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Op/Ed

Pocket Listing thriller flick highlights ongoing industry topic

In a new action-packed Rob Lowe/ Burt Reynolds thriller, real estate is glamorized as shady and far more dramatic than real life pocket listings, a topic which remains controversial in the industry.

pocket listings

A new movie has debuted in hopes of giving an obscure real estate term a great deal more appeal and much more attention that it deserves. If this movie succeeds, many more will forever associate real estate it with deceit, drugs and “plenty of illegal activity,” as the movie’s blurb promises.

“Rise, Ruin, Revenge, Real Estate. You’re either a hot property, under foreclosure or one deal away,” promises Pocket Listing. It’s a hip new Hollywood offering with an edgy story line about money, greed, power, sex, revenge, redemption, and real estate. In that order.

Rob Lowe, Burt Reynolds star in this “dark comedy”

Set in Malibu and featuring such well-worn talent as Rob Lowe and Burt Reynolds, the flick is a racy shoot ‘em up about an extraordinary villa with a pool that seems to flow off the edge a cliff into a Malibu arroyo. It’s labeled a “satiric thriller” and “dark comedy,” which must mean that the producers don’t really think that aging real estate brokers like the one played by Reynolds walks around saying things like, “I give you permission to screw everybody, everybody but me.”

A mysterious power player played by James Jurdi, who also wrote the script, reels off one of my favorite lines, “It’s not real, friend, it’s real estate,” and his sultry wife British model Jennifer Clarke, hire Reynolds, a disgraced Los Angeles property broker to discreetly market and sell their Malibu villa. It’s all downhill from there, with more slinky real estate, vapid characters, guns, drugs, and sexy girls.

How did Hollywood catch wind of this practice?

How did pocket listings soar so quickly from the seedy backroom deals, the greedy brokers who want to keep both sides of the commission for themselves and ethics be damned to Hollywood?

A few years ago brokers representing stars found it was easy to get their listings on national celebrity shows like Entertainment Tonight and magazines like Us and People. The publicity helped them sell and soon, the big real estate listing sites realized they would often get the on-air credit, even though the listing came from an MLS and belongs to a broker.

When celebrity listings started pushing online traffic to new heights, a war broke out, which continues to this day. An entire industry has grown up around the practice of violating the privacy of rich and famous people when they want to sell their houses. Listings, offers, price changes, sales—they fill the pages of web site after web site.

There’s a problem with this traffic play

There’s a problem with this picture. Higher volume is great for web sites because it means advertisers—who are largely brokers who advertise to sell their own listings– pay more. The glam lookie-loos who surf in to look at Rob Lowe’s toilet aren’t buyers. They’re not going to bop over to check the latest offerings from the hard working brokers who are paying the freight.

On the other end of the process, celebrities have grown sick and tired of having their private spaces and their private real estate transactions blasted all over the media whenever they sell a house. The solution: pocket listings. An old but viable option to keep everything legal and hidden until a real live prospect arrives.

Pocket listings are coming under scrutiny

In the past few years, pocket listings have mushroomed. Southern California, the Bay area, Texas, Long Island—markets in these regions report the highest numbers though very few hard numbers exist.

In California, Illinois, Ohio, and some other states, MLSs are raising concern about the fast rise of pocket listings. Last year, the leading MLS service in Northern California reported that in Monterey, San Benito, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz, off-MLS listings increased from 12 percent in 2011 to 15 percent in 2012 to 26 percent of the market in the first quarter of 2013.

Midwest Real Estate Data LLC, which oversees the Chicago-area MLS issued 140 fines in 2013 for violations of its rules on off-market deals. Another 500 violations were reported, but were determined to be unfounded after seller consent was verified. In the Dallas luxury market last year, one Sotheby’s brokerage reported 30 percent of its office’s business was outside the MLS, which is interesting since Texas law prevents the disclosure of sales data in public records.

The movie is glamorous, but in real life, the MLS still reigns

In the movie, the pocket listing first seems like an easy deal to close but turns out to be much more intricate than expected. Jack, the Realtor, soon discovers that the owner, is a power player oil tycoon named Hunter, who is involved in shady operations which could jeopardize not only the house’s sale, but Jack’s life as well. With time running out and predators lurking at every corner, Jack is forced to resort to desperate measures to survive in a world where nobody is who they seem and closing a deal can literally be a matter of life and death.

For the rest of us, fortunately, closing a deal is only a matter of money and the money is almost always better when you go the MLS route. It makes perfect sense that the more potential buyers you reach, the offers will be better—or at least as good as they will be.

The experiences of Jennifer Anniston who immediately sold her $43 million Beverly Hills house on the MLS after it had languished for months as a pocket listing and Candy Spelling, widow of the late TV producer Aaron Spelling and mother of actress Tori, who sold hers fast on the MLS after marketing it for months as a pocket listing, suggest even the very wealthiest properties do better with the largest potential market.

Is the privacy and security worth forgoing the best possible price?

Obviously, that’s a decision for the seller. It’s a decision, however, that might become more difficult should the luxury market remain flat and lining up prospects through the back-alley channels become more difficult.

Going the pocket listing route could cost celebrity sellers–even those in the move were willing to let their $20 million Malibu villa go for $12 million. At the end of the day, however, a movie is just a movie.

“I didn’t want to get too heavy or too realistic. I’m sure a broker would see this film and say it’s completely unlike anything that would ever happen in that world – but in a way that’s kind of good, because we wanted it to be very dramatized,” said actor/writer James Jurdi in an interview last week.

Written By

Steve Cook is editor and co-publisher of Real Estate Economy Watch, which has been recognized as one of the two best real estate news sites in the nation by the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Before he co-founded REEW in 2007, Cook was vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Realtors.

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