5 Home Listing Gimmicks to Watch Out For

Searching for a new home? It's an exciting process, but you need to keep your wits about you to see through the smoke and mirrors. I caught up with a few real estate agents recently who revealed some of the tricky tactics some agents use to reel you in hook, line, and sinker.

1. They set the asking price too low or too high

When a home is listed for a price that is unusually high or low for the area, it's usually to manipulate potential buyers. The listing agent is telling the seller to "draw in buyers to initiate a bidding war" with an enticingly low asking, or to capitalize on a hot market by shooting for the stars.

I currently have one of my homes on the market. It's priced above market value because my listing agent told me that the market is saturated with all-cash buyers who'd snap my place right up. A month later, zero offers. As such, the price reduction will now be rather significant to compete with the comps in my area.

Don't be manipulated by a deceptive asking price. Know your market and bid accordingly.

2. They intentionally misrepresent the property in photos

All the homes I own were first on my list to look at because the listings had clear, thorough photography. But real estate photos can be tricky. I've found listings online that featured no photos — huge red flag! — and some that have even used stock photos to show a similar unit or property, but not the one that's actually being sold. That's just the tip of this iceberg.

Mortgage broker Giustin Valnova of Just 4 Mortgages says, "Another major red flag to look out for is listings that have photos that don't tell the full story. If there's a major problem area of a certain room, the seller may try to cover that up by taking strategic photos that purposely ignore parts of the room. If photos are very zoomed in on a certain area, or are taken in a way that excludes part of a room, you should start asking why."

A good way to see if this tactic is being implemented is to look at the floor plan, if the listing includes one. You can often use that to figure out if any part of the house has been excluded, or if — for example — the kitchen photo has been taken from the center of the room and only focuses on one area. Also, anything heavily filtered, out of focus, or badly lit may be intentionally done to hide or misrepresent what it really looks like.

3. They use deceptively positive keywords

Perhaps you've found a home described as "quaint," "intimate," or "cozy." Maybe it excitedly proclaims to have an "efficient" kitchen or laundry room. While these all sound like pretty appealing qualities (who doesn't like cozy?), more often than not, these are just crafty codewords for "small." And this isn't the only cleverly-worded trick up real estate agents' sleeves.

A house with "charm" and "character" may in fact have plenty of both, but prepare yourself; it's also probably really old. The same goes for "vintage." A listing that describes a bathroom or kitchen as having plenty of "vintage charm" might just mean that room hasn't been touched since the 1950s. If a home is "secluded" or "off the beaten path," you may enjoy some peace and quiet living there — while also having to make day trips to the closest grocery store. "Custom" and "one-of-a-kind" are other words to be wary of. They may sound fancy, but a home that was "customized" to the previous owner's tastes probably has some eccentricities you simply won't like.

To be fair, no house is going to be perfect. And no real estate agent is going to list off a home's less pleasant features when they're trying to make a sale. It's up to you as a buyer to read between the lines of a listing.

4. They stretch the truth with bold claims

Listing agents will do just about anything to draw a buyer in, even if that means sometimes bending the truth. While most agents won't straight-up lie to you about a property, there are manipulative ways to make the listing seem more attractive than it really is by massaging the facts.

For instance, "Some agents will market their listing results as 'sold for over asking price,' when the asking price was artificially low," says Paul Lisanti, a Keller Williams Edge Realty agent. "Many consumers assume that the asking/listing price was at/around market value when in fact it was considerably lower. This strategy can work for sellers and it can also backfire. If a property is worth $300K and listed at $250K, when it sells for $285K, who is the real winner?"

5. They put artificial pressure to bid

The listing agent might tell you that they've already got bids flooding in, and the sellers are eager to make a decision in days, when it's simply not true. They are looking to close the deal even if it means that the sellers lose out on the best offer. They might also pressure the sellers to make a decision before giving it a real chance to be available on the market. This might be because they want to sell to their own client, giving themselves both the seller and buyer agent fee, or they just want their fee sooner rather than later. While you won't know for sure whether they're telling the truth, you shouldn't let an agent pressure you into making such a big decision without thinking things through.

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