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Ethics

Trulia Discrepancy

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I do not go around pointing fingers and criticizing – it’s just NOT my way. But today I was on the phone with a gentleman from New York that called our office and gave me an ear full about Trulia. The conversation started something like this:

“I just found a listing in Miami Beach that seems too good to be true, so I decided to call a reputable Realtor to see if it’s real”

Don’t know about you guys, but when I get a call from someone saying a listing seems “too good to be true”, I usually want to stop them on their tracks and say “if it seems to good, it usually is!”.
So here’s what this gentleman found:
trulia listing

As he described the house and gave me the North Bay Road address, I knew it was a multi-million dollar property.  I quickly looked it up on the MLS and this property is currently listed for $6.9 million, not $540,000 as the posting reads.

We have received a lot of these calls lately and it’s getting to a point where I don’t even know what to say – is it Trulia’s fault for not monitoring their listings?  Are brokerages not providing accurate information?  How could a discrepancy this huge even occur?  I did go into Trulia after the call and flagged the listing for improper information.   I totally understand that all these portals cannot be held responsible for information provided to them, but I do believe that this reflects poorly on them since the consumer is trusting them as a provider of current and factual real estate information.

I did not write this post to single our Trulia by any means, other real estate portals have tons of mistakes as well.  I’m writing because in this age of New Media and “transparency” – how is the consumer protected against false information?  All these listing portals have a responsibility to provide accurate information and if they don’t, they should make sure inform their readers of such.

Ines is all Miami, all the time. A Miami Beach Realtor® with Majestic properties, Ines authors Miamism.com, PrimeMiamiBeach.com, and MiamismPix.com and is always on communication's leading edge. She goes out of her way to engage and be engaged, often using Mojitos to keep the mood light and give everything she does a Miami flavor. You can find her goofing off or instigating trouble at Twitter, Flickr, Facebook or LinkedIn.

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Jonathan Dalton

    May 25, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Trulia’s calling themselves a real estate search site, though a search site with incorrect data has little usefulness.

    As an aggregator, it’s much easier to say “we just republish what we receive.” But to my mind there’s a higher standard needed and expected of a true RE search portal.

    Say what you will about Realtor.Com, but by pulling that data straight out of the MLS, at least you know it’s right.

  2. Fred Romano

    May 25, 2009 at 10:08 am

    It’s one of 3 things…

    1. MLS feed to Trulia is sending the wrong info
    2. Agent entered the wrong info on the MLS (unlikely)
    3. Agent manually entered the listing on Trulia and put in the wrong price

  3. Benn Rosales

    May 25, 2009 at 10:36 am

    When we enter a listing here in our antiquated system we really have to check check and double check it before we post it as listed, and then we check it some more- the damn thing is so long and cumbersome that it’s easy to leave a mistake exposed for a consumer to pounce on. It’s not an excuse but a dreadful reality, and we’re often held to account for a system that sometimes forgets 1/2 a listing, times out in the middle of a 1.5 hour process and forces you to begin again, or how about the drop down menus that decide they really don’t want to drop down at all- it’s a pain in the ass- needless to say, you need proof readers.

    I’m not sure what the answer is for trulia, but having seen some of the listings on trulia that no longer exist its pretty obvious that they feel it’s not their problem, it’s ours, and they’re probably right which is probably why we should just keep the listings on realtor.com where they belong, but that’s not going to happen, now is it…

  4. Rudy

    May 25, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Hi Ines!

    Thanks for the post and for flagging it. We will look into the cause of the error and correct as needed.

    If you click on the link within the listing,

    https://www.trulia.com/property/1080241813-2700-N-Bay-Rd-Miami-Beach-FL-33140

    you will see there is an error on Sotheby’s side:

    https://www.sothebysrealty.com/ErrorPages/500.aspx?aspxerrorpath=/PropertyDetails.aspx

    https://www.trulia.com/property/1080241813-2700-N-Bay-Rd-Miami-Beach-FL-33140

    We take errors like this very seriously and do our best to eliminate data errors we receive from 3rd parties. We have internal mechanisims in place to help and are always looking to improve our system.

