The highs and lows of parenting and real estate.

You Can’t Judge a Listing By Its MLS Photos

Houses Shown: 8

Fabulous Houses Shown: 7

How Sorry I Am That Scratch n Sniff Computer Screens Haven’t Been Invented Yet On a Scale of 1 to 10: 10

I’m absolutely guilty of the old adage, ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’ at least in the literal sense. As a kid I pretty much felt naked unless I had at least one novel touching my body at all time (well, and up through college, until I sprouted these three appendages named Bennett, Gray and Jonas who are totally adverse to anything involving the phrases ‘mom’s hobby’ or ‘mom’s free-time’) . I read anything and everything, so I would regularly walk into a bookstore or library and just run my hands over the spines and pluck out anything with an interesting title or cover art. I wasn’t worried about wasting my time on something lousy. I was willing to try anything.

It would seem like applying this principle to real estate would actually afford you more success than in literature. A book’s title and cover art really has almost nothing to do with the story printed inside, but the photos of a house on the MLS are actually pictures of what you’d see in person, right? Ah… no. You’d think that, and it would be a reasonable assumption. And yet, you’d be completely and totally wrong.

I almost never look at photos of houses I’m showing and I caution my clients against choosing what they want to see or not see based completely on the pictures. Some agents are excellent photographers (or hire excellent photographers) and make a house look much better than it will actually feel in person, and some do a ridiculously poor job of showcasing a lovely listing. Not to mention the fact that much of what is good or bad about a house, and in general the thing you can’t alter after purchase, is the feel of the space, which is pretty much impossible to capture in 2-D.

So last week I should have known I was in for it when I picked a group of houses to show a new client and I put some weight on what I chose based on the photos. Do as I SAY, not as I DO, dummy.

This new client was a doctor in town from California looking for an investment property. I hadn’t met him in person before, so I was looking to impress him with my awesome Realtor skilz so that he would feel confident working with me in the future. This was really just a first time ‘seeing the layout of the land’ trip out to Phoenix and I knew he wouldn’t be ready to pull the trigger this trip, but he wanted to see properties in a particular price range that were mostly move-in ready. It’s not often up to me to determine which properties we are viewing (usually my clients choose what they are interested in viewing from the internet search I set up for them), but this time he needed guidance about areas and different types of properties, so it was on my shoulders to present a lovely tour of Metro-Phoenix properties.

I cast my net wide and looked through all of the listings, picking out ones that were newer or had been remodeled and then glanced through the pictures to make sure I was on the right track. I tossed the ones that looked sketchy and kept the ones that appeared modern and cared for. I ordered my showings in a sort of circular manner starting closest to his hotel and I was feeling pretty confident with listing number one. It was in a nice neighborhood, built in the last 5 years, priced well and the pictures looked great:

Right? Not bad at all. Granite, stainless steel appliances, wood-like floors, two car garage. Can’t go wrong. So imagine my surprise and horror when I opened the door (which looked, by the way, like it had been crow-barred open in the recent past) to reveal a stench so pungent it forced me to take a step back and cover my mouth and nose before entering. Like you know that rolling cloud of flies and stink that engulfs that poor kid, Pigpen (who IS his mother, by the way, she should be reported to CPS) from Peanuts? This smell practically looked like that and answered the door to greet us.

And that wasn’t all. Of course not. The photographer (who apparently wasn’t shy. Hi Mr. Realtor! You’re not supposed to be in the picture!) had managed to avoid the obvious water-damage in the ceiling throughout the first floor. Paint was bubbled up and dried in at least 3 places and there was a huge square of drywall cut out of part of the ceiling.

Now, yes, I’m a girly girl. I like my sparkle and have my pretty outfits and awesome boots, etc., but I am not a total wuss. I’m a mom and I’ve seen enough ‘gross’ at home that I’ve become a little bit immune. In general, my sense of curiosity is more robust than my gag reflex. So even though this house smelled awful and was obviously in disrepair, my client and I climbed the steps to the second story.

The smell was obviously getting stronger the higher we went. We did a quick check of the two bedrooms and bathrooms on the second floor and found crusted brown guck in the master tub. I wondered, for a second if the previous owner had left a present in one of the toilets up there (no, I didn’t have the guts to look), but I’ve decided that couldn’t have been the culprit. There was still one story to investigate and as we got halfway up the stairs, it became clear the smell was only getting worse. At that point I was literally holding my breath. When my client turned to me and said, “I think we should get out of here,” I realized my curiosity would have to go unsatisfied. My guess is that something died in the walls and was rotting in the Phoenix heat.

Suffice it to say when we got into the car to travel to the next property I was shaken and fairly horrified at my choice of first impressions for the new client. It didn’t help that the only note he took on the listing sheet I gave him was ‘SMELL’.

Luckily, it was the only stinker of the day and we finished up with some better properties. I think I’d actually prefer that it started like that rather than leaving a bad taste in his mouth at the end of the day (you know, literally).

Point being: Pictures? Don’t mean a thing.

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