Is That Home for Sale a Legit Online Listing?

How to Determine Whether a Web Listing is the Real Deal

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Don't be embarrassed to admit that even after you have hired an agent — a buyer's agent who diligently emails you listings directly from MLS — you also continue looking at homes on your own. As real estate agents, we realize that homebuyers do it because it's human nature.

You wonder, don't you, if your agent has dug up every single home that fits your criteria? You worry that maybe your perfect home is out there somewhere and your agent has overlooked it. I know this because I've walked in your shoes and have had those same thoughts.

So, you look in the newspaper and circle ads and drive around the neighborhood. Mostly, though, you look online for homes on the market. Here's the skinny on whether any of those homes featured in online listings are actually for sale.

Homes for Sale on the Internet

Listings on the internet fall into Wild Wild West territory. Just because it's online doesn't make it true and there are few regulations governing websites. Here are some of the reasons why a home for sale online might not turn out to be the property of your dreams:

  • The home is sold. It could have closed years ago yet still show up online because the agent never removed it or forgot about the rogue site where it was listed.
  • The home isn't for sale. Unscrupulous link farms sometimes aggregate sold listings or pick up rentals to generate traffic to the site, but the homes aren't actually on the market.
  • The home is a preforeclosure. Some national websites that list homes for sale also include homes on which a Notice of Default has been filed. It doesn't mean the home is for sale nor that the home will go into foreclosure.
  • The home might not fit your criteria. In situations where the homebuying process is more time-consuming due to the nature of the transaction type, it may not work out for you. For example, buyers who need to close on a home within 30 days aren't candidates for short sales. If the home is a short sale, the listing might not indicate its active status.
  • The home's description is incorrect. Sometimes the mistake is due to human error. The home might be listed as a two bath when it's really a one-bath home, or the location could read Stockton when it's actually in Sacramento.

Homes for Sale in the Newspaper

Unless the ad specifies "new listing," the home is most likely already in MLS. Sometimes, agents won't put the address in the ad because listing agents want you to call them. If you call them, maybe they can sell you something else.

Many newspapers prohibit agents from advertising a home for sale if it's not in MLS. However, some of those systems give agents 48 hours to put the listing into MLS. If you find a home in the newspaper that sounds interesting, contact your agent and let your agent get that information for you.

If the home for sale is in the newspaper, it's probably also on the paper's website with links to the listing. Look it up.

Homes for Sale in Magazines

Like newspaper print classifieds, magazine advertising is breathing its last breath. Fewer agents put homes for sale in a magazine than they used to because the lead time is too long. It can take 30 to 90 days before a magazine hits newsstands or doorsteps.

The agents who advertise homes in magazines do so because they hope a buyer will call them. If it's long after the home has sold, they don't care. You're a living, breathing and eager homebuyer. Just the kind of person they want to hear from.

Homes for Sale in the Neighborhood

If the home has an agent's sign in front of it, the home is most likely in MLS. But is it for sale? It might already be under contract, and there are no "sign police" who make agents hang pending signs.

If the home has a hand-scrawled sign or says "For Sale by Owner," then you should write down the phone number and ask your agent to call the seller. The seller might not have hired a listing agent, but most sellers are not foolish enough to turn down an offer that requires them to pay the buyer's agent a commission.

The bottom line is if you find a home, apart from the listings your agent sends you, call your agent and ask about it. Although the possibility is slight that the home is suitable for you, it could turn into a bonafide lead for your agent and for you.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.