The Truth About Lying in a Real Estate Listing: A House Hunter's View

Home Stager with Staging Diva / Six Elements Inc.

misleading-real-estate-adWe all know what "quaint", "cosy", "gem", "first time on the market in 25 years" mean in real estate ads.

But how far do you go to try and make your latest listing sound attractive to potential buyers?

I'm writing this not as a home stager or home staging trainer. I'm writing as someone who personally bought 7 homes in various cities. I lived in and staged all of them which is how I got into home staging.

I'm always on the look out for my next house so I'm an active reader of real estate ads, visitor to real estate agents' websites and open houses, etc. Besides my own desire to find my next home, I keep up on what sells and for how much so that I can better serve my staging clients.

This house was promoted as being "steps to the lake... sit back and listen to the waves... lake views... walk out to balconies/veranda from almost every room..."

By now you're probably imagining (as I was) a house on the water (or pretty darn close to it), listening to waves from all those balconies! 

This house in fact several blocks from the lake making it completely impossible to hear any waves without walking for 5 - 10 minutes down a hill on a busy street, and then making your way around a large water filtration plant.

Yes, technically there was a lake view if you define that as the ability to see a thin band of blue in the distance beyond what appears to be government subsidized low cost apartment buildings.

I am not naive enough to think that this wouldn't qualify for "lake view" in an ad. BUT, when "lake view" is combined with a description of hearing waves, an entirely different expectation is created in the buyer's mind.

All that said, it IS a lovely house both inside and out (and it did sell quickly - in no small part because it was priced way below market value in an already hot market). So my question to agents is:

What is the point of creating a completely false impression in an ad to promote a listing? If the potential buyer ends up annoyed at being lied to, are they likely to respect your professionalism or trust your claims in the future?

It's my view that when you become a trusted real estate advisor, you have a client for life.

What do you think about short term tactics to get the phone to ring like overblown claims in ads, versus the longer term view of building client relationships?





Debra Gould, The Staging Diva®
President, Voice of Possibility Group Inc.

Debra Gould's mission is helping people realize the many possibilities that lie around the next corner when they build a business around their passions. Frequently profiled in the media and a contributor to Century 21's blog, Debra has trained 7,000 home stagers around the world and is the author of several guides.


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Endre Barath, Jr.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices - Beverly Hills, CA
Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002

Debra, LOVED YOUR POST, I had a fellow agent who would state "Fantastic Opportunity to bring this home back to life..." then I knew another agent both in the same office would write "piece of sh.. create your own home" now both agents were were successful, which one did you like better?:))

May 21, 2012 04:04 PM #1
Paula Burt

Debra, this is an excellent post on a very important topic!  You made your points so well, and of course, you are right on!  One does have to wonder what an agent who fabricates such ridiculous claims is thinking when they do that!  Surely the buyers will be upset when they get there and see how untrue the claims are, as were you!  Some folks just really do need to "get a clue!!"  Thanks for the well written and interesting post!

May 21, 2012 06:43 PM #2
Barbara Altieri
Kinard Realty Group - RealtyQuest Team, Fairfield and New Haven County CT Real Estate - Shelton, CT
REALTOR-Fairfield County CT Homes/Condos For Sale

Debra -- Have been misled many times by homes claiming to have 3BRs when in fact there were two and the owners were using the dining room as a bedroom.  Another is 'waterfront'.  Most buyers want waterfront meaning direct frontage on a lake, river, etc,  not a brook running through the back of the property.  These types of descriptions have definitely irritated buyers I have dealt with.

May 22, 2012 11:31 AM #4
Mike Cooper, GRI
Cornerstone Business Group Inc - Winchester, VA
Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro

Debra, that was a bit exaggerated, wasn't it?  I did want to buy it before you gave the real scoop.  I recently listed an REO that was just down right nasty.  It was so bad I wouldn't let my employees in it without a mask.  I basically told how bad it was in the listing.  It sold in 60 minutes.  There's a buyer for every house.  Just tell the truth, and it might sell quickly.

