Blowing The Whistle?


5 minute read

May 4, 2012

Ha!  I received an email from an industry-colleague yesterday who read the article in the Globe & Mail and accused me of “blowing the whistle” on practices in our business.

You guys read the article, and be the judge…

By: Carolyn Ireland
Friday, May 4th, 2012
The Globe & Mail

Say you’d been searching for a condo to buy and handed over an offer on a cool place in the Queen Street West area, only to find out that the owner rejected not just your offer but every one of the 15 others. You’d feel irked, right? And just imagine how burned you would feel if the same seller came back to the market for another round – at a higher price.

David Fleming understands the outrage.

The agent at Bosley Real Estate Ltd. has seen this scenario play out more often than usual 2012’s exceptionally hot spring market in Toronto: Sellers angle for a bidding war; if competition doesn’t materialize or the bids aren’t rich enough, they wait a short interval then raise the asking price.

“Expectations are crazy right now,” he says.

Mr. Fleming – who draws readers who like his outspoken style at – closely followed one such case which played out recently as the market was heading towards the peak of the spring frenzy.

The action unfolded after a condo unit with one bedroom and a den had languished on the market for seven weeks with an asking price of just under $360,000. The building had been recently registered which meant that owners were entitled to put their units up for sale and dozens of them did so over the course of a few months.

So, in order to make this one unit stand out from the competition, Mr. Fleming reckons, the seller and his or her agent tried a new tactic.

They brought out the listing again at the eye-popping asking price of $159,900. They set a date and time when all offers would be reviewed and waited for the fracas to ensue.

Mr. Fleming ranted (his word) about the outcome on his blog: After all 16 parties put their bids on the table, not one had upped the ante sufficiently to satisfy the seller.

A few weeks passed and the unit was listed once again – at a little less than $359,000 this time. It’s not hard to imagine that the seller was hoping for this amount all along and the ridiculously-low asking price was just bait.

“All they did was waste the time of not just the 16 buyers, but also the agents, lawyers, parents, mortgage brokers and everyone else involved.”

Then there are the frazzled nerves that buyers suffer in such skirmishes.

Many of those bidders probably offered huge amounts over the asking price, he says, and they would undoubtedly feel deceived.

Mr. Fleming stresses that the seller and agent did nothing illegal or even against industry rules. But he does think their actions were misleading. He rails against game-playing because he says it tarnishes the reputation of the industry.

“It’s very frustrating for everyone involved,” he says. “It makes people not want to work with that agent. It makes people not want to look at the house.”

The seller’s agent, he adds, should not try to appeal to a client’s greed. Some people are cashing out after living in a place a long time but others only bought a couple of years ago. Everyone seems to expect a big gain, says Mr. Fleming.

“I think it really falls back on the listing agent to educate their sellers and not promise them multiples. The sellers’ expectations are so high and emotion pays a huge part in real estate.”

But perhaps prospective buyers bear some responsibility: they can walk away and refuse to participate in a melée.

“You really, really have to consider, do you want to get involved,” Mr. Fleming agrees. “When you know a game is being played, I would advise my clients to sit it out.”

Mr. Fleming says the rising number of listings at this time of year compared with the shortage in February means competition is less intense. Multiple offers are still common for good properties in favoured neighbourhoods, he adds, but the battles that draw 13 or 15 buyers have simmered down.

Many agents are reporting that they’ve seen offer dates pass without a deal. That’s when a strategy designed to draw multiple offers can backfire.

When that happens, it’s not uncommon to see the same house come back on at a higher price.

“If your house didn’t sell at $999,000, why would you put it back on for $1.1-million? The market has spoken.”

The sellers will often try to justify the higher asking price by pointing out improvements they’ve made, such as redoing the kitchen.

“And even that was probably 10 years ago,” says Mr. Fleming. “No one cares about your 10-year-old kitchen.”

In other cases, a house doesn’t sell at the deadline and a prospective buyer will make an offer later for the asking price or thereabouts only to have the seller come back with a higher number.

“When they sign back higher than the asking price – what are they thinking? That was three weeks ago.”

Sooooo……is there anything new in here?

Isn’t this just the same stuff I’ve been saying for years and years?

Didn’t I already write about that condo on Queen Street that received 16 offers, all of which were rejected?

I don’t really understand the concept of the “whistle-blower” as it’s meant.  There’s a negative connotation with this term, but it’s always a good thing, isn’t it?  An employee of a tobacco company, or an oil company, or some sort of other symbolically evil conglomerate finally has ‘enough’ and discloses the illegal/unethical/immoral/wrong/bad/hurtful practices that go on in his or her industry?  Isn’t that what we’re talking about here?

Is there BAD whistle-blowing?

Two weeks ago, I was having a rather typical wild, crazy, Saturday night, and was browsing MLS while drinking red wine…

I found a listing on King Street East for a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom that was actually a 1-plus-den, and in the secret REMARKS FOR BROKERAGES, it read, “Second bedroom is actually a den but could be used as a second bedroom.”

I snapped.

