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Not Cool

Michael Flack

SHOULD A REASONABLE real estate buyer expect the multiple listing service (MLS) to provide a reasonable description of the property being purchased? What if it doesn’t?

All the previous times I’ve purchased real estate, the MLS accurately described the property I was buying. I realized that disclosures were also provided by the seller, and those specified the finer points of what was being purchased. Still, I’d come to expect a certain amount of integrity from the MLS listing itself.

That all changed during my most recent real estate adventure. I signed a contract on a condo that, according to the MLS, came with a “large wine fridge.” A few weeks after signing the contract, I was again reviewing the disclosures and noticed that the large wine fridge wasn’t mentioned. The listing agent subsequently confirmed it wasn’t part of the deal, saying the wine fridge would have been part of the deal if I’d agreed to pay the list price.

Now, I realize that legally the disclosures are what determines what is and isn’t part of the transaction, but I was dismayed to learn that an item so prominently mentioned in the MLS did not actually “convey,” as they say in real estate lingo. I then became concerned about whether the third space of the three-car private garage and the third of the three outdoor spaces would convey. Thankfully, they did.

It also burned me that the large wine fridge would have conveyed if I paid “a full offer.” I’d never heard of such a thing. I wondered how much over asking would have enabled the seller’s Peloton to convey? I pushed my agent to go over the listing agent’s head to attain satisfaction, but the listing agent’s boss was even more obstinate.

For most of my working life, I was employed by one of the biggest companies in the world. People may think that because we were so big, we played hardball with all our customers and vendors. Well, we did during negotiations. But if the signed contract ended up flawed—like my above deal—then we worked hard to find an equitable resolution because our reputation is what enabled us to make future profitable deals.

I decided to go through with the deal after the seller convinced me that the inclusion of the wine fridge in the MLS was an oversight by the listing agent. I also wanted to maintain some good will. I was negotiating with the seller about some issues in the inspection report, plus I wanted to buy some of his furniture.

But after the sale closed, I just couldn’t let it go. I felt this was an integrity issue, specifically a violation of Article 12 of the National Association of REALTORS® Code of Ethics. (Yes, these folks do indeed write “realtors” in all capital letters and include the ®, as if they’re screaming at you and feel their right to do so should be legally protected.)

Article 12 reads: “REALTORS® shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations.” That, along with the huge void in my newly purchased “butler’s pantry,” really started to gnaw at me.

So, I contacted the ombudsman at the local Regional Association of REALTORS®. She was a nice enough woman who was there to “attempt to informally resolve your concerns… before matters ripen into disputes and possible charges of unethical conduct.” Unfortunately, she didn’t try to resolve my concerns, instead simply forwarding them to the unapologetic listing agent.

That meant the next step was to submit an ethics complaint. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to try and ding the listing agent with a $250 fine, although that wouldn’t bring a tear to my eye. Rather, it was that I wanted some sort of acknowledgment that what the listing agent did was wrong.

The ethics complaint form was filled in, notarized and submitted via registered mail. Upon receipt by the Regional Association of REALTORS®, I made one last unanswered plea to the listing REALTOR® for “an equitable resolution.”

A hearing by three members of the Regional Association of REALTORS® was scheduled. The nefarious agent and I weren’t invited. A few days later, the Regional Association of REALTORS® contacted me with an update, saying the agent in question was not in violation of Article 12. No further explanation was given, which led me to believe that resistance was futile and an appeal to the grievance committee would be less than productive.

After it was all said and done, I still think it was worth my time. But then again, I’m retired and have nothing but free time. I also learned something useful for the next time I buy a condo—and perhaps even more useful the next time I sell one. I also rest easy knowing I’ve done what I could to hold REALTORS® accountable. Still, I have to say, my refrigerator-chilled Charles Shaw 2023 pinot grigio just doesn’t taste that good.

Michael Flack blogs at AfterActionReport.info. He’s a former naval officer and 20-year veteran of the oil and gas industry. Now retired, Mike enjoys traveling, blogging and spreadsheets. Check out his earlier articles.

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