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I Will Sell You Anything! Agents Wearing Blinders

Power House by the_tahoe_guyI recently posted the answer to a question on Trulia.

The question was about a home in Princeton, NJ, a very pricey area, where the poster told of a home that was 200k cheaper than most and told the reading audience that the property had power lines basically up against it.

Now, any person with a brain would realize that not a good thing (see this link if you don’t know what I am talking about).

My first response to the person was as follows:

“Interesting post

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I would like to see the seller disclosure and how the agent marketed the property. And for that matter, why they took the listing!”

And then the back and forth posts started coming.  But the best was as follows:

” I have listed and sold homes near high tension wires…..as have many agents, Buyers are free to make their own decisions.”

Wow.  I was blown away.

Are we as agents there to just list and sell with blinders on?

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Aren’t we there to guide people to do the right thing then sleep at night.

BTW, the post was removed because it was not in the form of a questions (a Jeopardy violation!). Is it Trulia’s right to do this?  This was just getting good!

Written By

Realty Reality! That describes Fred, a sharp witted and outspoken realist for the mortgage and real estate world who has appeared on CNBC and NPR's Marketplace along with being quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets. Fred is the CEO of U S Spaces, Inc/Arrivva (a real estate brokerage firm in PA, NJ, DE and CA) and U S Loans Mortgage Inc (mortgage brokerage in PA, CA, FL and VA), and serves on the Board of Directors and is the Federal Legislative Director for the UpFront Mortgage Brokers. Fred is also the co-creator of real estate startup Rentscoper.com, a mathematically driven rental search engine. See everything Fred at fredglick.com.

44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. Joe Spake

    February 27, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Fred, some of our colleagues who put the sale before the client are willing to put on the blinders.
    Termites? What termites? That’s old activity.
    Asbestos? Oh, that’s no problem unless you grind it up and snort it.
    Lead paint? Just don’t let your kids eat the chips.
    Lead pipes? just run the water a little longer before you drink it.
    I think we agents do have an ethical burden, as well as a legal obligation. There is a big difference between really not knowing and knowing an not telling, or worst yet, knowing and misrepresenting.

  2. Dennis C Smith

    February 27, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    A good friend of mine is a home inspector, a really good home inspector. He knows his referral business comes 90% from real estate agents, but he also knows his client is the prospective buyer who hands him his fee. He does a very thorough and fair job and has “blown” plenty of sales by disclosing and showing physical defects with properties. Some of the stories he has regarding agents screaming at him for “costing me a commission and blowing this deal” for disclosing roof leaks, substandard and dangerous electrical wiring, gas line hazards, etc just make you shake your head. By doing his job he is actually protecting the agent as well, from a potential lawsuit in the future. The very good agents know that what is best for the client is best for their business and in the long run best for their careers.

    Ethical and legal are not the same thing. I look to work with agents and real estate professionals who always do what is ethical and legal. Thankfully I am far enough in my career to enjoy the ability to do that, for that I am grateful.

  3. Ken Montville

    February 27, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Well, I guess I’m missing something here. Living near power lines which are obvious to anyone who can see (blindness can be an issue) is a little different than deliberately trying to hide other defects such as termite damage, roof leakage, etc.

    Even so, with a thorough inspection such as the type Dennis refers to and negotiated terms between the seller and buyer I don’t know what the issue is. Every piece of real estate sells at the right price under the right terms.

    I’ve seen homes on very busy streets near traffic lights sell. Is that bad? I’ve seen ramshackle homes with lots and lots of damage sell in “as is” condition. Is that bad? Sometimes you just can’t do much about the location of the real estate. If the buyer and seller get on the same page. It’s a deal.

    BTW, Fred. Your link notwithstanding, there are a lot of people in the world who don’t care a hoot about EMF. They’re reply might be BFD. Just sayin’

    • Justin Boland

      March 2, 2010 at 10:25 am

      “Every piece of real estate sells at the right price under the right terms.”

      ^I agree with all your points except this one. Aren’t we currently in the middle of an unprecedented recession caused by a massive housing crisis that 100% disproves your statement on a scale of tens of millions of transactions? Just sayin’

  4. Joshua Dorkin

    February 27, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    I’m with Ken on this “debate.” There is a BIG difference between trying to hide some deficiencies in a property deliberately and taking a listing like the one mentioned in the post. Is it unethical to take a listing in New Orleans, a city below sea level? What about listing a property in the Malibu Hills, where fires and earthquakes are commonplace? There is some kind of disclosure needed for almost any property — if it were unethical to take these listings on, there wouldn’t be many people making a living as a Realtor.

  5. Steve Nicewarner

    February 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Previous commenters have all made good points. There is, however, one part of this post, I want to focus on

    “I would like to see . . . why they took the listing!”

