Why do so many agents have trouble with correct information on their property listings when all they have to do is call the town?

Asked by Barbara Sandberg, 18324 Mon Nov 23, 2009

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16
Jerry Cibuls…, Agent, Southold, NY
Thu Jan 21, 2010
There has been a wide range of services offered by agents. You will find an experienced agent will provide a detailed offering of information on the listings they represent. The reason for this extra information is to reduce the amount of questions and errors from the time a property comes onto the market and until the final sale. Providing property taxes without exemptions, interior square footage, floor plans, association dues, deeded rights and property cards with surveys helps all parties involved. It eliminates intrepretation and provides a level playing field between prospective purchasers and home sellers.
0 votes
Dan Chase, Home Buyer, Texas City, TX
Fri Nov 27, 2009
Mack, those are questions I would ask except for the last part covering condos. I came up with them to eliminate problems with properties.

I look at a house as a life time investment, not as a asset to change. So I ask about things to consider during old age as well as now. If a house is bought today, it may be great. But tomorrow, being in a wheelchair it might not work at all. Seeing if a house is wheelchair compatible with minimal changes makes sense. If it only needs a bigger door, different shower, and ramps it will work no matter what happens to me in the future. It also makes it easier to sell later if a wheelchair bound buyer can easily make some simple changes to make it work for them. A raised ranch would not work for someone who has limited mobility. Neither would a 2 level condo. Stairs would be a problem.

A lot is defined by its location. The roads around it and the terrain make it safer or not getting to and from work. Plus, dirt roads are very often very bumpy. Not that asphalt is always better. But asphalt seldom leaves you stuck in mud. The crime rate is also a factor.

It only makes sense for ANY BUYER to find out the same things.

One thing I did not ask. Does the house own the land under it. in some places it might not, but that is always disclosed ( I believe) and would always be a reason to look elsewhere. Also, what was paid for the property and when was it purchased.

Several of the questions posted were based on things from online. Knowing certain information gives power. Some information disallows a property completely. I have many years spent in coming up with those potential issues. Things that have come up as problems.
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J R, , New York, NY
Fri Nov 27, 2009
Legally required or not I would expect knowing the house dimensions and size as standard customer service.
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I would measure rooms for a buyer if requested, however this is not information we routinely provide. It is not SOP in NYS. I realize some areas post square footage, we don't do that. We have no way of knowing sometimes without taking the seller's word for it, and I do not take the seller's word for any information.
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J R, , New York, NY
Fri Nov 27, 2009
Mack, I just posted my questions for land and then house on here.http://www.trulia.com/blog/dan_chase/2009/11/questions_i_wou…

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I would not answer most of these questions, I would direct you to the proper place to find the information. It is imperative that you do your own due diligence.
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Mack McCoy, Agent, Seattle, WA
Fri Nov 27, 2009
Dan, these are questions YOU ask? Or is this really a "compilation of questions prospective homebuyers should ask?"
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Dan Chase, Home Buyer, Texas City, TX
Fri Nov 27, 2009
Mack, I just posted my questions for land and then house on here.http://www.trulia.com/blog/dan_chase/2009/11/questions_i_wou…

Yes, some are for a realtor to answer, some for the seller, and some for the buyer to find out themselves. But all of those questions are based on problems, or potential problems that come about in real life.

City lots do have different issues than country land does. As an example many city lots near stop lights got heavy lead poisoning from cars idling with leaded gas years ago. And Country lots can be next to a smelly old farm. Some areas of the country have issues wit mineral rights, others never even used the term. When looking at a major purchase it is best to be as informed as possible and to ask as many questions as needed to find the least chance of having unknown, but foreseeable issues by asking the correct questions.
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Mack McCoy, Agent, Seattle, WA
Fri Nov 27, 2009
I have no idea what "simple country thinking" means, but every culture has its own customs, and the actual practices that make for "good service" clearly vary by market.

Here in Seattle, it's like this (OK, I'm giving it my native NY flavor): Is the house built before 1982? Treat is as if has lead-based paint (yes, I know they stopped making it in 1978, but there were some stockpiles left). Don't want a house with lead-based paint? Buy a newer house! Asbestos, very similar idea - if it could have had it, treat it like it does, especially if you're looking for a fixer! Mineral rights, please. This is the city!

