There are people out there who are much braver than I am. In truth, the vast majority of the planet's humans and other animals are more courageous than I am. There are probably even a few forms of plant life with more guts than me, but never mind. What I want to talk about is a particular manifestation of boldness. However, there's a fine line between bravery and stupidity, and I'm not sure on which side of the line the subjects of this week's tirade are treading.
It seems that some people are buying homes sight unseen…or, considering this is real estate, should that be site unseen? Whatever the case, it must take a lot of guts. Before I bought my condo, I wandered through the building, slammed the doors, and kicked the concrete several times to gain the confidence I needed to sign the deal. When I did, I don't think anyone could have verified my signature, considering how much my hand was shaking. And why the bank cleared the deposit check with my palsied signature on it is totally beyond me. So you can understand why it surprised me to learn there are people with sufficient internal fortitude to allow them to buy a home after checking it out only on the Web.
I have some scandalous information for anyone thinking of buying a home exclusively through the Internet. This is such a well-guarded secret that you might not be aware of it, but here it is: There are a few dishonest people in this world. And I hope you're sitting down because I'm sure this next news flash is going to shock and appall you beyond belief: One or two of those unscrupulous people have access to the Internet. I know, I know; I find it hard to believe too, but it's true.
In a way, as much as I'd like to be wrong about this dishonesty on the Internet thing, I would be disappointed if I ever found out that I was mistaken in that regard. If it turns out that everyone on the Internet is, in fact, honest, then I've missed out on a lot by not taking advantage of all of the incredible offers for lotions, potions, and money-making opportunities that regularly flood into my email inbox.
For most people, their home is the largest single investment they're ever going to make. I don't know about you, but, before plunking down a deposit and making a legal commitment to go through with the purchase, I'd kind of like to be able to walk through the front door and make sure that there is something behind it. I want some personal verification that there is more than just the one wall that shows in the picture on the Web. I'd also like to be able to touch the bricks to make certain that they aren't made of Styrofoam.
What's more, for all you know, the pictures presented to you on the Internet may not be of the property you think you're buying. How would you know if the "seller" (seller is in quotes because in, some cases, "scammer" is a more appropriate word) went to Beverly Hills, took a few snaps of a star's home, and then passed them off as pictures of the rat-infested hellhole that he or she is really trying to unload?
Worse, the property might not even be real. It could just be the output of some good graphics or architectural design software. The real home may be something completely different. Either that or the house and the land that is purported to be under it might not exist at all. Your dream home may be nothing more than a few electrons floating through cyberspace.
"Don't worry," you say, "I'm not an idiot. I'll send the deposit that the seller demands to a real postal address, not to a post office box, so if he's trying to defraud me, I can always track him down and sue him." News flash: You're wrong. You are an idiot. For less than $25 dollars a month, anyone can rent a mailbox from a variety of legitimate establishments. Some of the laws about how these boxes have to be addressed are changing to reduce the incidence of fraud, but it is still possible to use a rented box to make it look as though you have a legitimate fixed address. Hey, you didn't really need that deposit money, did you?
"Sure," you're saying, "but it's just hypothetical, because people are using the Web only to do their initial information gathering and to create a shortlist of places they'll check out later. No one is going to be foolish enough to buy a home without visiting it in person first." Wrong again. If that was what they were doing, I'd be all for it. You can probably save yourself a lot of legwork by using information from the Internet to pare your list of prospective homes. But some people are depending on the Web for much more than that. A Wall Street Journal article from way back on May 18, 2004, reported that about 10% of the homes featured on one real estate Web site were bought sight unseen. That was two years ago. Now that people have become more comfortable with buying things on the Web, that number's probably gone up.
Now you're probably thinking, "Yeah, but we live in a well-regulated world. There are enough checks and balances to protect me." Jeez, don't you ever tire of being wrong? A March 11, 2006, New York Times article reported on a few people who would confirm just how mistaken you are about that. They were taken, and they weren't successful at getting their deposits back. I don't think I could come up with a better line to sum this up than the one provided by a building inspector who the article quoted as saying, "I told him [one of the buyers] the first thing he did wrong was buy a computer."What have I been saying in these tirades for almost two years now? Technology is a wonderful thing. It can greatly improve our lives. Just don't trust it worth a damn.
|This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.|