Real estate BS detector

real estate BS detector
Become a real estate BS detector (infographic from visual.ly)

DARPA issued a recent request for information seeking ideas about how to create automated capabilities to assign “Confidence Levels” to scientific studies, claims, hypotheses, conclusions, models, and/or theories.  In other words, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to create a BS detector.  First reported by Adam Rogers for WIRED (Darpa Wants to Build a BS Detector for Science; wired.com; July 30, 2017), DARPA doesn’t look at it as rooting out “BS” but rather establishing the what, why, and how scientists know stuff. Imagine how this could be applied as a real estate BS detector!

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s stated mission on their website is “to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security.”  So, chances are that if they are able to devise a real working BS detector, you won’t know about it.

When it comes to real estate, people sometimes bend the truth.  Additionally, real estate agents are known for “puffery” and are generally not trusted because of the salesy techniques they employ.  But having a real estate BS detector would be huge breakthrough!  Imagine being able to weed through the BS and nonsense that many real estate agents spout when they are clearly trying to sell.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to check your real estate BS detector, when an agent is pontificating about a house or themselves, to know if the agent is wasting your time?  Unfortunately, the real estate BS detector is not a real device.  However, there are strategies to help you detect real estate BS.

“Luke, trust your feelings.”  Ok, there’s no such thing as a Jedi, but empirical research has demonstrated that intuition can be used to weed out lies.  Many say they rely on their gut instincts to protect themselves.  But the truth is that many ignore or don’t trust their intuition because the rational mind takes over and dominates.  Increasing your intuition could help you detect the real estate BS and prepare for (and maybe prevent) regretful situations.  Becoming more aware about your “gut feeling” can increase your intuition.

Being cynical can also help detect real estate BS.  Don’t be rude of course, but questioning what others say helps you clarify and understand them at a higher level.  It can also reveal untruths.  Question all claims and over-the-top statements.  For example, if you’re dealing with a real estate agent, ask for support to any assertion they make about themselves or their services.  Ask to speak to their references.  Also, ask for additional information that support their opinions on the housing market and deciding on a price to sell or buy a home.

Do your due diligence to discover real estate BS.  After asking questions, take what others say or do during the real estate transaction at face value and take it upon yourself to verify it.  It can save you a headache down the road.  It’s easy to verify many aspects of the real estate transaction, because many local jurisdictions have their databases online.  However, making a call or two to a helpful government employee is straightforward and can provide bonus information.  Verify licenses of real estate agents, loan officers, and even home contractors.  Verify permits of home improvements.  Verify the local schools and the home’s zoning.

Finally, don’t feel pressured to do anything.  The BS artist will make it seem as if you have to act immediately.  But if you are not comfortable with the situation or are not yet ready, take a pause.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Real Estate Expert

Real estate expert
Real estate expert (infographic from infographicportal.com)

When I began my real estate career, every budding agent was taught that we should farm neighborhoods to become the local expert.  Agents would (and many still do) farm neighborhoods by spending a small fortune on mailings and other promotional marketing about themselves just to tell you how smart they are about your neighborhood.  The notion that only one agent is “the expert” on selling homes in your neighborhood has become antiquated.  The demise of  this long standing rite is approaching as consumers become increasingly savvy. Enter “The Real Estate Expert.”

Before the MLS, real estate was a local business, where real estate brokers set up their offices in neighborhoods and became the “local experts.”  The neighborhood broker guided home sales and prices because they were the expert.  Home buyers and sellers went directly to these agents if they wanted to buy or sell a home.

However, the advent of the MLS opened up the marketplace and created “market experts.”  Not having prior knowledge about a neighborhood was no longer a problem for real estate agents.  The MLS provided agents the data and home information to become the local housing trends expert.  The MLS essentially allowed agents to sell more homes in the broader regional area.

The internet changed all that, of course, by providing data and home information to anyone connected.  Everyone is a neighborhood expert thanks to the internet!  However, there is downside to having an unlimited stream of figures, statistics and trivia without a filter.  Home buyers are on information overload.  They are inundated with information about a home’s history, as well as advice about buying and selling.  Buyers and sellers have so much information, they are overthinking every aspect about the home buying and selling process.  They are getting in their own way and potentially sabotaging their own transactions.