    Rudy
    Social Media Guru at Trulia

  5. Paula Henry

    May 25, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Ines – Funny – I just received an email stating there was a new question on T. It wasn’t really a question, but a statement form a hoemowener who wanted to clarify the home listed on T was listed in the wrong neighborhood. It’s not a home for sale, T is now adding homes in neighborhoods throughout the country for the sole purpose of ranking for addresses and subdivisions. This is a lack of diligence on their part.

    While it may not seem an issue to be listed in the wrong neighborhood, it certainly is if there is a distinct property value diference and T has comparative property values on their site.

    This isuue has really struck a nerve with me becasue of recent events here in Indy. We are held to a higher standard in reporting to our MLS and when a buyer searches our websites (assuming they are allowed to be indexed) they are receiving accurate data (for the most part).

    And, what seller wants inaccurate data out there as comparable homes?

    Although I don’t put any info there, I did sign up for Trulia Pro when it first came out and it’s interesting to see the public response to these type of situations. The public is watching and luckily they are seeking reputable agents who can give them accurate data.

  6. Mark Brian

    May 25, 2009 at 11:59 am

    I try to contribute to the online communites such as Trulia and it is sad to see how many questions from buyers/sellers are regarding incorrect information. Or is it not sad because it shows a computer program can never take the place of a real estate professional with local hands on expertise?

  7. Ines Hegedus-Garcia

    May 25, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Rudy, thanks for coming by and clearing things up and knowing that this is nothing against you personally. If the issue was one isolated case I would be less likely to even point it out, but it seems to be happening more and more often lately.

    It is Trulia’s responsibility to check, double check and monitor their sources and of course the job is not easy if the broker is providing the wrong information. But I would be happy if Trulia were to be very open and clear to the consumer about the possibilities of inaccurate information.

    The consumer that contacted me yesterday felt it was a “bait and switch” tactic from the provider (his words exactly). When the consumer starts feeling tricked, you know SOMETHING needs to change.

  8. Kori Covrigaru

    May 25, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Errors occur no matter what site you’re using. Human and technological errors are, and always will be unavoidable. Last week, I searched Realtor.com (a site I trust more than others) for condos in Boulder, CO. I found two I liked and contacted both agents. Turns out they were BOTH sold over a month ago. How can this be? On Realtor.com? They get their data straight from the MLS. This is simply an issue of human or technological errors, neither of which are avoidable.

  9. Rudy

    May 25, 2009 at 7:08 pm

  10. Ines Hegedus-Garcia

    May 25, 2009 at 9:28 pm

    Kori, I can’t speak for other boards but here in Miami our board fines you if there is incorrect information on the MLS (i.e. if you keep a listing Active when it’s already under contract or sold – when you publish wrong information) – they give you a warning to correct mistakes and then fine you.

    As much as many may dislike the concept of R.com, at least their information is monitored by local boards and the extent of mistakes may be listings that are no longer active – not $6.9 million listings that appear as $540,000

  11. Kori Covrigaru

    May 26, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Does the extend of the numeric error really matter though? Is it more of a crime for the error to be $5 million off rather than say $80k?

    You state that the consumer looks to Trulia for accurate data, and “this reflects poorly on them since the consumer is trusting them as a provider of current and factual real estate information.” I think we are in an age where the consumer MUST know and understand that when it comes down to it, the agent representing the listing must be held accountable for misrepresenting the listing. Its like getting ticked off at facebook because someone provides inaccurate info about their work history, age and gender. If you think a listing in that location with that size and those pictures is going for under a million, you were probably not serious about purchasing a home in that area to begin with. You were probably a “window shopper” (song by 50 Cent).

    In the end, everyone needs an agent to sort out all this business, and make sure information is valid and credible.

  12. Matt Stigliano

    May 26, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Ines – It seems lately like many of my Trulia Voices answers involve old listings, questionable foreclosures, or the most recent one – which is an agent manually entering HUD homes, but using the wrong photos, listing the street name as a place that doesn’t exist (the new favorite is “Readynow”)…the same agent also likes to advertise their tax preparation services (they’re free!). It’s aggravating to say the least when I feel I have to clean up someone else’s mess. Of course, I could avoid it all together, but I think there’s a certain value to it (both for myself and the consumer), so I carry on anyway. I just try to do my best to explain to the consumer what may have happened and then flag the post. I doubt there will ever be a perfect listing site, just because there are plenty of people in this world that just don’t care about the details. To me it’s the same problem as agents who put in “Nice house.” for a description. The details are the key to solving problems, but I don’t think we’ll ever convince everyone to care about them.

