I'm a Realtor® with a question concerning signage. I have a client who is almost ready to put a house on the market and would like me to put up the for sale sign with a "coming soon" rider. The house will be ready for viewing in a week, but the seller would like to stir up some anticipation. Is this acceptable?
I have a predisposition to be suspicious of "coming soon" signs. In the past, there was some abuse of these signs by a few disreputable agents who want to pocket listings or find a buyer on their own before placing the property in the MRIS system. It seems that this practice has taken a new turn in recent months. I have received numerous calls from buyer agents who try to see a property with a coming soon sign and are told that it is not available, but when their clients call without the agent, suddenly the property is available. I also get calls about properties that keep their coming soon signs diplayed for extensive periods of time.
This specific question illustrates why the use of a coming soon sign is not automatically unethical. The practice can be ethical when the sign is used properly and certain relevant information is disclosed to the Seller.
The MRIS Rules and Regulations state that all eligible properties must be entered into the system within 48 hours of signing the listing agreement, not counting evenings and weekends, unless the seller has given the agent written instructions to the contrary (in the listing agreement). The rules also stipulate that the property must be listed in MRIS before other advertising may be done unless the Seller has given the agent written instructions to the contrary (in the listing agreement). These regulations do recognize that a client can instruct the listing company to withhold the listing from MRIS for longer than 48 hours. If the clients suggest this practice of their own accord, without any prompting from the listing agent or firm, then it is perfectly ethical to put a coming soon sign on the property before the listing is entered into MRIS.
However, agents have to exercise some care when recommending that clients withhold their listings from MRIS. When agents "tell" their clients to issue this instruction then it is necessary to examine the motives and rational for the recommendation. If the intent is to keep the property off the market while repairs are made or some other work is done to the property, then such a recommendation may be appropriate. If the recommendation is made so the firm or listing agent could have an exclusive window of opportunity to sell it themselves, then it becomes more questionable. One has to ask the following questions:
Did the Seller intend/want to give the listing firm an exclusive opportunity to sell the property in-house or through only one agent?
Was the Seller informed that other agents/firms would be excluded from showing the house or may not know it is available for sale?
Was the Seller advised of the disadvantages of withholding a property from MRIS?
If the answer to any of these questions is No, then one has to wonder if this recommendation was in the best interest of the client or the agent.
However, if this is simply a case of the Seller needing to make additional preparations before any buyers are allowed into the property, then a coming soon sign would be appropriate. If this is the case, I recommend having the clients sign a letter directing the agent to withhold the listing from MRIS and not to allow anyone into the property until the work is completed.
My main concern about the coming soon sign rider is the situation in which only certain potential buyers are being given access to the property. If no one can get into the house yet because the property is not on the market, that seems acceptable. If only buyers working with the listing agent or firm can see the house while it is advertised as coming soon, this raises a red flag. In this situation, ask the three questions listed above to determine whether this is really an unethical pocket listing.