“Simply laughable. Ugly exterior and priced with copious amounts of grandiosity.”
“This is what happens when you are filthy rich. No one tells you, you have bad taste.”
Selling your home could be bad for your ego. The above quotes are recent comments on real-estate blogs — online journals that often post photos of new sales listings and allow readers to add their thoughts anonymously. Thanks to the housing crisis, real-estate blogs are blooming not only in number, but in nastiness, as thousands of strangers swap stinging critiques of high-end homes hitting the market.
And bloggers say the pricier the house, the juicier the target. On SocketSite.com, a recent posting about a 7,000-square-foot home with four adjoining units listed at $16.95 million attracted about a dozen comments, including the suggestion that the home “be bought by Transylvania for use as their embassy.” An $11.5 million listing on the blog Real Estate Stalker inspired this alliteration: “Everything inside is nothing but beige and barf!”
“The current real-estate market has brought out the worst in people,” says David Gibbons, director of community relations for Seattle-based Zillow.com, a real-estate site where people can comment on discussion boards.
Last summer, posters grew so “aggressively rude” at Brooklyn blog Brownstoner.com that founder Jonathan Butler began requiring every user to register with the site before they could post. “It got to the point where I couldn’t leave my desk for half an hour,” says Mr. Butler, who deletes inappropriate posts on his site.
The surge in verbal abuse doesn’t seem to be damaging the housing-blog business. Curbed.com, which has sites for New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, has seen its unique-visitor numbers climb to a million a month from 400,000 a month last year. Traffic has doubled on Brownstoner.com in the past year and spiked 11% in the first two weeks of October, compared to the month prior. At SocketSite.com comments are up about 25% over the past three months alone.
Some real-estate veterans chalk up the anger to frustrated would-be buyers living in cities where home prices are still out of reach. “Blogs are a great forum to vent that anger,” says Will Rogers, an agent with New York-based Fenwick Keats Goodstein, whose client’s brownstone, listed at $2.99 million, was recently slammed on a blog for its resemblance to an “average rental apartment.”
The phenomenon is also helped by the growing popularity of posting multiple photos of a new listing online, which allow would-be critics to tour properties from the comfort of their computers.
The skewering of fancy properties can be wicked fun — unless you’re the owner. One day this month, neuroradiologist Luis Fernandez was taken aback to see his four-story, 4,100-square-foot Brooklyn home, listed for sale at $2.5 million, on Brownstoner.com. The blog razzed Dr. Fernandez’s home, calling it “McMansion chic” and predicting price reductions.
Readers quickly chimed in, citing overuse of track lighting and black granite and calling the border on the bathtub “hideous” and the furniture “cheesy.” “They’re probably hipsters — people who live really grungy,” counters Dr. Fernandez, noting that the bathroom tiles are handmade and the “cheesy” furniture cost over $100,000. “I didn’t really want to buy it — that was my wife — but that’s another subject,” he adds.
Dr. Fernandez also notes that a smaller house in the neighborhood recently sold for more and scoffs at the notion that he ruined the character with his renovations. Still, he says his five-year-old son was thrilled to see it on the computer.
In San Francisco, Andrew Lochart had never heard of SocketSite.com until he was told by his agent that his newly listed three-bedroom, mid-century-modern home had debuted on the site this month. When he read the comments, Mr. Lochart says he was tempted to shoot back at his critics and post “Let’s see photos of your house.” He didn’t, and the house, with an asking price of $1.1 million, subsequently had three offers and sold.
Some owners are fighting back. When commenters attacked his Manhattan Beach, Calif. house, Peter Bohlinger began defending the home with his own anonymous posts. But after a few weeks, Mr. Bohlinger, a real-estate investor, gave up. “I have just stopped reading it because it was making me so mad,” he says. His house still hasn’t sold.
Some agents are also going on the offensive. Northwest Multiple Listings Service recently won a case against Redfin.com to stop the online company from letting people search and comment on its listings. But most agents acknowledge they have no way to control what people say. “It’s damaging. It’s negative and destructive, mean-spirited and pointless,” says Judith Lief, an agent with Warren Lewis Realty Associates in New York. “What can I do?”
Web sites say any misinformation can be easily corrected. And while agents worry about negative posts from rivals, sites say agents rarely comment in disguise to talk a property down. Instead, agents usually try to shill their own listings. “Agents come on and try to list 20 different comments under 20 different names, all saying positive things,” says Adam Koval, SocketSite.com’s editor in chief.
At least one seller figured out how to tame the mob. On Sept. 30, Skei Saulnier learned from friends that her 1,020-square-foot Brooklyn duplex, on the market for $849,000, had popped up on Brownstoner.com. She logged on and learned that her condo’s kitchen is “functionally obsolescent” and her bedrooms are too small.
So the 31-year-old stay-at-home mom began posting herself, identifying herself as the owner and replying directly to each criticism. “I just cooked dinner for my family in my ‘functionally obsolescent’ kitchen,” she wrote. “It’s one of my favorite rooms in the house and whenever we have company we spend most of our time in the eat-in kitchen.”
The reaction: lots of praise. “Brave to come here and post. I commend you,” was a typical response. The comments became much nicer after that. Ms. Saulnier says she then invited her commenters to come to the open house.
But when the day arrived, none of the blog commenters identified themselves, if they came at all. Ms. Saulnier thinks they were too embarrassed. The duplex is now under contract.
Full article with photos available at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122481699525965769.html