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When shopping for a home online, buyer beware

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 31, 2011 10:14 AM

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What you see online is often not anywhere near what you are going to get.

In fact, I have the perfect example of this right in my Natick neighborhood.

The light blue home around the corner from me at 17 Marion St., a ramshackle 1930s home of no particular style, was foreclosed on a couple years ago.

In fact, it enjoyed a pretty nice run during the bubble years, fetching $249,000 in 2002 and then getting flipped a couple years later for more than $284,000.

Then the economy came crashing down, with the home taken back by the bank for $175,000 in 2009.

After sitting empty but inconspicuous for a couple years, 17 Marion has morphed into the classic foreclosure special, with the recent addition of plywood over all the windows in advance of Irene the icing on the cake.

Now it's being marketed, intermittently, for the unbelievably low price of $205,000. (Yes, I am being sarcastic here.)

That's the reality - but you wouldn't have a clue just looking at the online listing for the home.

I did a simple test, looking up 17 Marion Street on three major online real estate sites. Only one mentions it's a foreclosure - and that's in a footnote at the very end.

And, not surprisingly, the pictures are all pre-plywood.

There are also some other key details that you'd never pick up just looking at the house online.

It's within roughly a hundred feet of a busy commuter/freight rail line, with a busy cut-through road to Natick center in front. There's no front yard either - instead it has been replaced by asphalt.

As far as descriptions go, here's my favorite. Can't find the site it was on, but here it is.

"STARTER HOME IN NATICK WITH AFFORDABLE PRICING. ALL HARDWOOD FLOORS IN GOOD CONDITION. HOUSE FEELS BIGGER THAN IT LOOKS. FENCED BACK YARD WITH DECK."

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the perils of online real estate listings.

What's your online listing horror story?


This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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