The ever-improving technology and the proliferation of information has changed the business of real estate, which has made the “neighborhood real estate expert” a thing of the past.  Sure, there are many agents who still market themselves as the neighborhood expert, but does that make them more qualified to sell your home?  Agents hyping themselves to know more about your neighborhood can also potentially sabotage your transaction if they make it personal.  They may be able to tell you about what makes your neighborhood special, as well as share trivia.  But so can your neighbor.  Does that make your neighbor qualified to sell your home?

Enter “The Real Estate Expert.”  The Real Estate Expert is a professional who follows the housing market and can interpret the data about your neighborhood in a meaningful way.  They can compile information to provide you with a detailed and meaningful market analysis to assist you in deciding on a sale price without personal bias.  The Real Estate Expert knows how to market your home in the current economic environment.  They understand what home buyers want in a home, and they can prepare and present your home to promote it to grab home buyers’ attention.

Real Estate Experts are trending away from marketing themselves, and leaning towards being attentive to their clients.  Real Estate Experts also understand the nuances of negotiation, and are current on legislation that can affect their client’s rights and obligations.  They also know how to facilitate a transaction, so as to protect their client’s best interest without regard to their commission.

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Consumers changing real estate agent commissions

real estate agent commissions
Real estate agent commissions (infographic from visual.ly)

Consumers have most likely complained about real estate agent commissions since the advent of real estate brokerage.  However, before the turn of this century, most did not question the real estate agent commissions they paid because they chalked it up to the cost of selling a home.  Times have changed, such that having a conversation about commissions and compensation is a common topic when agents and consumers first meet.

Real estate agent compensation is evolving as fast as the industry.  The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) reports the median annual wage for real estate sales agents was $44,090 in May 2016 (The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,230, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $112,570). The BLS states:

“An agent’s income, therefore, often depends on economic conditions, the agent’s individual motivation, and the types of property available. Income usually increases as agents become better and more experienced at sales. Earnings can be irregular, especially for beginners, and agents sometimes go weeks or months without a sale. “

Before the turn of this century, there was more conformity in real estate agent commissions because most agents were not negotiable in the compensation they charged.  However, modern agents have adjusted their business models and are open to negotiate how much they will be paid.

There are also many real estate broker compensation structures from which you can choose.  Some brokers offer limited services, and some offer fee-for services, which includes a MLS placement service.  Some fee for service brokers offer à la carte services, where you can choose specific services for which you want to pay.  Most “full service” agents still charge a percentage, but the percentage can vary from agent to agent.  Full service agents can also vary on the extent of the “full” service they provide; however, many will be open to negotiate their commission rate.  Regardless of model, get the agent’s services in writing and hold your agent accountable.

The increased market pressure on agent compensation is actually good for the consumer.  It doesn’t only lower the cost of the real estate transaction, but it also increases the quality of services.  This was the finding of an empirical study by Panle Jia Barwick and Parag A. Pathak (The costs of free entry: an empirical study of real estate agents in Greater Boston; The RAND Journal of Economics; Vol 46, No. 1, Spring 2015, p.103–145).  Their study investigated three scenarios that are chipping away at the traditional real estate agent compensation models: lower commissions, commissions based on break-even costs, and improved information about agents’ past performance.

Barwick and Pathak found some interesting outcomes from their research.  Besides concluding that there are consequences for fixed real estate agent commissions, they also discovered that the easy entry into the industry (i.e., the ease of getting a real estate license) reduces the quality of service.  Furthermore, the increased competition among real estate agents caused by easy entry into the industry is not beneficial to a home selling or time on market.  They also concluded that

“…lower commissions reduce transaction costs, which might lead to a more liquid housing market, improved asset allocation, and better housing consumption. Flexible commissions also provide a channel for consumers to choose services tailored to their preferences.”

Their results suggest

“…that a 50% cut in commissions would result in 40% fewer agents, social savings that amount to 23% of industry revenue, and 73% more transactions for the average agent.”

