Aalto is a tech-enabled listing real estate agent that represents consumers in select areas of Northern California and offers sizeable savings (1% listing rate against 3% listing commission, excluding BAC) to sellers. Aalto's service includes posting home on their website as an off-MLS listing, professional photos, and 3D images in addition to some typical services offered by a traditional real estate agent. It is unclear if and how many open houses Aalto agents typically hold.
Overall, Aalto offers a questionable off-MLS proposition to sellers, and the company does not openly advertise any savings and tangible services to buyers (other than a blanket buyer agent referral.)
Aalto argues that pocket listings are perfectly legal and serve the needs of many sellers in today's residential markets, against opponents who raise open market, fiduciary duty, and fair housing concerns.
Pocket listings (also known as "quiet" or "off-market" listings) involve the practice of withholding residential listing data from multiple listing service (MLS) systems. Instead, the property is marketed by Aalto brokerage using its website, to existing clients, and new prospects that happen to look there. The practice typically proliferates when market conditions include low inventories, low mortgage rates, and rising home prices. In hot market conditions, home sellers may receive enough buyer offers to outweigh the effects of the limited exposure of their homes on the open market.
Opponents of the practice argue that sellers may be disserved by pocket listings since MLS systems provide the widest possible market exposure and thus produce the highest possible selling prices. They also assert that pocket listings harm the effectiveness of the MLS cooperative brokerage system, skew MLS listings-based data that support accurate property valuations, and beg the question of whether agents may be utilizing narrowed marketing methods to collect the full available brokerage commission instead of soliciting purchase offers through cooperating brokers.
Proponents of the practice say that there are many reasons why sellers may not want to engage in the traditional practice of listing their properties on an MLS. For example, pocket listings are sometimes used to market high-end luxury homes whose owners have no interest in allowing showings to the general public and want the property marketed to those who have realistic means of purchasing it.
Other sellers may have privacy or security concerns about listing properties on widely broadcast MLSs or publishing interior photos of the property. Pocket listing proponents also argue that the MLS, which publishes the number of days a property has been on the market, can disadvantage owners who experience failed transactions due to complications that have nothing to do with the fair market price of the property.
Both supporters and critics generally agree that pocket listings are not illegal, per se. Real estate licensing laws, which vary among jurisdictions, may dictate the specific form of written listing agreement that must be used by licensees, the point at which it must be executed and/or require that certain brokerage relationships and other types of disclosures be included in the agreement. But the manner in which the property is to be marketed, and for what amount and form of brokerage commission, are matters that are generally left to be negotiated by the listing licensee and the seller.
A pocket listing policy subjects Aalto to accusations that they put their own interest in collecting a commission for both "sides" of a transaction ahead of the seller's interests in obtaining the highest possible sale price. Aalto keeps the entire Buyer’s Agent Commission when it acts as a dual agent, but sellers are able to determine what buy-side commission they offer (normally 2.5%). In effect, whenever a buyer is unrepresented, Aalto's total commission is likely 3.5% and not 1% as advertised. According to Aalto, "You are advised that a dual agency relationship may arise if an Aalto Advisor represents both you and a buyer of a property. If a dual agency relationship arises, the terms of such dual representation will be subject to a separate written agreement between you and your Aalto Advisor."
Other critics question whether sellers are being provided with disclosures that fully explain the potential disadvantages of narrowed marketing efforts. Regardless of those issues, it is fairly clear that real estate brokerage relationships, disclosures, advertising, conflicts of interest, and other licensing law strictures may raise serious issues with off-MLS practices.
Aalto further claims to operate a "marketplace" for homeowners. "Aalto's homeowner marketplace connects sellers to qualified buyers, saving you time, stress, and money." Aalto is not a marketplace, but a listing real estate agent with a website. Unlike MLS aggregators, Aalto does not display listings from other brokerages, and, therefore, lacks the networks effects required to deliver a full marketplace experience. Aalto is one of the millions of real estate agents in the United States.
Aalto's proposition is different from a typical listing agent by the mere fact that the listing addresses are hidden. "It is free to get started on Aalto" further makes for a very odd proposition, where it is free to get a listing started with any real estate broker.
"Prior to opening a home for showings through Aalto, sharing your property’s address through Aalto, or receiving the contact information of interested Buyers, a Seller must enter into a written agreement for real estate brokerage services between such Seller and Aalto," in another word, listing a home on Aalto is not free. Real estate brokers never work for free, and sellers' information will be shown only after they sign a listing agreement.
"Sellers start with Aalto earlier than traditional real estate, widening the time frame for homes to be on the market. That means more homes, sooner" is another odd proposition without any basis to substantiate the claim. Buyers browsing homes on Aalto have highly limited information about these properties, numbered at a fraction, of a fraction, of a fraction, of all homes available on the MLS.
"The Partner Agent Program is covered by the Partner Agent Terms of Service. Aalto is not responsible for the work performed or the services provided by any individual in connection with the Partner Agent Program." As a consumer, you will always overpay for broker commissions subject to hidden kickbacks and pay-to-play steering promoted in Aalto referral scheme to an unknown number of buyer agents. United States federal antitrust laws prohibit consumer allocation and blanket referral agreements between real estate companies. Homebuyers should avoid their information being "sold as a lead" between brokers in exchange for hidden commission kickbacks paid from the future home purchase administered by the Aalto Partner Agent Program.
We find no solid evidence that Aalto offers home sellers any advantages to sell homes for higher amounts, in fact, the opposite is much more likely.
By withholding listings from the MLS, home sellers are likely missing out on the vast majority of tangible offers from the bulk of the home buyers and their respective buyer agents.
At the same time, some home sellers may decide for themselves that the off-MLS approach is worth the added risk and limited exposure for individual reasons. Aalto does save home sellers equity by offering a 1% listing rate against a 3% listing rate (this rate does not include 2.5% BAC typically offered at 2.5% to the buyer agent.)
Homebuyers should avoid Aalto Partner Agent Program due to hidden kickbacks and consumer allocation between licensed brokers. A homebuyer can easily negotiate a buyer refund on the open market with a licensed real estate broker in California - a fact that Aalto brokerage is silent on. Buyer refunds can save homebuyers tens of thousands in tax-free cash because the refund comes from the estimated 2.5% BAC proceeds received by the buyer agent.
HomeOpenly editorial staff remains overall neutral on the subject with a 3 out of 5-star rating for Aalto: we can neither recommend Aalto nor suggest that sellers refrain from using the brokerage to list their homes off-MLS.
As always, we encourage our users to post helpful and independent reviews about this business with any sentiment. With a controversial proposition such as Aalto, consumer feedback becomes incredibly valuable information to other consumers. HomeOpenly encourages users to post helpful, relevant, and reliable consumer reviews, but users are ultimately responsible for the quality of the content.