  13. Chris Bailey

    May 26, 2009 at 11:16 am

    In the org branding model I use, there’s a small element called Trust. If you can’t trust the organization for accuracy and focus, then the brand suffers. So Trulia needs to put some energy into managing its content for accuracy or it will fade into the ether while another online site comes along and builds a better brand. Maybe a few less gurus and a few more experienced brand-focused marketers might do the trick?

  14. Kevin Tomlinson

    May 26, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    No, no guys. This is such a non issue and i said so. I said it back on the Trulia site and anyone who’s been in the biz more than four months could see it:

    The property was listed for rent (originally at $45K per month) so $540,000 was the aggregate amount of the lease for a year ($45k x12).

    This is actually the rental listing that was being displayed.

    This is so not a crime. Almost a non-issue.

  15. Kevin Tomlinson

    May 26, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    OH man reading all these comments—there are some pretty nasty conspiracy theories cooked up here.

    Man!

  16. Joe Loomer

    May 27, 2009 at 7:32 am

    When you get down to the smaller areas of the country – like my own – you find the mistakes become more prevalent. I’ve had past clients calling me (for some reason they believe I can fix this) about Google Earth showing their address on a home five doors down and across the street, and their home still showing as for sale on Trulia. I explain about going to the site and “claiming” the property and moving it, but the layman doesn’t have the time or the inclination. They simply feel like it’s something I did purposefully. Explaining indexing and other terms might as well have me going “blah, blah, blah.”

    I have had positive experiences with Trulia Voices, which alerts me automatically to mostly relevant real estate questions from bonafide buyers and sellers in my town. For God’s sake, let’s not get on them for pulling data wrong . Our local MLS is finally kicking and screaming (and still somewhere around 2005), several websites index our properties with the bathrooms and bedrooms “flipped.” Not good.

  17. Brendan Aiello - Team Tapper Realtors

    May 27, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Happens all the time. The information given to trulia isn’t always just MLS IDX. They use a company called, “Realty Trac” which gives trulia viewers abstracts of what is defaulting. The prices seen are usually what the home owner still owes or how far behind he/she is.

  18. Matt Carter

    May 28, 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Go to Trulia and search for homes in Miami Beach for under $100,000. I just did and got 244 results. Many or most are foreclosures.

    Here’s part of the description for one: “This property is an REO (Real Estate Owned). This is the final step in the foreclosure process. Ownership has reverted to the lender. This 0 square foot property has 0 bedroom(s) and 0 bath(s). The estimated sale price is $2100.”

    You can pick up homes in Detroit right now for $2,100, but I don’t think things have gotten that out of hand in Miami Beach. That figure is most likely the amount of a lien against the property, not the lender’s asking price.

    I’d be very surprised if any of the homes that came up in the search can be had for less than $100,000.

    Same issue crops up at other sites that carry foreclosure “listings” that aren’t necessarily listings, but information on distressed properties culled from public records. Many of these homes are not actually on the market — in some cases their owners may be trying to negotiate workouts with lenders.

    There’s definitely a demand for that kind of info, but it can be confusing when these properties are mixed in with MLS listings…

  19. Kevin Tomlinson

    May 28, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Matt:
    Hey how are you? Yes things have not gotten that bad and I wonder what the larger issue is a Trulia with regard to these “blips”. I notice them all the time and most are the aggregate amount (like the house on North Bay Road) of the yearly lease amount.

    Right now it’s kinda a free for all because so many people feed info to Trulia–some good and, well, others not.

  20. Kevin Tomlinson

    May 28, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    Realty Trac info is dicey, at best, and shouldn’t be used for a Trulia type web site.

    I was reading something in the NYPost today that services like Realty Trac are almost unnecessary now.

  21. Kevin Tomlinson

    May 28, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    what is it with Trulia and Miami Beach real estate:

    Here’s another one, guys.

    Sorry for the link, Lani—

    https://www.trulia.com/voices/Property_QandA/I_assume_that_the_price_on_this_property_is_incorr-130148

  22. Paula Henry

    May 29, 2009 at 6:33 am

    Kevin – Is this the same one mentioned above? It clearly states it is for sale.

