How do I verify details in an online real estate listing? This reader wants to avoid contacting listing agents after they got spammed with emails.

Q: I am interested in selling a house in Cincinnati and moving to Maryland near D.C. I’d like to do this in the near term future but not immediately. 

A while ago, I looked at condos online just to get an idea of the possible costs. Sometimes I didn’t see everything I wanted to know in the listing, like the homeowners association fee, whether the home had a washer and dryer, and other information. 

I’d naively contact the agent listed to ask the question. I only contacted two or three different agents but I was soon overwhelmed with emails from them and from other agents I never even contacted in the first place. 

One talked about “our” money. I told him I did not know why he would put money in! I eventually got rid of them all. How can you ask for details on a property if you are just browsing but not buying at the moment and avoid multiple agents contacting you, especially if you only contacted one, and only for property details?

How Do I Verify Details in an Online Real Estate Listing?

A: Today there seem to be an unlimited number of websites that allow you to view real estate listings. The biggest aggregators that pull in listings from all areas of the country include Zillow, Trulia,,, and But in addition, each brokerage company has a company-wide listing site, while individual agents often have their own websites as well. 

The aggregator websites get paid for with ads (which are based on the number of people searching for listings) and also by real estate agents whose names get surfaced if you happen to be looking in a zip code they pay to cover. We’re willing to bet that many of the agents who have contacted you got your contact information because they paid the website for that access to it.

If you visit one of the more popular real estate websites and look at a home, the site will show a listing with the name of the listing company and agent below the written description for the property. Some sites will give you the option to connect with an agent for this home but that person may not be the actual listing agent. And other sites will give you the option to fill in a box with your information to get more information about the property. Again, when you enter the information, your name and phone number does not always go to the listing agent – or it may go to other agents in addition to the listing agent.

That’s called real estate marketing, and it’s a multi-billion dollar business. So, when you’re searching for listing information, make sure you get connected to the listing agent. Or, take the name of the agent and look up the property in a search engine, to find the agent’s own information. 

Why Are Properties Listed With Missing Information?

Now let’s address incomplete listing information. In our view, there’s no excuse for information on the appliances to be included in the sale, the amount for real estate taxes and homeowner association dues to be missing from a listing. The only reason it would be is that the agent has made a mistake, or there is a technology glitch (it happens!) or the agent purposely didn’t include it because they didn’t want to for some reason. 

A quick search on a main aggregator website for properties in Maryland confirmed that the listings showed homeowner association dues and property taxes. In some instances, these costs were shown under an itemized list of some of the costs and features for the property and in others in what your monthly costs might be for the property.

In looking at some sites, you might have to drill down into the property features to see if the home has a washer and dryer. If it’s not listed there, the property likely does not have a washer and dryer that will come with it (although it may have a hookup and you’ll have to buy your own appliances). 

Ultimately, if you must know or need to confirm details about the property, you would have to contact the actual listing agent for that information. Finally, you can request that the listing agent not contact you in the future and that if you have any questions, you will contact the listing agent.

If You Contact Listing Agents Directly, It Could Lead to Dual Agency

You should also know that once you contact that listing agent and later decide to hire your own agent to view the property, the listing agent may not agree to have your agent come to the showing and may claim that you are the listing agent’s client. You see, when you contact that listing agent on your own without a real estate agent, your interaction with that agent may make that agent a dual agent where the listing agent is both an agent for the seller and an agent for the buyer. 

We’ve written quite a bit about dual agency in the past and will undoubtedly do so again. But beware – you could be walking into a problem down the line. You can read more about dual agency from Ilyce’s website at

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