May 22, 2012 12:01 PM #5
Kevin O'Rourke - Keller Williams Miami Beach Realtor
Keller Williams Miami Beach Realty - Miami Beach, FL
CDPE Miami Short Sale Agent 305-520-9436
Hi Debra, I guess sometimes agents get too creative in stretching the truth. I think I did once or twice early in my career, but once I guaged the reactions from buyers and their agents I quickly realised it is better to depict the truth in the most positive and reasonable way.
May 22, 2012 12:20 PM #6
Joni Bailey
101 Main St. Realty - Huntsville, TX
Your Huntsville / Lake Livingston Area REALTORĀ®
AMEN! The listing is simply an adversisement for the home AND the listing agent. If the ad is a lie, then the agent is a liar. Not a good characteristic for a resume.
May 22, 2012 12:57 PM #7
Dan Tabit
Keller Williams Bellevue - Sammamish, WA

Hi Debra,

I think creating false hope only leads to disappointment.  A qualified buyer who may otherwise have liked the house may get turned off because the expectations created couldn't be met.  I'd much rather let the house exceed expectations then overstate what is real. 

May 22, 2012 01:28 PM #8
Mike McCann - Nebraska Farm Land Broker
Mike McCann - Broker, Mach1 Realty Farmland Broker-Auctioneer Serving Rural Nebraska - Kearney, NE
Farm Land For Sale 308-627-3700 or 800-241-3940

Debra...Thanks for calling "professionals" out on this.  A major pet peeve of mine. Rarely do the "puffing" comments make a buyer want the property once they see the real thing.

May 22, 2012 01:41 PM #9
Tammie White, Broker
Franklin Homes Realty LLC - Franklin, TN
Franklin TN Homes for Sale

I am not going to misrepresent a listing nor risk losing a buyer's trust in the listing agent or the seller. I recently had a listing that had beautiful photos. The home was built in 1998 and I had maple cabinets and Corian counters listed. There were several photos showing those cabinets and counters. We kept getting feedback that the home was dated. The truth was clearly presented and shown in the photos. If the buyers wanted granite and stainless steel appliances, they shouldn't have gone to this listing at all. It is currently under contract. That buyer loved exactly what was displayed in the photos.

May 22, 2012 01:42 PM #10
Laura Cerrano
Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island - Locust Valley, NY
Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher

Glad you said it! :)


Love and light,


May 22, 2012 01:52 PM #11
Christine Donovan
Donovan Blatt Realty - Costa Mesa, CA
Broker/Attorney 714-319-9751 DRE01267479 - Costa M

Debra - There are certain descriptions that just make you scratch your head.

May 22, 2012 03:47 PM #12
Phil Leng
Retired - Kirkland, WA
Phil Leng - Retired

Hi Debra,

I took a class the other day.

In it, the instructor said it is acceptable for real estate agents to "puff" their listings.

But certainly not LIE!


May 22, 2012 06:08 PM #13
Mike Warren
Real Estate - Colorado Springs, CO

That is quite rude. You know, just like subtitles that say almost nothing about the real content for a product or property. Most of the time, advertisements are used to just get prospects and suddenly disappoint them when they're there. My my my. Great post!

May 22, 2012 06:09 PM #14
Kathy Nielsen - Marietta, GA
Atlanta Georgia Home Stager

Awesome post, Debra. 

Nothing like disappointing the potential buyer when, upon arrival, they find nothing that was desribed in the listing. 

Congrats on the feature.


May 22, 2012 10:45 PM #15
Steven Cook
No Longer Processing Mortgages. - Tacoma, WA

Debra -- great post - excellent example of what not to do.  You mentioned it sold for well under market -- shows that the listing agent really didn't know what they were doing in helping buyer set price, or in properly marketing.  Yes, you can get people to come look at it, but they won't really want you as their agent if you pass the line between "puff" and "lie".

May 23, 2012 04:12 AM #16
Debra Gould
Staging Diva / Six Elements Inc. - Toronto, ON
The Staging Diva

I was out of town and didn't realize this post had been featured. Thanks everyone for your comments and apologies for not responding sooner!

Enjoyed the distinction so many of you made between "puffing" a listing and actually telling lies which don't serve you in the long run since they only disappoint potential buyers (at minimum) or worse, really piss them off and destroy your credibility.

Reminds me of the line home stager have to always walk between showcasing a home's best features (which does distract people from the property's flaws) versus actually covering up defects (which a stager with integrity will not do).

Thanks again for joining this discussion!

May 26, 2012 01:59 PM #17
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Debra Gould

The Staging Diva
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