Mistakes in a real estate listing can hurt your clients and damage your career. That’s why accuracy in a listing is vital. Two experienced Ontario REALTORS® discuss common errors in listings and the consequences of making them.
If a real estate salesperson fails to check the information in an MLS® listing, serious consequences can result. Those mistakes can lead to fines or lawsuits for you and your clients and can tarnish your reputation and that of the profession as a whole.
“We’re in the business of risk management,” says Heather Fuller,a Toronto Realtor and instructor at the Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA). “Our codes of ethics require that we find out all the material facts that would affect the buyer and seller. If a listing contains incorrect information, we may prepare an offer that isn’t in our client’s best interest. It’s factual information, and we must verify its accuracy whether we represent the buyer or seller.”
When information in an MLS® listing is inaccurate, the buyers may end up overpaying for a property or buying a place that lacks the features they anticipated. Lawsuits may ensue. “There can be many negative consequences,” Fuller says.
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Ensuring that a listing is accurate is in everyone’s best interest, says Doug Monett, a Muskoka Realtor and OREA instructor. Clients and customers understand the details while misunderstandings or lawsuits are prevented, he notes. This enhances your professional reputation and is also good for business.
“Everyone in your market area is sizing you up,” Monett says. “If you want to be treated as a professional, you must act like one. If your listing contains errors, will others in the field treat you with respect? Will they want to collaborate with you? You’re putting an image out there – is it a professional or unprofessional one?”
The Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) has various options to deal with sales representatives who fail to comply with REBBA 2002, including the code of ethics. Depending on the seriousness of the error, discipline may vary. For very serious violations, the RECO Registrar can initiate a proposal to have a registration revoked.
Financial and career implications can also result from a listing error, adds Monett. “Our job is to do our research. If we don’t, the consequences can be serious – for our clients and for us.”
Throughout her career, Fuller has seen a variety of listing errors: property frontages measured incorrectly; shared driveways not specified; confusion over condo locker ownership or rental; and homes without insulation, to name a few.
“If you import previous information into your listing, be sure to double check it first to make sure it’s correct.”
“Do your research in advance,” Fuller says. “Under the code of ethics, you have an obligation to find out all the material facts. A seller may not know all of the information needed in a listing, so it’s up to you as a Realtor to confirm the information provided on a listing. This may require a title search or the obtaining of a condominium status certificate prior to listing the property.”
Today’s listing software can help avoid some errors, says Monett, because it may refuse to upload a listing without the proper information. “But I see more mistakes in the sections for optional information,” he says. “All information in a listing must be double-checked for accuracy and approved in writing by the seller before being submitted to the MLS® system.”
Copying or just repeating information from a previous MLS® listing is a dangerous practice, Monett warns. He has seen listings in which the sales representative merely uploaded old information from an earlier listing without double checking it. Never assume that information in an expired listing is correct or current, he says.
“It’s not safe to assume that the previous Realtor had the right information,” he says. “By copying it, you are in effect guaranteeing its accuracy. If you import previous information into your listing, be sure to double check it first to make sure it’s correct.”
Verify, verify, verify, is a good mantra, says Monett, who recalls an incident he once had when listing a property. “I was filling in the lot size in the listing and I asked the owners for the survey, which they didn’t have on hand. A few days later, I got the survey data and it turned out the lot was 20 feet shorter than the last listing indicated. The previous expired listing was posted on MLS® by a top producer in the area. I learned from that experience that you can’t assume that even a highly successful sales representative has done everything right. If I hadn’t checked the lot measurements against the survey, there could have been serious consequences if an offer had been submitted based on that erroneous information.”
Monett has been known to carry a 100-foot measuring tape with him. If a visual inspection of a property doesn’t appear to match the written measurements, he brings out his measuring tape, checking the lot size and all rooms inside. He also checks the property’s title and talks to staff at the local municipal office about the property and surrounding area, and even knocks on neighbours’ doors to learn more about the neighbourhood.
Doing your homework is crucial to serving your clients and therefore to your success in real estate, adds Fuller. A past incident in her career served to reinforce that habit.
“I was selling a condo and the owner told me he owned both a parking space and a locker, but the title search showed only the parking registered,” she says. “The property manager had no records of a locker and sent me to the previous property management company.
“Luckily, the client had kept legal records and had the transfer deed. However, the lawyers had never registered the locker on title. I located one of the lawyers, who was still practicing, and he was able to register the locker on the title, but the offer was conditional until two days before the closing. Now, I always get a status certificate before I list a condominium property. It’s $100 well spent on risk management.”
The need for verification also extends to property upgrades and items included in the sale. “If you can’t verify it, keep it out of the listing,” Fuller advises. “Keep probing and asking questions. For example, ask which light fixtures are included and which are excluded. People forget. I remember a property where the seller had dug up all the tulip bulbs in the garden before leaving. You never know what’s important to the buyer or seller unless you ask questions.”
The listing can blow up in your face if a Realtor fails to gather relevant details, says Monett. “Never stop asking questions,” he says. “There’s no excuse for ignorance. Sales representatives need to be professional. We must be ready to show that we’ve done our due diligence.”
Errors and omissions insurance does not excuse a lack of effort on the part of a Realtor, Monett adds. “I’m glad that errors and omissions insurance is there so that clients are protected if a mistake happens, but it’s not a safety net or an excuse for incompetence,” he says. “We should be at the top of our game at all times in order to act in our clients’ best interests, earn their trust and deserve our commission.”
Tips for new REALTORS® to avoid listing errors:
- Take another sales representative with you to take notes and help you measure; two heads are better than one.
- Shadow an experienced Realtor as he or she goes through this process.
- Ask many questions and verify all information.
Here are links to previous articles dealing with listing errors and RECO discipline decisions:
RECO: Registrant fails to check zoning
RECO Decision: Marijuana grow-op not disclosed
RECO Decision: Tenant had no right to sell
RECO decision: Member fails to verify chattels
Story by Elaine Smith.
Sources: Heather Fuller, Doug Monett
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