I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, though I always feared massive backlash from the real estate community.
I want to make it totally clear that I’m not at all saying that ALL real estate agents are sneaky and deceitful. Most agents provide a very valuable service to buyers and sellers and operate with a high level of integrity.
HOWEVER, we all can agree that the competition in the housing market is fierce in the major metro areas. And where there is stiff competition mixed with lack of inventory, a few bad apples emerge who will do anything get a deal closed.
I gotta admit, some of these tactics are pretty creative.
And now for the BEST of the worst...
1: The Ol’ Fake Open House, Double End The Deal Trick
THE SETUP: This trick involves the real estate agent getting a super hot lead on a very desirable property, something which a real estate developer could make a lot of money on (usually from deceased owners or an elderly person) in a very desirable location.
Once the listing is locked down, the agent will immediately call their long-time buyer clients to get in and lock down the deal.
The agent will block all other agents from submitting an offer by saying things like, “sorry, all offers will be reviewed on (such and such date).” and “all showings must be done at the open house”.
Agent will then put the property on the Multiple Listing Service as well as hold an open house on the property (even though the deal is already done with their own client) to show the public that every thing was done fairly.
THE PAYOFF: The agent closes the deal with their own buyer and gets both sides of the commission, as well as the promise to get the listing once their developer client has torn down the old house and finished building the new one.
How to spot this: If there was massive activity at the open house, yet the property closed with the agent representing both sides just a few days after the open house. Bonus points if the buyer was a long-time client of the agent.
Why you should care: Having agents hoard certain properties is not good for any housing market. If you’ve ever noticed how developers are dominating in a certain area and blocking others from entering the location, this is one of the techniques they use.
2: The Ol’ Post a Fake Pocket Listing to Get Buyers to Call Trick
THE SETUP: The real estate agent will post very vague pictures of a pocket listing or pre-MLS (before it hits the Multiple Listing Service) property on a popular home search site, facebook group, etc. The property will look like a steal in a very hot area. It won’t have an exact address, rather a street name and vague details.
Buyers will call in to find out more information. The agent will then say that the property has just been put into escrow, but they have other similar properties to show them.
Here's a clickbait property an agent posted on Zillow. The area is known as Beverly Hills Flats in Beverly Hills, CA which is ultra hot right now. Teardowns in this location are selling in a matter of days at $6M to $7M, yet this listing has been up for over a year. When we contacted the agent, they were very vague about the location and details of the property.
THE PAYOFF: The agent’s pipeline will fill up with buyer leads. These buyers will then be harassed via phone, email until the agent is given the opportunity to show them other listings.
How to spot this: If the pocket listing you called about was said to be not available, yet remains visible to the public as still available - then it’s a lead magnet.
Why you should care: Flat out misrepresentation. Getting the run-around after calling one of these lead magnets is annoying and a waste of your time.
3: The Ol’ Leaving Up Old Listings To Attract Buyers Trick
THE SETUP: Very similar to #2’s setup above: The agent will leave properties on their website which have already sold or are no longer available so buyers will contact them and inquire.
THE PAYOFF: More buyer calls = more buyer leads.
How to spot this: If the listing you inquired about was sold quite a while ago, yet remains on the agent’s website without stating “Sold”.
Why you should care: Again, this is a misrepresentation and a waste of your time.
4: The Ol’ “I Have A Buyer for Your Home Right Now!!” Trick
"My buyer is actually right here if you'd like to speak with him."
THE SETUP: If you live in a great area and have owned your home for a few years, you have no doubt received the following call from a local agent:
“Hi, is this [home owner name from public records]? I have a highly-qualified client who asked me to contact you to see if you would be interested in selling."
"He absolutely loves your home is ready to make an offer today. Is there a good time for me to come over to discuss the details?”
This pitch accomplishes three things:
The agent has blamed the purpose of the call on someone else. They are just delivering a message, so it’s technically not really a cold call.
The agent compliments the owner on their home which strokes their ego. Everyone thinks that their home is the greatest house on the block and this re-enforces the delusion.
The agent has baited them with the possibility of discussing an offer. The goal however is to get inside the home and learn their pain-points; i.e., are they considering downsizing, do they need to be closer to family, etc.
Once the pain-points have been addressed the agent has qualified them as a potential seller and goes after the listing.
THE PAYOFF: Listings (listing a property for sale) are the lifeblood of business for the real estate agent.
Not only do listings ensure they receive a paycheck if ANYONE buys the property under the contract duration, it simultaneously brings in buyer leads from inquires to the property.
How to spot this: When confronted about the buyer’s offer, the agent explains that he has “moved on another property”, “had family issues”, or any number of other excuses.
Why you should care: Bait-and-switches are annoying and strictly against the code of ethics for a real estate agent. The problem is (as with many of these tricks) it’s really difficult to catch an agent red-handed, since they’ve perfected the process over many years.
5: The Ol’ Claim A Property As A “Pre-MLS” With No Agreement Trick
THE SETUP: The general public is unaware that in most all major housing markets, real estate agents have internal newsgroups, Facebook groups, email lists, etc. in which they attempt to match buyers and sellers of off-market properties, not available to the public.
This underground marketplace features pocket listings “claimed” by agents who have supposed agreements with the seller to sell their property without putting it on the Multiple Listing Service.
The problem most agents have is that pocket listings are constantly being stolen from them by other agents because there is actually no exclusive agreement in place. So they will often list a property as a “Pre-MLS” property.
