Real Estate

Does Your Real Estate Advertising Paint A True Picture?

We all know that Realtors are required to be honest and truthful in their advertising and marketing. According to article 12 in the Realtor Code of Ethics, “Realtors shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations.”

I have to say I’ve seen some advertising that doesn’t seem truthful — but it isn’t a lie either. It’s kind of a half-truth or truth that’s missing some vital pieces of information. There is more wiggle room in “presenting a true picture” than I ever would have imagined.

For example, I could advertise that on average, my own listings are on the market for less than a day before they get an offer. The truth is I had listings that sold while it was still “coming soon,” and in one case, about 10 days before it would have been an active listing. That means I can use negative numbers in my statistics.

Right now, most houses are selling quickly, but I can absolutely take all of the credit for it and promote my amazing ability to sell houses in less than a day.

The fact that the houses that get offers right away don’t close until weeks later is something we just leave out of the equation when we talk about how long it takes to sell a house. We don’t count the days that a house is in the “coming soon” status as time on the market either.

A couple of weeks ago, while I was on a walk, I saw a Realtor’s sign stating that he is the No. 1 listing agent in my neighborhood. I’ve lived in the same neighborhood for almost 40 years and had never seen his name. That said, agents tend to come and go, and I don’t know them all.

When I got home, I did some research, and it is true — he has listed a few houses in the area in the past couple of years, and they all sold, too.

He might be No. 1 with the type of property he lists, or perhaps it’s the number of listings in the past few years, not including those that were canceled or expired. He may have been a member of a team that listed several properties in the neighborhood. At any rate, that No. 1 looks good on a sign. It does paint a picture, and it’s vague enough so that I’m not going to challenge it.

The Realtor who claims to have sold $X last year did so with the help of a couple of hundred agents. A quick check of competitors shows that companies with half as many agents have a similar sales volume.

The number of agents involved is the missing piece of information, and in this case, the person making the claim seems to have sold half as much as claimed. We should also take into consideration that when we say “sold,” we might be referring to either or both sides of the transaction. It could be because of a few hundred million dollars in pocket listings, or it could just be an exaggeration or some combination of both.

Even though there are often two Realtors involved in the sale of a home, “sold” signs usually only have the name of one of the listing agent and the name of the real estate company prominently displayed.

It’s conveniently forgotten that the actual person who sold the house was a nameless buyer’s agent from an unmentioned company. That agent probably had to do a lot more work than the listing agent did.

There isn’t any law that says that the name of the agent who worked with the buyer cannot be on a sign in front of the house. Realtors invented that rule, and it doesn’t paint an accurate picture of who sold the house.

How does “market share” benefit the homeseller during a seller’s market? It isn’t necessary to show the benefit, and the claim may work well for new agents. If consumers see a benefit in choosing an agent who has less than a year of experience over a veteran agent because the new agent is with a company that has “market share,” who am I to question it?

If I visit a leading website, I can click on a link labeled “contact agent.” To some, it would look as though the link will contact the listing agent. Though sometimes it does, most of the time, it goes to the person who is paying for the service first.

Agents who don’t pay don’t get the inquires on their own listings. The agent who receives the inquiry may not respond, or if she does, she might not know anything about the property but will be happy to put the contact’s name into a database. I don’t think I could invent a better way to make us all look bad.

For years, I have seen agents advertise a free “CMA.” I have searched and searched, and I cannot find any agents or anyone who charges consumers for a CMA. Buyer’s agents can no longer offer their service as free, but when they could, it worked well.

I used to offer “homes for sale” on my website. Every house in the MLS was included with my name and contact information next to it. There were people who believed that all of those listings were mine, even though there are a zillion and a half websites with the same listings.

What’s more, there is a specific standard of practice under article 12 about photography. Pictures marketing real estate can’t be misleading. But who hasn’t seen pictures of what appear to be huge rooms — only to see the home in person or look at room dimensions and discover it’s all much smaller than it looks in the pictures?

The photographs in our MLS rarely show the peeling paint that can be clearly seen from the street when viewing a home for sale. We never know if it’s because the picture is low resolution or if there was a little touch-up before the picture was posted, or more likely, the paint started peeling while the house was on the market.

There are websites filled with the names of Realtors who have five-star ratings. It is very hard to find a three-star agent or even a four-star agent. I have no idea what the ratings mean, but I like the way they look, and apparently, so do consumers.

There is a lot of self-promotional marketing in real estate that falls firmly in the gray areas between truth and fiction, and along the seams between black and white. It shouldn’t be this way.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of

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