Realtors should embrace the discussion about compensation and real estate agent commissions with their clients.  It offers the agent an opportunity to demonstrate their accountability.  It also promotes transparency and the services we Realtors provide, and builds the trust that is lacking in the industry.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Listing agent secrets you need to know

Listing agent Secrets

There are a number of topics that your listing agent probably won’t discuss with you, or can’t properly explain.  Here are several listing agent secrets that you need to know:

Your agent won’t sell your home

home for saleYour home will likely sell to a home buyer who is represented by a buyer agent. This notion is supported the 2016 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers (nar.realtor), which reported that 88 percent of home buyers used an agent to buy a home.  The remaining 12 percent of home buyers purchased through other means, including with the help of the listing agent, or even a FSBO.  Although your listing agent may claim to have sold the most homes in the neighborhood, the truth may actually be that they are only facilitators.  The buyer agent who actually “sells” the home is labelled the “selling agent” by the industry.

Buyers are not finding homes in print

listing agent secrets
Agent secrets (infographic from nar.realtor)

Print advertising no longer is the means of selling a home. More information from the 2016 National Association of REALTORS® Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers indicate that having a nice spread in a magazine, or posting open houses in the local paper is probably a sales ploy to get your listing.  The Profile reported that home buyers reported how they found their home as follows (nar.realtor):

  • Internet: 51%
  • Real estate agent: 34%
  • Yard sign/open house sign: 8%
  • Friend, relative or neighbor: 4%
  • Home builder or their agent: 2%
  • Directly from sellers/Knew the sellers: 1%
  • Print newspaper advertisement: 1%

Bigger is not better

Another one of your listing agent secrets is that the larger your agent’s brokerage or team, and having a high number of homes actively listed may actually be detrimental to your home sale!  An empirical study by Shiawee X. Yang and Abdullah Yavaş (Bigger is Not Better: Brokerage and Time on the Market; The Journal of Real Estate Research; 1995, Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 23-33) reported the following results:

  1. The amount of agent’s commission is not indicative of your home’s time on market;
  2. The size of the listing firm does not affect your home’s time on market;
  3. Homes listed and sold by the same firm (i.e., dual agency) does not reduce time on market;
  4. The more active listings your agent has, the longer your home may sit on the market because they do not devote to the time to your sale.

Yang and Yavaş suggest that the larger the listing firm, the more incentive to “cheat” days on market by circulating new listings within the firm before entering it in the MLS, which also increases the chances of a dual agency situation.  “Private placement,” or pocket listings can have similar dual agency results.

Dual agency could cost you

Chances are that your listing agent doesn’t totally understand dual agency, and therefor may not be able to explain how it affects your sale and potentially your sale price.  The Maryland Real Estate Commission’s “Understanding Whom Real Estate Agents Represent” disclosure states:

The possibility of dual agency arises when the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent both work for the same real estate company…The real estate broker or the broker’s designee, is called the “dual agent.” Dual agents do not act exclusively in the interests of either the seller or buyer, and therefore cannot give undivided loyalty to either party. There may be a conflict of interest because the interests of the seller and buyer may be different or adverse.

One of the listing agent secrets is that dual agency may not be beneficial to you, and can even lower your home sale price.  There are a number of empirical studies that indicate conflicts of interest and other issues that arise out of dual agency.  But a study by Joachim Zietz and Bobby Newsome (Agency Representation and the Sale Price of Houses; Journal of Real Estate Research; 2002, Vol 24, No 2 pp. 165-91) found that a home’s sale price drops about 3.7 percent when the listing and buyer agents are from the same firm.  They stated:

the fact that buyers may obtain a lower price by engaging a buyer’s agent from the same firm as the listing agent raises the issue of whether or not the listing firm is shortchanging the seller. The evidence appears to suggest that the agency relationship between seller and listing agent may be compromised.

Copyright © Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Transforming real estate – whom do agents really represent?

transforming real estate
Real estate transformation over time (infographic from movoto.com)

The continuously transforming real estate industry continues to change because of two forces, consumers and real estate professionals.  It would seem intuitive that the forces should be complimentary, but a deeper analysis might suggest conflicting interests between consumers and real estate agents. Whom do agents really represent?

