Browser Beware! Real Estate Snafus on the Wild, Wild Web

By Brian Summerfield, Online Editor, REALTOR® Magazine

When I was in college at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, there was a group called the Party of Darkness (PoD) that ran candidates in the student government elections every year … on the platform of dissolving that government. Obviously, the PoD had a certain amount of notoriety among the students and faculty at UT — sorry Texans, there’s only one “UT” as far as I’m concerned — but it got attention beyond Rocky Top when it posted an advertisement to buy the school on eBay during one of the state of Tennessee’s many budget crises.

According to the online ad, online shoppers could have their “very own underfunded, overpopulated university,” which included “over 26,000 disgruntled college students,” “a bell tower with recorded bell sounds,” and “all the orange you can stand.” The bidding started at one cent, but got as high as $15.50. As far as I know, though, ownership of the university never actually changed hands. (Perhaps the winning bidder balked at the shipping costs?) In any event, the PoD had my vote that year.

I thought about this when I heard about Redfin accidentally posting a listing for the White House this week. Contrary to my initial thought, though, it wasn’t the work of politically motivated mischief makers, but rather a technical issue caused by Redfin automatically pulling in listing information from Oodle, which in turn got the White House “listing” from, which had that up as a demo, according to CBS News. Redfin representatives were quick to acknowledge the mistake Tuesday, but added that the property would be a “steal” at $10 million.

These two experiences demonstrate both the best and worst qualities of the Internet, in my mind anyway. The Web is fast, free-wheeling, flexible, and fun. You can get all kinds of interesting and entertaining perspectives on politics, sports, pop culture, music, business, or whatever topic you’re especially interested in, and often in real time.

On the other hand, it’s also a reminder (if a reminder is needed) that the information on the Internet is not necessarily the most accurate. In some cases, that’s intentionally so, as ironic, satirical, and sarcastic humor is abundant online. In others, the source is simply not trustworthy. In still others — as in Redfin’s case — technological complications can cause confusion. The saving grace of the Web is that errors can be corrected, and mea culpas can be issued, quickly.

The lesson in all this: As you stake out your own Web presence, make sure you’re doing your utmost to capture the best qualities of Web (speed, engagement, openness) and avoid the worst (inaccuracy, technical complication). And if you do slip up, simply admit the mistake and correct it. People will forgive and forget sooner than you think.

Brian Summerfield

Brian Summerfield is Manager of Business Development and Outreach for NAR Commercial and Global Services. He can be reached at

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  1. Great story Brian! The Internet can be a great marketing tool however people tend to see things in writing and believe them to be true when they can be innaccurate. I’m glad that the Internet can help me with marketing properties though, what a blessing!

  2. Adam Schaible

    Ha! Fantastic. The eBay posting was by Holly, the year before I ran PoD. Funny where you’ll see the old stories turn up.