    There is an implication there that some properties are not “worthy” or having professional marketing and representation. And that makes me uncomfortable. It’s certainly OK to personally refuse to take on a listing for almost any reason, but to say that some properties shouldn’t be representated by anyone is another issue altogether.

  6. Bruce Lemieux

    February 27, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Fred, you can chose to take a listing or pass on a listing, but are you suggesting that only an unethical or stupid agent would represent a seller who’s home backs to powerlines? Is that your point?

    What a ridiculous position. I don’t know why I wasted my time to even comment.

  7. Dan Connolly

    February 27, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    I think there is nothing wrong with listing a property near the power lines. There have been quite a few studies on the subject and there is not a definite answer as to the health implications. The average microwave puts out more electromagnetic radiation than you get being next door to a power line. Obviously there is a public perception about power lines that will affect the marketability of the property since a lot of people believe that there are concerns. But can you show us a study that proves that there is definitely a health hazard? The last house I listed and sold near power lines we had several articles copied for prospective buyers that debated the pros and cons of the question. We made sure the buyers knew some people thought there was an issue, and let them see some articles that showed that there may not be a problem.

    Also, what does sleeping at night have to do with helping someone sell their home near power lines? I agree with Steve on this one. The owners of properties near power lines are entitled to sell their homes, and generally their buyers will end up being people who grew up near them themselves or people who have read the studies and decided it is not a problem. It’s like saying it’s unethical to list a house with lead based paint, mold or radon.

  8. Mike

    February 27, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    If enough posts like these pop up on AG, It will lose credibility with me. It’s a good thing Lani and a few others contribute inteligently.

  9. Benn Rosales

    February 27, 2010 at 7:40 pm

    I don’t think I’d take a listing that had mold for any reason, nor would I take a listing that had to be reduced virtually 50% because of powerlines, but not because of the powerlines, but because it’s a dust collector.

    This week I believe someone commented about ethics saying that just following the law isn’t enough, that in order to be ethical you had to do what was right- people seem to agree with that sentiment but not in this case for a few which really just goes to show that ethics is in the eye of the beholder.

    Mike, appreciate the comment, I will say this, if we all agreed with everything, knew everything, or looked through the same prism we’d never grow. I wish I could say I’ve agreed with everything I’ve ever read on any website, including AG.

    Best, Benn

  10. Nelsonian

    February 27, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    If you think that your listing above was bad, I think this one is the top contenter for the best of 2009 – unconditional.co.nz/sunny-nelson/2009/10/01/looks-good-but-wait-a-minute-whats-this-here/ – and yes you are right…..its a nuclear power plant!

  11. Fred Glick

    February 27, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    Oh my God. You do exist.

    The I-will-take-any-listing-I-can-get-no-matter-what-Glenn-Beck-loving-real estate agents!

    I mean, how can you in good conscious sell someone a home that could possibly make their children look like martians with two heads?

    Electric power lines? What’s next? Upgrading them to the great house next to the the city dump or the radioactive nuclear waste facility?

    I know if someone wants to list their home that they made a mistake buying in the first place, at least over disclose any and all possible problems with the location and maybe ask the city to eminent domain it for green space.

    Let’s get a little creative with unusable property and also, let’s get less inventory and see everyone’s values go up! DUH!!!!

    How’s that Lani? Worth the wait?

    • Justin Boland

      March 2, 2010 at 10:27 am

      It says a lot about your motivations and approach that you’re invoking “Glenn-Beck-loving” ad hominems in response to your critics. Sneering is not a very effective means of communication. I often agree with your points but your presentation on AG has been a real turn-off.

  12. Bruce Lemieux

    February 28, 2010 at 11:31 am

    I’ll assume that you aren’t as nutty as your comments imply, but rather you are throwing out sensational bait to keep this silly thread going. OK, I’ll take the bait one more time.

    Is it ethical and professional to represent a seller who’s home backs to powerlines?
    – Yes.

    How about a home with termites?
    – Yes.

    Mold?
    – Yes.

    A really ugly home? One that stinks? One full of 1970s green shag carpet?
    – Yes, yes, and yes.

    Is it ethical and professional to fail to disclose defects in a home that a buyer may not discover like mold and termites? Absolutely not. But we don’t need to disclose the presence of powerlines, shag carpet, stinky smells or ugliness since the buyer can figure this out on their own.

    When proximity to powerlines is proven to cause two-headedness and other maladies, then the zillions of homes affected can be bulldozed. After that, homes next to freeways can be leveled. Then the ugly homes. And so on.

