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Buying a New House? Beware of This Sneaky Trick Some Agents Are Using. (It Makes Listings Look Much Better Than They Really Are)

Inc. logo Inc. 3/9/2019 Bill Murphy Jr.
a large lawn in front of a house: Beautiful Luxury Home Exterior with Green Grass and Landscaped yard © Getty Images Beautiful Luxury Home Exterior with Green Grass and Landscaped yard

Oh, CGI.

There's a house at the end of my street that's been for sale two or three times. Nobody has bought it yet.

Other houses nearby are selling fast, so I don't think it's the market. Maybe it's time to share with my neighbor the surprising and sneaky thing that some high volume real estate agents apparently do now.

The trick involves Hollywood-style computer-generated imagery in real estate listings -- the kind of thing that lets listing agents make brown lawns green, according to The Wall Street Journal, and "stage rooms with virtual furniture ... and even perform full-blown HGTV-style makeovers with clicks of a mouse."

Kind of scammy, right? If the photos don't portray a nice house, simply doctor the photos.

For buyers like you or me, the cost is likely not all that high -- measured in annoyance, and maybe wasted trips to open houses.

If you fall in love with a mansion online but arrive to find it's really a dated shack, I suspect that would be the end of the deal.

But, as the Journal points out, the more common victims of this manipulation are buyers who should be a lot more sophisticated, at least in theory: high-volume investors who use software to analyze the photos in real estate listings, and make all-cash offers, sight unseen, on a large number of properties.

These are largely Wall Street-style speculators, so I doubt they'll garner a ton of sympathy. But the potential impact is bigger than you might think.

About 20 percent of home buyers made an offer on at least one property sight unseen, according to data Redfin collected last year. In 2017, when the market was even crazier, it was more like 35 percent.

I'm guessing that's probably not you. But if you're in real estate, or you have a house to sell -- or even if you're at that stage in life when you spend a lot of weekends going to open houses, the old advice applies: Caveat emptor.

Here's what else I'm reading today:

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