Have you posted that 2-page checklist on a blog here? I'd be interested to see what it's like shopping for a home in the Maine countryside.

And, Dan, I wouldn't "hate" someone coming to me with a big checklist, because I could save them a lot of time by editing it and telling them what they can actually expect to get in this marketplace, and in what combination.
0 votes
Dan Chase, Home Buyer, Texas City, TX
Thu Nov 26, 2009
Mack, I agree, to drive any amount of miles to go seattle would be crazy. Same with new york, D.C. or any other big city. But to drive 1,000 miles to find a nice place in the country with acreage, that makes sense. 18 hours driving and you are there. Not much worse than the time wasted on a flight with all the transfer delays and being 1-2 hours early. Plus, you can avoid the airplane hitting those massive unseen potholes. I know my car has never hit potholes as hard as an airplane has. In a car I can avoid a lot of the potholes by looking ahead. I never once risked hitting the roof of my vehicle breaking bones. It happens in an airplane.

However, as someone who would be wanting to move to a new area if I found agents not willing to tell me the basic dimensions of a house I would go to a different agent. Legally required or not I would expect knowing the house dimensions and size as standard customer service. It is shocking to find that is not the case in your area. If none of the agents in that area would help me I would reconsider my desire to move there. Just simple country thinking. If the agents there will not give decent customer service who would? I bet you would hate my check list also. It is about 2 pages long of things to look at. All things that could be a problem in buying real estate. Going from mineral rights to encumbrances to asbestos and so on.
0 votes
Mack McCoy, Agent, Seattle, WA
Wed Nov 25, 2009
Dan, I got to tell you - anybody called me up saying they were driving 1000 miles just to look at my listing, I'd think they were crazy.

I'm aware that there are local customs. Here in Seattle, we don't measure - you want dimensions, you come out with a tape measure!

- The dealer needs to inspect the items they are going to be responsible for selling for actual specifications and condition.

Actually, Washington State Law specifically addresses that real estate agents have no obligation to do any such thing. Of course, the analogy only holds in a consignment situation; normally, the auto dealer actually purchases the vehicle and resells it.

Anyway. I'm sure that these aren't the only differences between real estate practice in Seattle and Maine!
0 votes
Dan Chase, Home Buyer, Texas City, TX
Wed Nov 25, 2009
In my area there are 2 types of land listings for acres. One states 2.37 acres. It is expected to be correct. The other would be 40 acres +/-. That means it has not been surveyed and may be incorrect. Some of those 40+/- found they had 60 acres and were happy, others found the short end and were not. A lot of the problem is that since the first land grants the place never had a survey. Some of the deeds are also badly written. I saw one deed that said go back so far, but not direction.

Mack asked why should a realtor do things like measure a house or the rooms in it. As a buyer I am going to ask about the floor plan of a house before I drive 1,000 miles or more to look at it. The basic layout of a house can make it undesirable. Even if I was local to the area why should I waste my time looking at a house with a horrible floor plan I could have seen from a simple floor plan pic? After all, it is not only my time. It is one or 2 realtors time also. As an example, I looked at a shiny new double-wide on a lot. The layout was horrible. I saw the floor plan for it. It showed me the same horrible layout without me having to walk through the place. When I walk through the front door into a wall that is the end of desirability for that house. Having a kitchen island is the same thing, especially if it has the sink built in

A floor plan immediately shows those problems so buyers go elsewhere. It is one of the best sales tools available. See how easy you can go through the house, it has wonderful flow. Or this is crap, you'll hate getting through that place.

To measure the outside of a house to figure out square feet goes back to Ronald Reagan talking about foreign relations. Trust, BUT verify. Make sure you have your facts as close to right as possible. Realtors make enough on a sale to justify spending a short time looking things over to verify what they are being told. A car dealer would not accept someone telling them a trade in is perfect. They would check it out first. The owner could be lying or just have missed something. Real estate is no different. The dealer needs to inspect the items they are going to be responsible for selling for actual specifications and condition. Imagine trading in a Yugo saying it was a Lincoln. That is what giving the wrong square footage does in real estate.