    • Benn Rosales

      February 28, 2010 at 11:47 am

      I’ll preface with saying that I agree with you on the whole, but I have to say this, I don’t think this is a silly thread and I’ll tell you why. I’m not sure I would move my own family under those high tension lines, actually, I am sure I wouldn’t. The difference with mold or termites, or even lead paint are not apples to apples because at the end of the day those issues can be resolved, but you have no control over the power lines. If you’re (general, not you personally) being completely honest and can look buyers in the eye and say yes, I recommend you buy this property at this price and not have a single shred of doubt in mind then you should be able to sleep perfectly fine that night, but I do not think I could, actually, I couldn’t. The buyers would be buying over my own concerns that I have a duty (they pay me for my opinion) to point out. Their decision is their own as has been pointed out, but that doesn’t make it any less a concern.

      Having said that, this post was written from the perspective of the listing agent, not the buyers agent- I think at that point you have to wonder if you’re listing a potential dust bunny.

      • Bruce Lemieux

        February 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm

        The buyer has to assess the risk – not the seller and not the seller’s agent. If I have a buyer interested in a home next to powerlines, I make sure they understand that the home’s value is negatively impacted – big time – as a result; just like it would if they were on a main road. If they liked two homes, one with powerlines one without, then I would strongly recommend the house without powerlines since many buyers — and I would be one of them — will not live near them. But I would still represent them and negotiate aggressively on the purchase *if that’s the home they want*.

        • Benn Rosales

          February 28, 2010 at 12:12 pm

          “The buyer has to assess the risk – not the seller and not the seller’s agent”

          Right, but it is your obligation that this standard is met “disclose any potential for harm or defect, including any possible evidence both in agreement or in contrary”, right?

          You see, this is what makes this post so interesting, I wouldn’t,( “But I would still represent them”) I shouldn’t, and I couldn’t.

          • Bruce Lemieux

            February 28, 2010 at 12:26 pm

            OK – last comment since I need to go to work. As it happens, I just met with a very nice couple with a very nice home that’s close to powerlines. They need to sell and they need help. I completed a detailed market analysis and advised on pricing. The powerlines does affect their home value, so we must price accordingly. If they agree, I will be very happy to represent them.

            Now, what exactly should I disclose? They aren’t right under the powerlines, but still kind of close. How far do they need to be before this is a health issue? Do I need to know the actual voltage and electrical current to assess the EMD? Should I have them proactively measure it? If so, how would I? I have absolutely no professional guidelines, yet it’s suggested that I should put something in there. Should we write “living this close to powerlines may have negative health affects”?

            Silly, isn’t it?

          • Benn Rosales

            February 28, 2010 at 12:34 pm

            Those are really good questions you ask there Bruce, you had probably better find out and weigh your liability before you take that listing because I didn’t know isn’t the best defense. Not really so silly.

            I’m not a snarky person.

    • Benn Rosales

      February 28, 2010 at 11:57 am

      btw

      “Is it ethical and professional to represent a seller who’s home backs to powerlines?
      – Yes.”

      Isn’t this only true if you disclose any potential for harm or defect, including any possible evidence both in agreement or in contrary. As Fred is pointing out, conclusive should not be the standard of measure for disclosure.

      • Bruce Lemieux

        February 28, 2010 at 12:09 pm

        Sorry – it’s not our role to disclose our *opinions* on potential health risks like this. A real estate agent’s *opinion* of the negative effects of powerlines is just that – his *opinion*. We definitely *must* advise on how powerlines/etc can have a profound effect on a home’s market value — for both buyers and sellers.

        • Benn Rosales

          February 28, 2010 at 12:17 pm

          So going back to your lead paint argument, in Texas our disclosure has nothing to do with value of property, it has everything to do with health and risk, and it simply points out the possibility that if your home was built before X date, there is potential for harm and gives resources. You’re right that I would list that home, but that’s because there are remedies to lead paint, but not to powerlines.

  13. Jonathan Benya

    February 28, 2010 at 11:33 am

    I don’t understand, is the listing agent hiding the fact the home backs up to power lines? I’ve seen situations where agents airbrushed high tension lines out of photos (THAT would be an issue!), But I see nothing wrong with listing a home because it’s near high tension lines. Does this mean I shouldn’t be selling homes because they have:

    Lead Paint
    Asbestos Tile
    Polybutelyene Piping
    Termites
    Mold
    Ugly Paint
    Bad Landscaping
    Etc?

    Where do we draw the line?

    • Bruce Lemieux

      February 28, 2010 at 11:51 am

      And homes with smokers. 2nd hand smoking which is *proven* to be dangerous. Wouldn’t we be giving buyer lung cancer by selling these homes?

      How about homes with pets. This could be lethal to a buyer allergic to pet hair. And you can never get it all out.

