Real-estate power word “exclusive” ambiguous, often misleading

In real-estate advertising, the word “exclusive” often appears, especially on yard signs but also in print and online advertising. It’s a loaded word in two senses, in my opinion: it may evoke powerful emotions and it may be misleading many consumers to think that only the listing broker may show the property to prospective buyers.

Feel-good advertising

In advertising, the word exclusive seems to carry two important connotations: 1) the quality and/or availability of an offering are such that only a very limited amount is available, or 2) only persons with a certain discriminative edge (money, invitation, first-in-line, etc.) are invited to consider the offering. Either way it’s taken, the consumer gets to feel good about beating or being better than other consumers. There’s nothing wrong about helping people to feel good about themselves or their purchases, prospective buyers just need to remember that the term generally applies more to their feelings than it does to the actual property. Now, a property may well have some exclusive features, in the sense that such features are hard to find in a particular location or price, but, in my opinion, buyers should always regard this term with suspicion.

Misleading advertising

In real-estate law in New York State, the word exclusive has one important application. It applies to the types of listing contract that are permitted between property sellers and listing brokers. This application is carried over in the rules of the Multiple Listing Systems (MLSs) where each listing is posted and the language is included in every listing contract. All listings are either “exclusive right to sell” or “exclusive agency.” Furthermore, all listings in any MLS are available for showing to prospective buyers by any other member broker. For these reasons, “Exclusive” as an advertising term is meaningless for a buyer (because all listings are “exclusive”) and may be misleading (because any broker/agent can show each and every listing).

Legality and ethics

Use of the word “Exclusive” in advertising is legal, but it is an issue among real estate agents and brokers. The following rule of the Mid-Hudson MLS attempts to curb its use: “No Participant shall advertise any listing disseminated through MHMLS using the verbiage “Ours Exclusively” or “Exclusively Ours” in such advertising.”

However, other local MLSs do not have this rule, and some brokers will argue that the public is savvy enough to know that “Exclusive” on a yard sign does not mean that you have to call the listing broker to get inside.

2 thoughts on “Real-estate power word “exclusive” ambiguous, often misleading

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