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Ethics

The problem with a self-policing industry: you have to be a narc

Ethics violations in the real estate industry can make or break a Realtor’s career, depending on the severity, so it would stand to reason that all would be mindful of the rules, but there are always individuals in the field that act as if the Code of Ethics is irrelevant.

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An animated discussion on ethics training

“Does anyone else find it ironic that NAR – the trade association for Realtors – has to mandate that members take an ethics class every four years?” An agent who attended one of my company’s broker opens yesterday posed that question to the wine and cheese grazing attendees. Of course, that opened up an animated discussion on the value of etchics training and the lack of enforcement when the rules are violated.

One agent volunteered that the guy sitting next to her in her last ethics class played games on his cell phone and then cheated during the test at the end of the class. Seriously, dude? You cannot even pay attention long enough to pass what should be the easiest test you’ll ever have to take in your career? Perhaps he was just seeing how far he could push it by cheating during an ethics test, to see if anyone else around him caught the extreme irony there. None of the other agents around him – including the agent he cheated off – turned him in and the instructor didn’t notice.

This same agent later called one of my sellers and tried to convince him to break a listing contract with me, because he had a “guaranteed buyer” in the wings. The seller was an attorney, and this bozo tried to get me cut out of the deal, offering the seller a reduced fee to dump me. The seller held firm and directed the agent to call me, then the seller called to let me know about the conversation.

“But you know if you file something the other agent will know.”

It gets better. After the deal closed, I requested paperwork from our local Board of Realtors to file an ethics complaint. The person in charge said, “But you know if you file something the other agent will know.” Gee. Really? I asked her to send the paperwork over anyway.

I called the seller/attorney and asked him to repeat the conversation to me, because I was documenting it to file a complaint. He turned wishy washy on me at that point and his story changed from “The other agent tried to get me to dump you as the listing agent to cut you out” to “Well he really only asked a few questions and I told him to call you. He probably didn’t mean any harm by it.” So there goes my star witness, who doesn’t want to rock the boat.

I didn’t file the complaint. I resorted to the “turn the blind eye but never trust the sleazeball again” path. And that is what happens to almost all ethics issues I hear about / see in person.

That’s what happens when you have a self-policing group of “professionals” who would rather not “narc” on a fellow agent. After all you’re probably going to end up on the other side of a deal from this guy some day, right? The guy in my example has sold two of my houses since that run-in. Why tick him off by filing a complaint and going through all that hassle? If he stops bringing buyers to my properties then my sellers ultimately lose, right?

Boiling down the CoE

The NAR Code of Ethics takes up pages and pages of tiny print, and it runs each year in their trade magazine (I think it’s the January issue). Does anybody read that? Probably not many. I’d argue none of us ever should have to read it again. Simply follow this advice instead. The thousands of words in the Code boil down to one thing: Do unto other agents, and consumers, and clients, what you would have them do unto you. It’s the Golden Rule. Simple. Well, obviously not, for many agents and brokers.

The sad part is the agent in my example had no clue how close I was to filing that compaint, and if he did know he’d probably scratch his head and wonder why his actions were “wrong.” Making us take a one-day class every few years won’t “make” the unethical agents suddenly operate ethically. Most of them just don’t get it.

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Ethics

Ethics hearings in private a disservice to consumers?

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Fight Club and real estate

For those of you that saw the movie ‘Fight Club’ you’ll remember that Rule #1 is “You do not talk about fight club,” followed closely by Rule #2, “You DO NOT talk about fight club.” Which, believe it or not, brings me to today’s topic: The Real Estate Code of Ethics and Arbitration. Article 17 obligates Realtors to resolve fights disputes with another Realtor through arbitration (not litigation). Arbitration is conducted at the local board level, and I am not aware of a local board that doesn’t require arbitration to be confidential.

I respect that public internecine warfare amongst Realtors isn’t in the interest of our industry, and doesn’t belong in the public spotlight. I’m not here to advocate the collective airing of our dirty laundry. That said, I wonder if our collective agreement to keep our concerns confidential can inadvertently harm the consumer and ultimately makes all of us look a little shoddier?

To find the first arbitration guidelines created by NAR and distributed as a set of suggested rules for boards to follow, we have to travel all the way back in time to 1929. NAR’s first Code of Ethics & Arbitration Manual wasn’t created until 1973, and it credited a 1965 California Association of Realtors version as its model.

