Truth in Advertising: One Realtor's Strategy to Sell Foreclosed Homes

Photo: Southern California realtor and broker Jim Flinge

He calls himself simply "Jim the Realtor," and he's out to tell the truth about the houses he sells.

Jim Klinge, a Southern California-based realtor specializing in foreclosures, says that he's rewriting the realtor's handbook.

But in his version, you won't find effusive descriptions of vaulted ceilings, southern exposures, and natural light. Instead, you'll find words like "abomination" and "goofy" and "toxic."

Real Estate

"I don't know if this is a flophouse, brothel, retirement home, prison, fraternity..." Klinge announced on a recent visit to a bank-owned property in northern San Diego County, his home turf.

And this was a property he was trying to sell.

In a down market, Klinge is betting that unbridled candor will trump the usual realtors' tricks in moving properties that have already lost some of their shine.

His clients, increasingly banks trying to unload foreclosed homes, are impatient to make sales.

His main tool is online video. Every time he gets a listing he sets his point-and-shoot camera to video mode, presses "on" and lets his wicked wit fly.

Almost everything is fair game: décor ("Green walls! Lovely -- that'll keep you awake at night"), blemishes ("we've got a mold-like substance"), even placement ("We've got quite a backyard here. Hope you like your neighbors").

"I think I have the right attitude with my videos," Klinge said. "I roll up, I turn the camera on, I do two to three minutes and that's the end of it. I think my goal is to give an accurate perception of what's there without being glitzy or glamorous."

Glamorous? Hardly. More like brutal. And not like the usual pretty picture painted by other realtors.

Banking on the Truth

"The unvarnished truth is what sells," Klinge said. "People want the truth. They want to just see it the way it is and if you just give them that, that alone is a draw."

Over a 25-year career as a real estate agent and broker, Klinge has seen the ups and downs of the local market, enough to name and shame everyone he holds responsible for the current housing crisis.

Topping his list of culprits are careless banks who peddled sub-prime, flexible-rate mortgages.

"If they would have just funded loans with fixed rates and one payment, so when the buyer comes in and they read what their payment is going to be, and they can count on that for the duration, we probably would have been fine," Klinge said.

Lack of Education Hurts Homebuyers

He also lays some of the blame on over-ambitious buyers, and the realtors who greased the skids. They bear some of the fault, but not as much as the lenders, according to Klinge.

"You know, there's not any education about home-buying," Klinge said. "You could go through high school, you could go through college, and unless you really go out of your way to learn about home buying, how would you ever know exactly what to do when it comes to home buying?"

Klinge said he began focusing on the not-so-great aspects of homes he was trying to sell when he sensed the market was going south, sometime in 2004. And it just so happened that a new Web technology was about to give him a good way to get the unvarnished truth in front of an unlimited number of eyes.

"It made sense to me to give a better picture, once YouTube started, of what's being offered," Klinge said. "We had the ability to show the entire house just like you are walking through it. And it was a life-like tour."

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