One thing, I HATE the square foot measurement system. One of the first questions I will ask a realtor is what size is the house 24x40 or what? Square feet mean nothing to me, size does. I know what an acre is, square foot lot size I can figure out with some painful calculations. But house square footage is impossible to figure out a house size from. 900 square feet could be 30x30 or it could be 60x15 or even 45x20. There is no way to figure out what it means.

here is an example of what I would write to a realtor based on a real posting.

Approximately 23.76 acre(s)
Approximately 1466 sq. ft. What size? 24x44 or???
Is the above correct? Can more land be added or is that is that all there is? (why do realtors post a house without all its land??? <You can always say also offered with less land.>)

I would like to see a topographical map. The squiggly lines more=steeper. (That defines the lot)
A flood zone map showing the 300 (not 100) year flood zone with the house on that map. Some land in a floodzone is fine. The house being close to it is not.
A basic plat of the lot. (Even with a big city lot I can see how it fits on a street.)
Is this a short sale, a foreclosure, estate sale, regular sale or what?

The house is being sold as-is. WHY? What is known to be wrong with it?
Also more that is detailed but irrelevant here
(end basic letter)

Why was that basic info not there? Put pics up of those maps. Some good realtors do that for slope and basic lot layout. The price was low, lower than it was sold for in 2004. Maybe the house has severe mold, maybe it is someone just wanting to get out of the area. Maybe the price, the lot size and everything else is wrong. I have no way to know do I?

I did write to some listing realtors about their listing. Some from examples of bad info I posted last time. I never got a reply. Would it have been so hard to reply and say " Sorry, the listing was wrong"?

After some of what I have seen listed I question the validity of every posting I find. Sad isn't it? Probably 90-98% of the listing are correct. But with my more specialized searches (by acreage) I have found over 10% that are false or misleading. That is just based on lot size and/or saying 3 bedroom but not having a house. I have no idea about the sizes or conditions of the houses themselves. It is not just local realtors either. I am talking about 18 cities over 4 states.
http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/1417-N-Main-St-Danville-VA…
60 acres. go to the listing site and says 60 feet. help!!! This happens far to often.
0 votes
Grace Hanamo…, Agent, Cupertino, CA
Wed Nov 25, 2009
Hello Dan and thanks for your post.

Sometimes I forget that things are vastly different outside the boundaries of California, and, for that, I do apologize. I live in a well developed City with very little excess land (and certainly not "acres" of property available) with over 1 million residents just in the City of San Jose and over 3 million in all of the surrounding cities combined, our MLS service is seldom prone to the types of mistakes that you mention here. Certainly, in all the years that I have been working with the local MLS (and I've been using the system before it became "internet friendly" and before I was even a Realtor), I don't believe I've ever seen it auto-fill any square footage figure or lot size different than can be verified through a preliminary title report or any of the Realtor accessible sites that provide recorded data from local governments.

Almost without exception, when there is a difference of opinion regarding the home size, the difference has occurred due to additions to the home completed without permits. For differences in lot sizes, I've only once in all the years I've worked in this industry seen a difference significant enough to require a surveyor to review the property, and that was in the Santa Cruz mountains where land is, admittedly, larger and in very rural settings without discernable landmarks to note the location of borders to the lot.

Perhaps in your area, the assessor's office and township records are not as accurate or updated as in my city. With a huge population base and more high tech here than anywhere else, our MLS and residents benefit from easy access to county records, so it is not often that anyone finds an error in the MLS's database here. I can see, however, more rural or less techologically savvy areas having a slightly harder time wrangling the information into a correct and usable form every time, and, then, as you mentioned, it does behoove the Realtor to be on his/her toes to verify information before posting it on the website--which is precisely why we order preliminary title reports here in California to confirm property specifics and ownership.

At this time, if you see an improper listing, you may want to bring it to the attention of the listing agent or, more importantly, to the MLS service publishing the information. Unfortunately, Realtor.com tends to pull the information from a local MLS listing directly into their site as listed. Since the site is not "local" enough to check that information, a problem with the listing will be repeated verbatim on Realtor.com.