Appalling conduct

I can think of two instances in the past year where I was so appalled by the conduct of a fellow Realtor that I went to the trouble to inquire about how to lodge a Code of Ethics complaint with my local board. After weighing the time required to make a competent complaint and comparing it with the best case outcome (a closed-to-the-public hearing in which they were found to have violated the code of ethics), I decided not to pursue a complaint in both cases. My association’s bylaws (and probably yours) give it the power to discipline any member based on the results of a Code of Ethics hearing, “provided that the discipline imposed is consistent with the discipline authorized by the Professional Standards Committee of the National Association of REALTORS® as set forth in the Code of Ethics and Arbitration Manual of the National Association.”

“Sanctioning Guidelines” – (Appendix VII of Part 4 of the 2011 manual for the very curious), guides member boards to impose disciplinary consequences that are progressive and fair, taking all considerations into account. Sample first-time disciplinary actions include suggestions of a letter of warning, a fine (amounts range from $200 to $5,000 depending on the severity of the violation), and attendance at relevant education sessions. Not to sound defeatist, but a confidential letter of warning and a fine of around $200 doesn’t seem like an outcome worth investing much of my time in.

Practicing in the internet era

Given that we live and work in the internet era, and review sites like Yelp abound, it seems a bit odd to me that a local board might know of an agent with problem behavior that is documented yet choose to make that information unavailable to consumers. My understanding is that the results of a code of ethics hearing are confidential with disclosure authorized in a few situations, none of which deal with informing the public.

Many of my fellow colleagues feel that the best response to a bad agent is to be patient and give them enough time to work themselves out of business. I can respect and understand their hands-off approach. But what about the damage that individual does to our industry as a whole? While we whisper, warn in confidence and know amongst ourselves how awful they are, the public doesn’t get the benefit of our perspective. Deprived of it, they turn to consumer review sites like Yelp.

How do you think we, as an industry, can help consumers in their quest to find a trustworthy agent?

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Ethics

Realtors, we really need to get over ourselves already

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A letter from the child of a Realtor.

Real estate now vs. 1987

In Real Estate, some things are always changing, like financing, education, laws, rules and technology. The two that will always remain constant, as long as they are within the law, are following our clients’ directions, and working with their best interests in mind.  I’m not sure we always follow through with this, though.

Some of us knowingly take over priced listings.  Some of us take listings that are out of our area of expertise.  Some of us won’t show short sales or REOs.  Some of us won’t show homes with low co-op splits.  Some of us don’t have Supra/e-Keys, and miss out on those listings entirely.

Putting our interests first

When these things occur we are putting our own interests first, not our clients’.  We may think that by having as many listings as possible is a good thing, that’s what we’re taught after all, isn’t it?  It may not matter that some are overpriced, eventually, whether one month or four months down the line, the price will be reduced.  It’s just a matter of time and money, for our clients, after all.  The same can be said when we take listings outside our area of expertise, just to add on to our inventory.  If we don’t know what we’re doing, on a short sale listing, for example, it will only cost our clients a lot of time and money.  A lot.

By eliminating certain houses our clients see, that may already fit their criteria, we’re taking away their choices.  Distressed sales account for close to 40% of the market.  This is probably higher in some local markets.  There is no legitimate way to ignore roughly 1/3 of the homes being sold.  Co-op fees are often a touchy subject, especially when they are, not “enough.”  If everyone utilized a Buyer Broker Agreement that stipulated what their fee was, the issue would take care of itself.  Not being able to access listings with the use of Supra/e-Keys is a choice.   Choosing not purchase one will mean agents will not be able to access Fannie Mae (and eventually, probably additional Gov REO homes) along with the listings that are already using them.

Our priorities versus theirs

We totally need to get over ourselves already.  We are not bigger than our clients.  Our priorities are not more important than theirs when it comes to the actual listing and selling of homes.

Recently, my awesome parents dug through a few boxes and rounded up one of my first art projects. About 25 years ago I did the poster featured above about my Mom, and her Real Estate career.  It was for an Open House (no pun, honest!!!) for the elementary school where I attended first grade.  It was just, what she did according to me way back then.  Things are way more complicated now, than when I was six.  There’s a heck of a lot more paperwork for one.  But the same basic principle still applies.

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