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Totally renovated…not!

Posted by Rona Fischman September 25, 2012 01:55 PM

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When you read an MLS sheet, where do your eyes go first? After the price and address, many consumers go to the remarks section, the pictures, or the map. Where’s your first stop? I have found that, for many of my clients, ruling out happens before reading the vast majority of the listing sheet.

When they go to the next level, the next things they check are the floor plans -- if there are any -- and the presence or absence of additional features (How big is the biggest bedroom? How many indoor parking spaces? Is there a bath on the first floor?) What do you do?

Since the remarks section of the listing sheet is marketing, sometimes it goes a bit astray. Most of my clients have no patience for hyperbole. Exclamations points turn them off; they are looking for a place to live, not a BFF.

Agents learn early on that the listing sheet is a factual document. Agents get into trouble with consumer fraud laws if their description does not match reality, in fact. But, what is fact and what is opinion? There are way too many things that live in the grey area. There are descriptions of quality and descriptions of fact. Take this sentence fragment: “…spacious kitchen with granite counters and stainless steel appliances.” Spacious is opinion; granite and stainless are facts (or not.)

Then there is the parsing of words:
“New” means it was just put in and “newer” means it is still shiny…well, sort of. When I remove my tongue from my cheek on that one, I would say that “newer” means it has most of its expected life ahead of it, like at two year-old roof (that should last twenty years or so.) The exception to that rule is when “newer construction” or “young” is used to describe a house built in 1991. Yes, the style is contemporary –mostly -- but the house, especially the appliances and exterior, are aging rapidly.

The reason this all came to mind is because I have a client who was annoyed at a “completely renovated” condo he saw with me. Yes, it had replaced windows and appliances, and it was freshly painted and had shiny floors. He thought that this “completely renovated” was a lie because it was not taken down to the studs and rebuilt inside. The first thing he saw, walking in, was an oldish (notice I didn’t say “old”!) glass door with a big crack in it. That trained his eye to spot all the old plaster under the paint, the ugly shim under the radiator, and all the other hallmarks of a quick-and-dirty renovation.

Does “completely renovated” mean “renovated to the studs”? If that is so, this agent misled the public on his sheet. Should the agent have written “entirely updated”? Or should the agent have been more specific “replaced kitchen and bathroom fixtures”?

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

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