Talk with your Realtor about the errors in the MLS and they can complain directly to the MLS in your area about problems with the database.

Good luck!
Grace Morioka, SRES, e-Pro
Area Pro Realty
San Jose, CA
0 votes
Mack McCoy, Agent, Seattle, WA
Tue Nov 24, 2009
And we would do that, why?

Here in the big city (Seattle?), we actually use the actual tax assessor's records for the first level of information (Call? Call?) - we then follow up with any corrections that either the Seller or our own observations detect. And, like it or not, whatever we publish must be authorized by the Seller.

Measure rooms? I know that's the custom in some places, but not here. The tax records say it's 1800 sf, it's 1800 sf. Unless the Seller had an architect or appraiser say it's 1920, then - it's 1920.

Yes, there's always the doofus that makes an error claiming that their listing is the size of Rhode Island; it would help if we had tools that would catch obvious mistakes like hitting the key next to "d" when writing about waterfowl.

Here's a tip: you learn more by evaluating people by their best efforts, rather than by their worst.
0 votes
Dan Chase, Home Buyer, Texas City, TX
Tue Nov 24, 2009
I am sure many realtors will not like my reply.

I think it is because those realtors (making the incorrect inputs) are not thinking about doing their jobs. They just want the listing available. I could show several different properties to make the point. As an example, a house with over 9 million (9,000,000) acres in a subdivision for $160k. No way it was close to right. The agent had to do a lot of typing to put in all that land. Another was listed on realtor.com as having 32 acres only to look at the listing site and see it was somewhere around a square 200x200' lot. maybe 1.32 acres. But was called 32 acres. Land that is 50 acres with 3 bedroom 2 bath but no house (call me confused) A house size listed as a ranch with 598 sq feet that says in the description it is around 1450 feet on each level. <no pics> (huh? A ranch has one level)

A house built in 1992 that was around when a retired man was 5 years old with him having a picture of his dads packard in front. (huh? again)

(DISCLAIMER FOLLOWS)
I know not all realtors are doing this. There are some who are very conscientious about getting their listings correct. I have seen a few realtors on here who really seem to know their stuff and try to help people even when no where close to them so no sale is likely to ever happen.

The few realtors who do this are giving all realtors a black eye. It seems that nar does not follow up very well as they list places without checking facts at all. (realtor.com) It is not even about buyers getting upset from bad website listings. It is about realtors trusting other realtors and going to show a place for sale that is not at all what the listing claims it is. The buyer, the realtor, the web sites all get upset by those who put in the completely wrong information.

(questions follow)
How hard is it for a realtor to take a tape measure and measure the house?
How hard is it to look inside and find out it has 2 or 3 or 4 bedrooms?
How hard is it to say the last taxes were $ XXX ?
How hard is it to put in a disclaimer saying the school district is x but may be changed so check back?
How hard is it to realize lot size is not 70' which they put in a different site as 70 acres? I assume they meant road frontage. Nothing else made sense. It had a house on it and 7x10' is not enough for more than an outhouse (single holer)
How hard is it to ask the sellers for more information when it is needed and then try to verify it?
How hard is it to look at the cellar to say it has a concrete foundation instead of listing it as rock incorrectly?

APPARENTLY those things are almost impossible, at least for some agents to do.

All buyers, all selling agents want the same thing. Good, solid, reliable listings with accurate details. Not the wrong details which make life harder on everyone.

Don you said even the "official" information often is incorrect. " I know it happens. So why do realtors not just measure and count? The lot size may be off, but the house size should not be.

Grace said " the local MLS will auto-fill certain aspects of any property listing from County or township records, such as the APN or Assessor's Parcel Number, the square footage of the home and lot, and the age of the property. As a result, some (not all) MLS services do allow us--as Realtors--to insert different square footages or property information into the listing, but will provide a note on the listing that the updated information is "from the owner" or a "representation from the owner,"

That sounds to me like the realtors need to petition their MLS to fix their program. Do not explain about the problem to clients, complain about it to the provider so they fix it. Make the MLS user friendly. Make it accurate, and make it so anything it auto-fills can be changed easily.

