7 Red Flags Experts Say to Watch Out For in Home Listings

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If you’ve been searching for a new house or apartment, you’ve likely already encountered some exaggerated listings. Whether it’s ad copy that stresses the home’s soaring city views or sneakily staged photos, some listings look better on the MLS than they are IRL. But you can cut through the clutter if you know what to ignore. Read on for seven listing red flags you should know about, according to real estate experts.

1. Know the lingo

If you see listings with the following four words, consider these red flags, suggests Leon Goldfeld, co-founder of Yoreevo, a real estate brokerage in New York City:


The apartment or house is very small


The home needs a gut renovation


a.k.a. cluttered/messy


Too unique/too out there

2. Be wary of ‘charming’

“Using the word ‘charm’ in an ad generally describes a listing that’s just a little bit dated. Brand new renovations are never described as ‘charming,’ and while it may be a great attribute for a country house, if an apartment is described with ‘charm’ you can generally bet that it’s going to be dated.”—Philip Lang, co-founder, Triplemint

3. ‘Updated’ may just mean ‘replaced’

When it comes to ad copy that reads ‘updated kitchen and baths,’ remember that ‘updated’ has no relationship whatsoever to ‘renovated.’ It simply may mean that an old cracked sink has been replaced with a cheap new one.”—Dolly Hertz, associate broker, Engel & Völkers, New York City

4. Avoid the ‘as is’

“When a listing showcases a property ‘as is,’ this means there’s no room for negotiation and, basically, what you see is what you get. Purchasing a home is one of the biggest investments you will ever make in your lifetime. As an agent, I do my best to make sure that my buyers are protected and buying ‘as is’ leaves no room for negotiation to fix any damages. Another term, ‘not open to inspection,’ is just as scary. This means sellers are not open to buyers hiring a home inspector to investigate for any damages in the home. Sellers could easily be hiding anything that’s not up to code.”—Eunice Alarcon, real estate agent, San Diego, California

5. Investigate ‘for sale by owner’

“A listing mentioning that the seller is ‘going at it alone’ is a red flag that the price is too high, there are circumstances not being disclosed, or that the seller is ignorant, inexperienced, or unreasonable. While none of these may be true [in a particular situation], in my experience, this is the case more often than not. Real estate remains a ‘caveat emptor’ a.k.a. a ‘buyer beware’ market. If the seller does not have someone advocating for them, you need to be sure you have a professional advocating for you.”—Bruce Ailion, broker, The Ailion Team, Atlanta, Georgia

6. Scrutinize the words ‘excellent investor opportunity’

“Generally this means there’s a tenant in place with a lease of unknown duration, so you may be able to take possession of the home but not move in when you want to.”—Hertz

7. Don’t let the photos speak for themselves

“If the listing photographs show the window treatments closed or the view out the window looks obscured, there is probably a terrible view. This is particularly true in Manhattan, where we are surrounded by tall buildings, so views of brick walls are common and may mean that the apartment is probably dark.”—Joan Kagan, associate broker, Triplemint, New York City