The Curse of the Internet

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

A reader who recently wrote to the Zululand Observer, a community newspaper serving the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, raised a number of extremely valid points regarding properties advertised for sale on the web.

Here are some disturbing trends that he picked up while surfing the larger property portals:

Vast differences in the price at which various agents advertise a particular property. This is usually not some sort of ploy by the agency or agent concerned to sell the property at a higher price; more often than not, it simply means that the agent has not contacted the seller and is unaware that the seller has lowered his asking price. Under some circumstances, it is an indication that the agent charges more commission.

The next gripe is the quality of photographs on the site. This is a tricky one. Is it, as this particular writer believes, an effort by the agent to hide defects in the property, or could it just be that the agent is a little slapdash and is willing to publish bad photos? It appears that some property portals are fussier than others and will refuse to publish bad photographs. It is however, not the only way to get the true picture as in an open mandate, many agencies will post their own pictures, giving the buyer a good idea as to what the property truly looks like.

The third observation is the age old complaint of how agents pen the description of a property. Some agents are worse than others, although it has to be said that this area has shown some signs of improvement in recent times. However, you still get those who believe that by using (very tired) euphemisms, they can blind the buyer to the properties' faults. Let's be honest here, there are only so many times you can mention that you can watch the dolphins/whales/seals/seagulls while sipping cocktails on the balcony of the little place down by the sea. Likewise, referring to a totally run-down wreck of a property as 'needing a little TLC' is taboo. If you want to impress online buyers, tell it like it really is, regardless of how much you think it is going to hurt.

The writer notes that thanks to the Internet, it is pretty easy to check up on properties - and he's absolutely right. When a property is listed multiple times, buyers can virtually get a 3D image of the home through the photographs on display. Some websites have 'reality scores' where important criteria is scored to promote a high standard of visibility and accuracy of each listing. The various descriptions are also going to open the buyer’s eyes, when one considers that one agent's Wendy house is another’s granny flat.

Unlike with print media, it is difficult to hide mistakes on the web; Buyers can - and do - compare the selling price, and regardless of the reason for the discrepancy, are obviously going to go for the 'cheapest' option. The time has come for agents who use the web to advertise properties to rise to the occasion. Discard the fuzzy pics and replace them with good, clear shots. Proofread the descriptions and fix spelling mistakes. And last, but not least, avoid using tired old clichés to describe a property - buyers have seen and heard it all before and it certainly isn't going to help sell the home.

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