Again, people want solid information. I posted some real examples above I have found. One realtor in real life showed me the listing that said 70 acres when it was 70 feet and that was also wrong somehow. Yes, I search by acreage. So that is what I notice most of all. Many realtors forget to even add an acreage listing. I guess that means the houses are floating in the air since they have no land. <sighs>
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Don Tepper, Agent, Burke, VA
Tue Nov 24, 2009
Good answers already.

In addition to the explanation implied in your question (that if they called the town, they'd get the correct information--sometimes true, often not true), there are a couple of other reasons.

First, even the "official" information often is incorrect. That's especially true on the square footage of the home, or number of bedrooms and baths. Sometimes the homeowner has added on--sometimes legally, with the required permits, sometimes not. But, in either case, the tax records may not reflect the size or elements of the current home. Same with lot size: Public records are often, but certainly not always, correct. Look: the home I live in originally wasn't served by the gas company; it was all electric. But the gas lines were extended out to my community about 15 years ago and we switched over to gas heat. All legal, all above-board. Our tax records still show it as an all-electric home with no gas service available. So don't assume that the public records are correct.

Second, sometimes facts are in flux. Meredith correctly notes that taxes and assessments can change. The proper information may be put on the listing at the time of the listing. Two or three months later, the assessment and taxes may change. Or consider school districts. Lines are being redrawn all the time. An agent may simply put down "Check with county" for the school listings, rather than putting one set of schools down, only to have the lines redrawn a month later.

So, yes, sometimes it's the agent's fault for not checking all the facts. But sometimes--more often than you might realize--the agent has done his/her job correctly and the fault lies elsewhere.

Hope that helps.
0 votes
Meredith C K…, , East Setauket, NY
Tue Nov 24, 2009
It appears you've been trying to purchase or sell a property in the Town of Brookhaven. There are two things specific to the Town of Brookhaven: they currently have information on the taxes that could be out of date because everyone is grieving their taxes. Also, some information I have found to be innaccurate in the Public Records that are posted online for Realtors. For instance, the Public Records are showing a property size smaller than the survey, or the square footage of a house has changed due to extensions. Even calling the town will not bring the correct information to the table. There was also a fire in the town offices back in the 1950's, destroying property files.

Some offices, like ours, have a Listing Coordinator who contacts the town to get the most reliable information.

Full time exeperienced agents do their homework - the bottom line is - we don't get paid until a transaction is completed, and misinformation or misrepresentation postpones or kills the opportunity to get paid - so we're motivated to make SURE all the information we provide is accurate.

We also are motivated to ensure the buyer can produce a sale - again we don't get paid if they're on shaky ground.
0 votes
Grace Hanamo…, Agent, Cupertino, CA
Mon Nov 23, 2009
Hello Barbara and thanks for your post.

Typically, the local MLS will auto-fill certain aspects of any property listing from County or township records, such as the APN or Assessor's Parcel Number, the square footage of the home and lot, and the age of the property. Sometimes, owners make changes to the home's square footage without the approval of the local building departments, and the increased size is not noted in the government records and does not get updated into the MLS's database. As a result, there is difference between what the government database will show for the home and what the owner believes is the actual characteristic of the home.

As a result, some (not all) MLS services do allow us--as Realtors--to insert different square footages or property information into the listing, but will provide a note on the listing that the updated information is "from the owner" or a "representation from the owner," so anyone who sees these differences will see that the amounts will differ from the information on file with the local government. If the MLS system in your area pulls data only from the government database and does not allow for changes as I've noted earlier, the differences in the property's characteristics will remain on the MLS and can be explained by the Realtor when someone calls about the home.

If you feel that your listing is incorrect, talk with your Realtor to see if any "notes" or comments can be placed on the MLS listing that can explain differences between square footage, age or lot size. To make a change like this permanent, however, it will require changes to the government's database,and that is a procedure best explored with your local building or assessor's office. Good luck!!

Sincerely,
Grace Morioka, SRES, e-Pro
Area Pro Realty
San Jose, CA
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