For many people, especially in the Millennial Generation, the Internet is the go-to reference for the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) revolution. There are, however, some subjects that are bigger than the Internet can handle, and real estate is one of them. Someone who relies only on the web can get incorrect, inaccurate – – and even illegal-in-Maryland – advice and innocently make their lives a complicated mess. So, here’s a rundown of common Internet sources of information, and the cautions you might want to implement if you use them.
• House-listing websites – The 500-pound gorilla in this class is Zillow.com, but there are dozens. Their information can be old and incorrect, and their estimates of value have been proven to be wildly inaccurate. Click Zillow’s legalese the next time you get one of their estimates and you’ll be taken to a page of disclaimer language that tells you just how inaccurate you can expect their figures to be. Also, I’ve had clients find homes for sale on Zillow that sold two years earlier and were never removed.
This can apply to websites that bear the brand of one of the major brokerages. Some have the habit of leaving a few of their own listings on their website long after being sold which, whether accidentally or intentionally, makes it look as if they have lots of things for sale to tempt the internet buyer.
• Buying advice websites and blogs – Real estate is a state-by-state operation. For example, agency laws in Maryland are nearly the opposite of what they are in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and the process of buying and settling a house in the Mid-Atlantic is very different than it is in New York and New England, and on the West Coast. This patchwork of procedures makes it unlikely that any Internet advice will be useful to a Maryland buyer or seller. Make sure you’re reading information specific to Maryland, and that its up-to-date. For instance, Maryland will be changing its agency laws effective October 1st, 2016. Nothing on the web right now is taking those changes into account (even agents haven’t gotten final word yet on how the changes in law will affect how we do business).
The one way to make sure you get accurate, timely information is to hire a realtor. Interview the agent first, or get a raving referral from a good friend. If you’re not happy with him or her after awhile, fire them and find another. Buying or selling a home is an important life-changing event. You need to have someone assisting you that you can trust and with whom you get along well.
• Social media chat – I recently took part in an exchange on a neighborhood chat board that was debating various real estate related topics. I read a lot of posts from people who had very firm opinions, but who had no clue as to what it took to become licensed as a real estate agent, what other steps had to be taken in order to actually practice, and what the costs of setting up a practice really were. Most did not have any idea as to how the real estate industry has evolved to take care of issues like security, liability, and making sure that the contract most people use is fully legal – short of hiring your own lawyer and hoping that he or she knows enough about real estate law to actually perform the service.
DIY can end up costing you dearly. Why risk it?
- Wayne Curtis has been a licensed real estate agent for 23 years, serving the Baltimore region, currently with REMAX Advantage Realty. Contact him with your real estate questions, email@example.com.