This is basically saying (without officially saying) “I have a signed listing agreement with the seller and will be putting it on the MLS very soon, so you can’t steal it”.
Many times there is no such agreement; they are merely in discussions with the owner. The agent is simply faking having exclusive representation with the seller to keep other agents away.
THE PAYOFF: Using this trick, the agent is able to keep more pocket listings from getting stolen by other agents.
Why you should care: False representation. This also could cause issues with a trusted realtor you’ve been using for years as they might feel slighted you would list your property with someone else.
6: The Ol’ Steer Your Client To Your Own Listings Trick
THE SETUP: This one’s as old as the hills. Agents obviously want to get buyers into their own listings to keep both sides of the commission.
This would be fine, if the property were a good fit for the buyer. However, some agents will often aggressively steer their clients in the direction of their own listings by exaggerating negative opinions about other properties.
"C'mon!! My listing is just over here. Never mind those other houses, they suck!"
THE PAYOFF: Double commission! Representing both sides in any transaction is an agent’s dream. Also, they have total control to manipulate the deal from both sides to get it to close.
Why you should care: If you’re a buyer in this situation, you could be getting really bad information and possibly miss out on a good opportunity.
7: The Ol’ Steal Buyers from Newer, Dumber Agents Trick
THE SETUP: Remember when I mentioned that agents have access to internal email lists, newsgroups, etc. promoting off-market properties? Well, the kicker is that when newer agents join these groups, it’s like Christmas for the bad apple realtors.
Here’s the way it works:
- The newer agent responds to an off-market, pocket listing on one of these groups which the bad apple has posted.
- The newer agent is excited to find a property which fits their buyer’s criteria, but still they need the full address to the property to drive by or to do a showing..
- The bad apple agent says, “Sure, no problem. Send me your buyer’s name so I can register them with the seller”. .
What this means is that the agent is asking for the buyer’s name to include it in what is called a Single Party Agreement. A Single Party Agreement is an agreement which states in effect “if this particular person purchases this particular property within a certain timeframe, the real estate agent will be compensated”
- The new agent then sends over the buyer’s name, only to receive silence from the other realtor; i.e., the bad apple steals the buyer and ceases all contact with the new realtor.
This same setup can also work in reverse:
The bad apple posts to the group “I have a highly-qualified buyer looking for pocket listings in [certain area], up to [ridiculously high price range]”.
The newer agent then responds with pocket listings only to have the bad apple go directly to the seller and close the deal without them.
Or even worse, there wasn’t any buyer at all - the bad apple goes after the property to get the listing.
8: The Ol’ Price A Home On Something Other Than Its True Value Trick
THE SETUP: A bad apple agent finds a likely target with an elderly homeowner or a homeowner who is too trusting and they will get a feel for how much the homeowner knows (or doesn’t know) about how to price their property for sale.
If the agent is looking for a prime development opportunity for their developer buyer (see #1 Trick), they will convince the homeowner that their home is only worth “land value” and come up with an arbitrary number for each square foot of the homeowner’s lot.
THE PAYOFF: The agent’s developer client will get a killer deal on the home, with the promise that the agent who brought them the deal will get the listing when the new home is complete. So the agent gets a quick, double-ended commission along with the promise of the future listing.
Why you should care: You always need to be aware of who elderly people are speaking to and why. Unfortunately, they are often very lonely which leaves them vulnerable to bad apple agents knocking at their door and getting into their home.
9: The Ol’ Manipulate The Comparable Sales Report To Your Advantage Trick
Often times buyers and sellers will rely on their real estate agent to give them accurate pricing information related to their respective housing market.
The agent has many different software programs for creating these types comparable sales reports at their disposal. The most popular one comes right inside of the Multiple Listing Service which the agent is a subscriber.
Below are three screenshots from common software used by agents to produce a Comparable Sales Report for their clients. By selecting/deselecting certain comparable sales from the left-hand menu, you can see how it affects the Median price of this particular home.
Below, you will see the software calculated the median price of this home at $1,487,500 using most all comparable sales in the area.
Now notice how after how excluding certain comps from the report it now prices the home at $1,855,000. An increase of $367,500
By manipulating the report again and "cherry-picking" certain comps, I now get a result which prices the home at a median of $1,305,000. A DECREASE of $182,500
So basically, the agent can manipulate these reports to fit any price he/she wants.
Oh and keep in mind, once the agent runs the report for the client the comparable sales they have excluded won't show up at all in the generated report.
THE PAYOFF: Manipulate the pricing in whatever direction to close the deal.
Why you should care: Unfortunately many people believe whatever printed report is put in front of them. Always get pricing information from many different, un-biased sources before believing only one real estate agent.
10: The Ol’ Don’t Present Certain Offers To Get Double Commission Trick
THE SETUP: Present only the offers which allow the agent to represent both sides of the sale. The bad apple agent will simply ignore offers presented by other agents and avoid their calls and emails.
THE PAYOFF: Double commission.
Why you should care: By law, real estate agents must present every offer to their client. But we all know how well laws work when there is a lot of money involved.
With Greater Knowledge, Comes Greater Power
Next time you have a suspicion that an agent might be using one of these tricks, refer back to this list and dig a little deeper into the situation.
The goal here isn’t to make anyone super paranoid that their agent is always screwing them over, but rather to become a little better informed about how the business sometimes works from the other side.
Having a little more knowledge than the average home buyer/seller is never a bad thing; your future self will thank you later.