If you've been in the market to rent or buy a residential property in New York, then you may have encountered what appears to be a so-called "ghost listing." The property is advertised online, but a phone call to the agent ends with a sales pitch for a different property because the property you called about has already been sold. After wondering why the first listing wasn't taken down, you might suspect that the agent used a classic "bait-and-switch" to lure you into making the call.
While a bait-and-switch is certainly a possibility, the current system for listing real estate isn't up to the minute. Brokers also typically have 24 hours to remove a listing from a database once the property is sold. If the sale is finalized on a holiday or a weekend, then the time for removing an ad can be extended.
In New York, real estate agents can continue marketing a residential property until the buyer and seller sign off on the deal. That means an oral agreement between the buyer and seller won't necessarily hold the property for the buyer.
As far as listings go, the real estate industry is mainly self-regulated. Complaints about ghost listings or bait-and-switch techniques come mostly from trade group members. Agents can be fined or expelled from their trade group, but such actions are rare.
In any case, real estate agents and sellers are required to provide full disclosure of any known issues with a property. Many New Yorkers find it helpful to have a real estate attorney on their side as they wade into an increasingly complex and competitive market.
Source: The New York Times, "Is This Listing Real, or Just a Ghost?" C. J. Hughes, March 27, 2014