The Federal Trade Commission (FTC.gov) states in its Advertising FAQ's: A Guide for Small Business, “It’s illegal to advertise a product when the company has no intention of selling that item, but instead plans to sell a consumer something else, usually at a higher price…”, when describing “bait and switch” advertising.
The term “bait and switch” is sometimes bandied about by disgruntled consumers, when referring to their encounters with real estate agents. Although the scenarios depicted by the annoyed consumers require legal scrutiny to determine if the situations meet the definition of bait and switch as described by the FTC, it makes you wonder about what some agents are doing and/or saying to get business.
Bait and switch complaints are often about homes that are advertised for rent or sale, but are found to be off market after calling agent. These listings are often the result of listing syndication gone awry; or worse, “scraped” listing information (Internet scraping is when website data is taken and collected, often without authorization) reposted by an unauthorized website to attract traffic away from the website of origin.
Scraped listing information can float around cyberspace for months or years after a home has sold. Although there has always been an element of out of date listing information found on the internet; sham listings and unauthorized postings of listings used to lure consumers, are frequently cited by both consumers and agents because the information is often misleading or incorrect. And although some responsibility may be placed on the workings of the internet; some real estate agents may be to blame for using questionable advertising practices to get their phone ringing to attract home buyers. Such practices include: advertising other agents’ listings as their own, or advertising homes that are off the market.
The MLS syndicates and distributes home listing information across the internet to authorized websites, and updates the listings to maintain accuracy and integrity of the MLS. Although the internet seemed to coalesce for a brief time to present reliable home listings and other real estate information, while deterring scammers and rogue websites; the recent surge in home sales and other economics may be responsible for a return to a “wild west” atmosphere in cyberspace. This year’s reshuffling of MLS data access to major real estate portals, forcing some sites to find missing information elsewhere, is likely to have added some confusion.
Home buyers aren’t the only ones complaining; as some home sellers offer similar complaints, saying they’ve been misled. Sometimes the complaint is that their agent “promised” a high sale price, only to be coerced to reduce the price at a later time; or the agent over-promised services that were never delivered.
It must be said that many buyer and seller complaints stem from their dissatisfaction, rather than an actual breach of ethics; and yet many legitimate ethical breaches go unreported. Regardless, it is unfortunate that some real estate agents resort to questionable sales tactics to attract buyers and sellers; and either learn the tactics from real estate trainers, and/or develop them on their own and share with other agents. Even though a Realtors® code of ethics exists to guide professional behavior and business practices, some have a “catch me if you can” attitude. Due diligence, on your part, can make your home buying or selling experience increasingly trouble free and more enjoyable.
Dan Krell is a Realtor with RE/MAX All Pro in Rockville, MD. You can access more information at www.DanKrell.com.