, whether or not short-term rentals are allowed, if propane tanks are leased or owned, the allowance of horses, and connectivity for hi-speed internet.
It’s also important to remember that some things are negotiable. If a listing says that the furnishings are included, but your agent does not include the furnishings or a bill of sale for the furnishings in the offer, you may be left without them. The same goes for appliances, and other personal property.
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