      Homes with really complicated multi-latch locks on the sliding glass doors should be on the list. The house is on fire and your client is trying to get out. Got the latch on the handle, the button at the bottom, the board at…. too late – they didn’t make it!

      All homes on the beach have got to be there. Hurricanes have killed way more people than martian-power-line-two-headed disease.

      All homes on faultlines. There goes California.

  14. HalBenz

    February 28, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Hey Fred…I’m not sure where you’re going with this post, but I appreciate your passion!

    If in fact living next to power lines would “make their children look like martians with two heads” (and your link notwithstanding, I’m still not convinced), then I think your beef would be with the municipal zoning boards who allowed the construction, not the agents facilitating the transaction. (BTW…I managed in the Princeton market for many years. The power lines ARE a pain in the butt around there…)

    Let’s assume for a moment that we’re working with competent adults. Grown ups have the ability to evaluate the risks, and make a decision that they feel is in their best interest. In fact…it can be argued that real autonomy cannot exist unless people are free to make decisions which might NOT be in their best interest at all (wait…I’m going to grab another brownie….OK, I’m back).

    In your Trulia example, it appeared that the market had established a price adjustment of $200G for living near the power lines. That’s how markets compensate for things like this. I always felt it was my job as a Realtor to provide whatever information I could so that my clients could make an informed decision. It’s not my job to decide for them what that decision should be.

    As for refusing to take the listing…we all need to be able to sleep at night. If this one would keep you up, then I respect your right to pass on it.

  15. Fred Glick

    February 28, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Ok, everyone.

    It is all about going beyond full disclosure.

    How many agents will shove a bad property down people’s throats. Yes, that many.

    How about if you do sell a property like this that you meet with the buyer’s lawyer, a specialist in the field, see the Seller’s medical records, etc.

    99.99999% of the agents would not go this far, but they need to.

    Again, there are some agents that would not take a home like this as a listing because they don’t need the newest Lexus and have a reputation to uphold.

  16. Dan Connolly

    February 28, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    I would still like to see some real, scientific data about the health hazards of electromagnetic radiation. The EMF watch website Fred linked to looks like it was made by someone in a tin foil hat over a weekend. How about a real scientific study by a recognized school or medical or scientific body?

    Short of that, this is just someone’s opinion, and I have an issue with these discussions where instead of a simple respectful discussion someone presents an idea and then accuses anyone who disagrees of being unethical or stupid. There are all kinds of subjects with wide differences of opinion, from vaccinations to global warming. Either we can discuss them like grown-ups or we can disintegrate into childish rhetoric.

    In the last listing I had near power lines we had tested for electromagnetic radiation, provided the results and copies of articles and studies discussing the pros and cons of high tension power lines. They were displayed on a table with the flyers and the disclosure statement. No one was uninformed or misled. The purchaser made an educated decision and was thrilled to get in the neighborhood and school district substantially under the market. I have no problem sleeping.

    The idea of not taking a listing because it might be difficult to sell is a business decision that anyone is entitled to make. Personally I think people with stigmatized homes should be able to sell them with professional representation and there is no ethical issue with the listing agent.

    • Bruce Lemieux

      February 28, 2010 at 4:55 pm

      Dan – hats off to you for proactively testing and providing information. By taking this extra step, you helped resolve an obvious buyer objection to sell the home. Excellent, really excellent. I didn’t know you could do this. Although, if one is worried about future liability, then I suppose this could be risky if the information provided proved to be faulty at a later time. Still – this is a great approach to consider to hit an obvious objection head-on.

      Although nuanced, I wouldn’t call this information package as a disclosure. It was simply a test result and a package of information. Doing so didn’t *disclose* that the home had a potential health hazard.

  17. Fred Glick

    February 28, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    @Dan. It was great that you fully disclosed.

    I assume you don’t believe in global warming either?

    • Dan Connolly

      February 28, 2010 at 4:10 pm

      Why would you assume that? I believe that Global warming is a huge issue!

    • Dennis C Smith

      March 1, 2010 at 12:05 pm

      I don’t believe in global warming and as the cover is pulled back on the scientists behind the curtain who pursued a political agenda with their “science” the myth is becoming more apparent.

  18. Fred Glick

    February 28, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    The best way to look at these situations is pretend you are the most evil lawyer who is hired by a buyer after the transaction.

    Eliminate anything for them to say you did not over disclose and that you tried to hide anything.

    That is the basis for your representation.

  19. Missy Caulk

    March 2, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Power lines decrease the value of the home in relationship to other homes in the neighborhood. They must be priced accordingly.

    Most of the issue’s buyers have it the site of them.

    I will sell and list a home with power lines. I had one buyer client want to get the EMF tested, and so DTE, (Detroit Edision) our electric company game out.

    There were more EMF from the refrigerator and microwave. I stood there and watched the meter.

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