Before I started my real estate career, I would look at Zillow, Realtor.com, etc. and see all the houses for sale and think, “this is great, I can buy a house without even leaving my couch!”  After all, there were all these great pictures, the ad copy was sharp, and there were even graphs on the screen indicating that all these houses were great deals.  What could possibly go wrong?  Turns out there is plenty!  Here are some quick things to note when looking at a listing online.

  1. The pictures of most listings will be taken in the best possible light. Good listing agents hire professional real estate photographers for a reason.  They want to sell the house!  When some hack agent takes pictures with their cell phone of the white wall corner, you know that agent isn’t trying to sell their listing.   Let’s just say that you’re never going to see a listing picture of a house when it’s right next to a sewer treatment plant.
  2. The ad copy is designed to make you want to go see a house. Remember the goal of the seller and listing agent is to sell the house.  They aren’t going to write in the copy that they have a neighbor that refuses to wear pants when getting the paper in the morning, and they aren’t going to mention the large horizontal crack in the basement that probably should be looked at by a professional.  Those things are going to be in the disclosures, not the ad copy.
  3. Zestimates, Home Value indicators, etc…are designed to be just vague enough that they are worthless. When you look at houses every day for a living, you realize this pretty quickly.  Good agents aren’t going to suggest that their buyers over pay for a property.    So, you have two houses on the same street, one has been staged, has new windows, new roof, new doors, fresh coat of paint in the fashionable palette.  The other house has the same exact floor plan but hasn’t been updated since 1950.  Zillow will say the two houses have the same value.  Zillow has begun to use artificial intelligence to look at the pictures and adjust their valuations, but it is still far from what an agent working an area is already going to know.

Don’t get disappointed.  Every industry tries to sell their products…just realize that residential real estate is no different.  Assuming that you aren’t ready to work with an agent just yet, here’s one suggestion.  When you see a house that looks absolutely too good to be true online, it probably is.  Take note of the address and drive by it.  After all, the lot is probably at least 50% or more of the value.  If the house is on a busy street, or next to undesirable neighbors, or is really small, these are things aren’t going to be seen in the listing pictures.

I’ve seen many buyers look at the pictures of a house they eventually bought and say they didn’t even want to go to the house in the first place.  Some houses are just not photogenic….they shine only when seen in person.  Be the buyer that gets that deal because everyone else was just looking at the pictures and didn’t bother to drive the neighborhood.