Listing Agents and Online Information. Do They Tell the Whole Story?

“Hi, this is Jim Adams from Keller Williams Realty, Lois, I’m standing on the back deck of your listing at 116 Lancer in Kings Grant and there is this big treatment plant back here.  Do you know what that is?”  Lois, the listing agent says, “No, it’s some kind of water treatment plant, but we don’t know what kind.”  and so on.  My friend, I’ll call him Joe, is really interested in this house.  It was built in the 70’s, has had a lot of maintenance completed recently, so it’s in decent shape for it’s age, and it has this very groovy Brady Bunch three level floor plan.  The home has a huge back deck with a hot tub, although you can hear whatever plant this is, wooshing in the background…no tell tale smell though, at least not today.  Well guess what?  I called the number on the sign on the fence on the other side, and it’s a sewage plant.  It gets backwashed on Tuesday’s, which explains the weird smell out on Dorchester Rd. 

So, Joe is spaired getting his hopes up, actually they already were, but we stopped the process short and didn’t put in a contract.  How can something like this not be disclosed?  There is a “don’t tell” policy that governs if there has been a recent death in the home, if they ask, you have to tell.  If not then no, but I don’t think this applies to something like this that obviously has a material impact on the value of the home.  Strangely enough, the home finally did sell for list price???  Not sure how that happenned.  I guess I could put on my reporter hat to find out.  I have a couple of messages out there.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  This’ll be a first for me.  Never done the actual reporter thing before other than writing up a few hotels and restaurants. 

*****March 30 update, Been very curious what the response would be to my inquiries, and heard back from the listing agent:

Hey Jim,

The home sold because of its “impeccable” condition. People care little what is behind a property when they get emotionally attached to the inside first.

The seller insisted that it was a “water treatment plant”.

What do you think about that?  My client Joe really liked this house and wanted to buy it.  I could have pulled a contract out and written it up on the spot.  Instead, I decided to try to talk him out of it and was successful in doing so.  Still waiting to here from the buyers agent.  And the owners.  Where is the line when it comes to a real estate agent’s fiduciary responsibility.  Where do professional advice and the obedience to one’s principal/client intersect?  Is there a point at which it’s OK for us to let our clients drive into a ditch?  Can you count on your buyers representative to protect you versus sell you when they are on 100% commission?  What are listing agents’ responsibilities when it comes to known versus unknown material facts?  What can the public expect when it comes to having thier interests protected?  Is this being “Fair and Honest”*******

Kings Grant has a row of Patio Homes right in front of this “plant”.  120 Lancer is in the MLS, and 122 Lancer is being sold “For Sale By Owner.”  106 Queens Ct. is out of direct line of site, currently listed in the MLS.  I had a military transferee very interested in this home, 106 Queens Ct.  It really does look great on the inside, and again, many of the repairs are already completed, so it would work well possibly for a VA loan.  But my client has a 30 foot boot and had hoped that it could fit through the back gate, the listing says, “Home backs up to boat ramp overlooking Ashley River.”  Sounds great, doesn’t it.  The boat ramp is good for a john boat or canoe, not much more.  Not exactly misrepresentation, but not exactly an accurate portrayal.  Actual misrepresentation can get an agent into serious trouble.  “Puffery” is a different story.  But it’s unfair to other agents and the public to over sell a home in the MLS, don’t you think?  Here’s a general rule to follow;  If you have a question about flood zones, utilities, taxes, etc. and the agent won’t represent an answer, it’s probably bad news.  I have a listing that is in a flood plain; according to the sellers, there’s a small corner of the lot that is an “A” designated flood zone, fairly minor.  It’s represented in the listing as requiring flood insurance; the insurance is $513/year on a $310,000 home.  Not a big deal.  I recently asked a listing agent about the flood zone…no answer; she didn’t know…and when I pressed her, she set me straight that it was a “Buyer Due Diligence Item.”  Does that sound like the right answer to you?  It doesn’t to me.  Now, she could be right…it was a bank owned property and she had no contact with the previous residents.  But from the standpoint of the public, doesn’t it seem like the agent should know the answers, even if it means doing some extra homework about a property she’s listing? 

 In real estate training, instructors present a very cautious approach to representing material facts about property.  My take is, we’re getting paid good money, and isn’t part of what professionals are paid for taking risks?  The more facts you represent the greater the risk, granted.  So, if you’ve ever asked a real estate agent a question and wondered why the answer is so lame, it’s because a) they were trained that way and b)because they are more concerned about protecting themselves than they are about helping their customers. 

 One last horror story.  I was referred to Jane by a friend.  She had a home in old Hanahan that had been added onto.  The home needed work so I had my foundation guy, Henry, come out and take a look.  Later, we had my Pest Control guy, Bugsy we call him, take a look as well.  Guess what.  Previous termine damage; treated but unrepaired.  You could see the marks in colored pen left by a pest inspector.  Somehow, two real estate agents, a pest inspector, and a closing attorney were able to get this deal closed with obvious structural damage.  She had to pay about $15,000 to get the home into shape so we could sell it.  She actually had a buyers representative that would have had to conspire with a pest inspector to get this deal done.  This definately would not have gone down on my watch.  I really don’t know how often things like this happen, but the more I deal with people in this business, the more obvious it becomes to me that if my sister were buying a house, I would want her to have someone representing her that was going to put her interests first.  And I’m not so sure how you find that person, when we’re all on 100% commission.  And there are so many agents out there who are doing one or two transacations/year…not enough to really gain the experience to work unsupervised…and yet they are very unsupervised.  Worse yet, experienced agents who know the ins and outs and make the system work to their advantage.  I don’t mean to make it sound like you can’t trust anyone, that’s not true.  I’ve met a lot of great people in this business.  There just isn’t anything in the system that screens out incompetence, or even dishonesty.  Usually by the time the problems bubble up to the surface in the form of a complaint or a law suit  the damage is already done.  And somebody three years from now is going to be trying to sell a home with a treatment plant in the backyard, that paid way too much. 

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