Efficiency, although not openly stated, is a main goal of both home sellers and real estate agents.  Home sellers want to sell their homes efficiently (as quick as possible and for the most money); while the real estate agent may be focused on collecting the most commission in the least amount of time.  A.W. Jenkins’ ground breaking research looked into why consumers continued to use brokers in a transforming real estate environment as a means of buying and selling a home.  Jenkins determined that the only reason why consumers did not use a more efficient “used house dealer” is because they don’t exist (Home, Sweet Home: Real Estate Brokerage in Canada, Vancouver, Canada: The Fraser Institute, 1989).  Jenkins discussed the incentive for consumers to sign commission based broker agreements, even when there are more efficient means of buying and selling a home; including a used house dealer, sell the house on their own, or even pay a flat listing fee.

Anglin & Arnott furthered Jenkins’ line of questioning and came to the conclusion that although a used house dealership (like the used car dealership) may be the most efficient means of buying and selling a home for the consumer, it is not an efficient business model for residential real estate professionals (Residential real estate brokerage as a principal-agent problem; The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics; 1991, vol 4, no 2, pp 99–125).  The cost of maintaining a used house inventory for the dealer is prohibitive because home resale usually takes longer than reselling an automobile.  Another reason for non-existent used house dealers is government regulation: The sale of residential real estate by individuals other than the owner is highly regulated and sets standards for real estate brokerage.

Furthermore, they hypothesize that there may be broker “collusion” in maintaining existing business models:

…Collusion, we argued, is particularly easy to sustain and enforce in the residential real estate market because transactions require cooperation between the buying and selling broker…

As the transforming real estate industry continues its journey, the notion of efficiency has taken a substantial turn in favor of the real estate agent.  The advent of buyer agency and dual agency has allowed agents to leverage their name and reputation to other agents through a “team.”  Much like the medical office business model of luring patients through someone’s name and reputation, only to see the lower techs; the real estate team has become a popular business mode because an agent can leverage their time by having other agents do their work.  To further the confusion, in some cases there are teams within teams. But to understand the structure of the real estate team concept, think of a Russian nesting doll.  The team is a smaller nesting doll which is embedded in the larger nesting doll (the broker); and the team members are even smaller nesting dolls embedded within the team nesting doll.  To be fair, there are various team models in use today; some are better than others with respect to transparency.  The transforming real estate industry has moved towards real estate teams, which essentially operate as a brokerage within a brokerage.

Real estate team advertising and disclosure have become the focus of regulation in recent years, but has not entirely thwarted unscrupulous advertising that intends to mislead the consumer.  Furthermore, agents who are independent contractors and sub-contractors of brokers and other agents, can not only muddy the waters of agency, but can further distance the agent’s incentive and duty to their client.

In his article about the dual agency controversy (From subagency to non-agency: a history; inman.com; Feb 27, 2012), Matt Carter reminded us about a 1993 treatise by the former National Association of Realtors general counsel William North titled “Agency, Facilitation and the Realtor.”  The essay was written at a time when transforming real estate was about acknowledging buyer agency.  Agency relationships between Realtors and their clients were under scrutiny.  North was questioning whom agents really represent and if agents actually knew their role.  To make it easier for agents to know to whom they have a duty, North made an argument for eliminating the independent contractor status that prevails throughout the industry.  He stated:

An approach more difficult of acceptance by NAR membership would be the abandonment of the independent contractor status…The prevailing independent contractor relationship between broker and salesperson encourages “quantity” over “quality…It is clear from the letters which have been received by Realtor News on the Agency issue that far too many Realtors and Realtor Associations simply have no concept of what an agent is, does or cannot do or that their status as an “independent contractor” vis-à-vis their broker has nothing to do with their obligations, as an agent, to the seller or the buyer.  It only compounds the public confusion as to the status of a Realtor when Realtors themselves do not understand who and what they are.

Copyright © Dan Krell
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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.