Isn't technology a wonderful thing?
It has certainly worked wonders in the way we look at real estate, giving buyers the power to do research, both on individual homes and the market as a whole.
But it has also multiplied the potential for cheating as well, allowing sellers and agents to bend the rules, sometimes a little, other times a lot.
Online searching will only take you so far - some good old fashioned shoe leather reporting is also needed before you take the plunge.
CBS Moneywatch.com offers a list of pitfalls for buyer to keep an eye out for - some of it quite humorous.
One of the biggest potential areas for bending the rules comes with online photos.
Sellers can now easily enhance views of their homes with a little help from Photoshop. Grass can be made to look lusher and trees greener. Sometimes you don't have to be all that high-tech - a five year old photo of a new paint job can do wonders. Another common tactic - putting in photos of shiny new kitchens and picturesque gardens taken from other properties, CBS Moneywatch reports.
Also, beware of teaser rates. It's the old bait and switch - you see a posting about a great low rate and call only to find it is unavailable. Or the lender or broker says sorry, your credit score isn't good enough.
Get your credit report and get grounded in realilty, checking out what your local bank or credit union is offering, the CBS Moneywatch piece advises.
It's also hard to figure out the true value of a property simply relying on online valuations. You could wind up with dramatically different takes on the same property from Zillow, Realtor.com and other services, the piece notes.
Here again, find someone on the ground with knowledge of the local market to give their take - and start doing some street level reporting yourself.
There's a lot of other good stuff in the piece, including a pretty funny glossary of some of the code words to look carefully at when reading a property description.
It's hard to imagine anyone falling for some of this stuff now, but beware of "cozy/dollhouse" as well as "handyman's special," "great view," and "rentable in-law apartment."
My Natick fixer-upper was in pretty bad shape when my wife Karen and I bought it, but even our shameless seller, who hadn't made a decent repair thirty years, didn't resort to the handyman label, which pretty much means a complete dump ready to be taken down.
Anyway, happy house hunting!
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