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What “The Watcher” Teaches Us About The Dark Side Of Real Estate

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This slow-build, creepy drama, loosely based on a true story about a historic mansion in New Jersey, can teach agents a thing or two about ethics and the consumer, according to Rachael Hite. 

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Trending hot on Netflix, and birthing memes of “Stifler’s mom” in real estate Facebook groups across the nation, this slow-build, creepy drama, loosely based on a true story about a historic mansion in New Jersey, can teach agents a thing or two about ethics and the consumer. 

The Watcher chronicles a couple who bought their million-dollar dream home in Westfield, New Jersey, only to start receiving creepy stalking letters signed by “The Watcher.” In real life, fearing for their small children, the buyers refused to move in and filed a lawsuit against the previous owners for failing to disclose this information when the “stalked” home wouldn’t sell after a year. (Read more on how the real-life saga ends here.) Of course, the Netflix version takes artistic liberties with the story.

Although we would all like to believe that every transaction is filled with good intentions, the very nature of sales in a dog-eat-dog market means it’s not all homeowners living happily ever after. 

There is a tangible dark side to some transactions, so here are a few tips on how to shine a light for consumers on areas that may potentially cause heartache — or even horror — after they close the deal.

Multiple offers 

We know from the frenzy of the pandemic that multiple offers can create multiple issues for agents on both sides of the transaction and often are filled with pitfalls for the consumer. 

Multiple offers were also popular during the Great Recession in 2008 through 2010 as foreclosures were popular with investors and buyers looking for a hot deal inside the overabundance of distressed property inventory.  

A thorough home inspection and an in-depth MLS history would have significantly benefited these purchasers and their financial future. A home with an active flip history is a good indicator that there is something up with the property.   

Seller’s research and accurate pricing

If you are preparing to list a home and the homeowner does not know a strong history about the property (perhaps in the case of an estate, or a foreclosure etc.), you can encourage the homeowner to order a C.L.U.E. report in addition to a pre-home inspection. 

If you are not familiar with these reports, they act almost like a CARFAX and provide you with the insurance claims history of your home.

Sellers can also order an appraisal. Check with your local appraiser’s network to see if any appraisers are offering pre-sale appraisals to help back up your CMA and to help buyers and sellers see a neutral uninterested party’s opinion about the value of the property.

Historical homes 

Historical homes often come with a laundry list of restrictions for renovations and also, as you saw in The Watcher, local boards will want to be very involved in the upkeep and the preservation of the home. I would like to say this is an exaggeration, but some boards are really this intense. 

If you are listing or selling a historic home, it’s important to disclose the restrictions to all parties and, if possible, do a little research about the board and how it operates. 

LLC’s 

In some cases, you should be able to research corporations that are listed on contracts through local and state databases. 

Check with your broker and a local attorney, but your client may also be able to ask for even more transparency to make sure that there are no obvious conflicts of interest before accepting an offer.  

A quick check of surrounding property ownership records would help identify any neighbors who would be parties of interest. 

General research about the property

The lines about full disclosure of the property can be confusing. As an agent, you want to be the source of the source. For example, you want to provide a resource for potential buyers to research the sex offender registry for their own educational purposes.  

Some states do not require disclosure about crimes or recognize “spirit activity” on the property, but again, encouraging your clients to research the home on their own is a good habit for any property.  

Do not make the mistakes these Long Island agents made about disclosure and fair housing. There is a difference between advocating for your client, and discriminating against neighborhoods. 

One last tip: One of the biggest negotiation tools you can use is knowing how the agent on the other side of the transaction operates. Do they work with investors? How much over list price do they normally get for their clients?  

What’s their average listing DOM? What type of listings do they specialize in? Do they live in the neighborhood they are selling in?  Knowing how your competition sells listings can give valuable information to your buyers that could potentially raise red flags or even help you help your buyers get the winning edge in negotiations. As the old expression goes, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Rachael Hite sold real estate in Virginia and West Virginia for seven years with a specialization in short sales and foreclosures. She has been an office manager, an agent, mortgage marketing consultant and continuing education trainer for agents since 2012. She currently specializes in private business development and digital marketing services for top-producing agents and businesses in the housing industry.

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