Maybe it was the wine, or maybe it was just me, but I emailed the listing agent and said something like, “How can you list this one-plus-den as a 2-bedroom when you know it’s not a 2-bedroom?  you’re just duping consumers because you know you can.  You have no morals, whatsoever.  You are exactly what I despise about this industry.  Oh, wait, you work for (censored) brokerage, and out of Markham.  Quelle surprise!”

Yeah, I threw his brokerage in there too.  But it’s beyond coincidence that most of these people are cut from the same cloth.

I “dissed” him to TREB, but it doesn’t matter.  They get thousands of those (DIS stands for Data Integrity Service), and there’s too many to look after.

I just can’t believe some of the things that people get away with, and yes – I write about them.  I talk about them, and I complain about them.

“Whistle Blower?”  Whatever.

A colleague of mine always jokes with me, “Fleming – you’re cleaning up the industry, one day at a time, are you?”  Laugh all you want, but what if we all sat back and did nothing?

I’m glad that Carolyn Ireland wrote that article in The Globe & Mail.  It’s drawing attention to unfair business practices, even if it’s in the industry in which I work.

Wouldn’t anybody want to work in a cleaner industry?

Do you think the clean baseball players don’t want the guys on steroids to get caught?

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

Find Out More About David Read More Posts

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  1. Anonymous

    at 9:46 am

    I agree with you. There’s so many shady practices in your industry that honestly it gives a lot of the reps (a lot of which is warranted) a bad name.

    Another way is how I’ve known real estate agents that expense everything under the sun, including expenses that aren’t theirs by taking others’ receipts….. for shame… I think that they pass it off as a “victimless” crime. Idiots.

  2. jeff316

    at 10:04 am

    “How can you list this one-plus-den as a 2-bedroom when you know it’s not a 2-bedroom? you’re just duping consumers because you know you can. You have no morals, whatsoever. You are exactly what I despise about this industry. Oh, wait, you work for (censored) brokerage, and out of Markham. Quelle surprise!”

    Good for you! I found wonky listings to be a significant irritant when looking for a home – visiting houses only to find that the third was no longer (but could be converted back!), or that lane access was restricted by a low masonry wall (but could be removed, parking voila!), or that the second washroom was a rough-in (or in one case, just a toilet in the midst of an unfisnished basement), or that the location of the house on the MLS map was quite far off where the house was in reality. Sleeeeeeeeeeazy

    1. Krupo

      at 11:48 pm

      I was so pleased that the listing agent for my house was so honest about the # of bedrooms/baths, it was a breath of fresh air after the slog of the housing search. More should take note of this.

  3. Michael

    at 10:25 am

    Some realtors think that undervaluing a property and holding back offers is a strategy for success. Dah, we both know they are only tactics. If a multiple offer strategy is to be successful a good realtor knows that the property has to hit on at least a half dozen key metrics.

  4. Pen

    at 1:39 pm

    I completely agree with you about the misrepresentation David. In fact miniutes ago as I was searching listings and found an Avenue Rd/401 property listed as having an attached 1 car garage only to find within the “Extras” remarks it’s been converted into a family room with walk-outs to the garden patio and described under rooms as a family room. I suppose one can park their car in their family room if they wish, maybe pretend they’re at a drive-in as they watch their big screen TV.

    This listing though wasn’t made by an out of area REALTOR but rather by one whose well known Toronto Office is a mere 20 minute drive away. How is that explained?

  5. Alex

    at 2:11 pm

    Could not agree more. You are right.

  6. IanC

    at 2:32 pm

    Another one – lowballed maintenance fees. There’s that time of year when maintenance fees go up in the 5% neighbourhood, but some folks list their fee amounts that they must have paid when they first moved it. Like they don’t look at their automatic debits….

  7. JG

    at 8:40 pm

    “whistle blower”? nah, not at all. i think your colleague is just being a little theatrical!
    maybe just trying to raze you a little bit.

    as for the point of the article and your many posts, i think you are spot on.

    Keep it up. If it only educates a few buyers out there, its making an impact.

  8. Moonbeam!

    at 9:23 am

    Stay the course David, keep exposing these unfair practices… Anything to educate buyers, who usually get involved in real estate only a few times in their lifetime, and generally hold on for dear life and take a great leap of faith in the process!

  9. JC

    at 4:32 pm

    Just be thankful that you’re only labeled a “whistle blower”.

    People who work in other industries that try to lobby to make things better/safer for the unsuspecting public are usually slapped with a “disgruntled employee” label.

    I recently gave feedback to an agent that a desk stuck under an open staircase in an open-concept loft does not make it a “den”.

    If TREB is ever looking for a full-time, paid DISser, I’m available.

  10. Krupo

    at 11:50 pm

    Also, anyone thinking of photoshopping Erin Brockovich’s face onto Dave’s? Perhaps his colleagues? 😉

  11. Rebecca

    at 1:44 pm

    As someone looking to research for a home, it’s eye-opening to learn about the kind of practices that are out there. It’s fascinating and astounding at the same time. I wouldn’t have learned about them otherwise if it hadn’t been for your blog shedding light on the issues, so keep it up.

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