The Real Deal: Bait-and-switch in Westport's competitive realty market

You think your field is competitive? Try selling real estate in Westport and Weston, where the number of licensed agents exceeds the annual number of transactions. Winning listings is the name of the game.

Industrious agents work hard every day to get their names in front of potential sellers, with the goal of interviewing for the job as your listing agent. We send postcards, targeted emails, and newsletters packed with market statistics. We ask satisfied customers to refer us to people they know. We buy online ads on websites that homesellers visit.

And a few agents send out letters that go something like the following. Many in my line of work refer to this as the "bait."

"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner,

"My name is Sally Agent. I am working with a qualified couple relocating from Texas to the Westport area. They have selected your street as one where they would ideally like to live. My purpose in writing is to ask if you might be interested in selling your home anytime soon.

"If so, perhaps we could make a match quickly and easily, without the time, effort and aggravation involved in selling your home in the traditional way.

"If this sounds good to you, please give me a call so that I may preview your home for my buyers."

Have you ever received a letter like this? They have been showing up in local mailboxes for years. Clients of mine got one just last month. They called me right away for my input, and they found what I had to say disconcerting. Here's what I told them.

Ninety-nine percent of these letters are false.

Rarely, if ever, are there buyers from Texas or anywhere else who have selected your street as their dream address.

The agents' purpose in sending hundreds of these a month to every neighborhood in town is to get an audience with owners who are likely to be selling their homes soon, so that they may develop an inside track to becoming the listing agent.

Then comes the "switch." Mysteriously, after you meet the agent who authored one of these letters, the buyers from Texas "change price ranges" or "find another house" or "decide not to relocate after all."

Alas, the buyers who would kill to live on your street most often fail to materialize. But, more importantly, the agent has succeeded in making your acquaintance. Most sellers don't even realize they've been bamboozled as such.

Unfortunately, marketing tactics like this reinforce the broadly held perception that real estate agents are not trustworthy. Is pretending to have a buyer when none really exists fair game in our highly competitive local listing market? The most ethical agents in town think not. What do you think?

Evi Coghlan's "The Real Deal" appears every other Friday. She is a licensed real estate agent with the Riverside Avenue office of Coldwell Banker and a former marketing consultant to Fortune 100 companies. She may be reached at 203-247-6691, by emailing her at or visiting