Looking at online home listings can be a bit like using a dating app. You scroll through different profiles swiping left and right until you have a list of a few favorites. You then read through each profile, narrow down the list further, and email the real estate agent to set up a meet-and-greet. But just like a first date, the initial meeting can turn out very different to what you expected. Strategically shot photos and industry buzzwords like “cozy” and “unique” are frequently used to hide a home’s less glamorous features. If you want to save yourself time and energy, you need to identify red flags that say a listing may not be what you anticipate. Here are four red flags to watch out for when viewing online home listings.
Photos at odd angles or taken with a fish-eye lens
Photos are the bread and butter of every home listing. But as we’re all aware in this age, photos don’t always tell the whole truth. It’s standard practice when selling real estate to use listing photos that make a room look bigger or more appealing. Anyone who’s shopped for a home before knows this. Be on guard for any listing photos that don’t show a room from multiple angles. The sellers may be trying to hide something. Don’t waste your time either with listings that have no photos. That usually means that the apartment is either in terrible shape or has a floorplan that is difficult to photograph.
Be especially suspicious of photos taken with a fish-eye lens. These are camera lenses that warp the view of a shot to make the foreground look bigger, and the background looks further away. Pay attention also to what you do see. If the windows look especially bright or are frosted over, that may not mean that you’ll have a lot of natural light. Instead, it could be a way to cover up that the windows face a brick wall or other undesired exposure. It’s one thing to stage a shot and quite another to use tricks to make a room look like something it’s not.
Heavy use of real estate “buzzwords.”
Just as photos can be used to inaccurately reflect how a home looks, so can the words in the listing description. If the description includes a lot of industry buzzwords like “quaint,” “up-and-coming neighborhood” or “cozy” then that’s a cause for concern. Such words are usually a form of doublespeak, meaning they don’t reflect what the words actually mean. Consider it a red flag when you see listings using these words:
- Cozy/Quaint – The apartment or house is very small
- TLC – Usually means the property is in need of major renovations
- Unique – Too unique or way out there
- Charming – Often means dated
What you want to find is listings with detailed descriptions, not ones with obscure language. Country houses make use of some of these words as a positive but when an NYC apartment is described this way it’s rarely a good thing.
For sale by owner (FSBO)
Be wary of any listing where the seller is not represented by a real estate agent. More often than not, a seller that’s going FSBO is either pricing too high, inexperienced, unreasonable or all three. Caveat emptor or “buyer beware,” is the name of the game in New York real estate. FSBO homes also take longer to close on average as there’s one less professional in the equation. Make sure you have your own real estate agent to advocate for you and protect your interests.
Someone other than the listing agent picks up the phone
When it’s time to start making phone calls, you’ll usually be answered by the listing agent or someone on their staff. But not always. Sometimes you’ll reach a different agent who offers to handle it all for you. This can be a problem because good agents will always ensure you deal directly with them or a member of their staff. When that’s not the case, it could mean delays or confusion as you try to move towards an accepted offer. An agent who tries to steal another’s business when they’re out of the office could also mean an unscrupulous agent. If you feel uncomfortable with who you’ve been routed to then feel free to look elsewhere.