Of Discounts and Deception

If you are one of my Facebook friends, you saw a stream of prayer request posts from me last month. I had clients who were in a very complicated situation. I didn’t go into detail on Facebook, and I won’t here, but basically title issues were threatening to cause them to lose their house to foreclosure before we could close it with our buyers.  The situation consumed me for well over a month.  I literally spent every day looking for new solutions — and pushing forward with the multiple potential solutions we were working on.  Which we eventually did — at the 11th hour— thanks to a whole lot of work, a lot of thinking outside the box, and more than a few prayers.

So imagine my displeasure when, a few weeks later, I heard a radio commercial for a “discount” real estate company that said “Most houses sell within a couple of days.  Why pay an agent 6% for just a few days work?”

Then I heard another ad from the same company that said “Most buyers find their houses on the internet.  Why pay an agent for that?”


If you have ever worked with me — or any other competent real estate agent — you most likely recognize how ridiculous this is.  We don’t get paid for “finding” a house.  Or a buyer.  In most cases, that’s the easy part.  The work starts long before the house goes on the market, or the buyer goes under contract.  And it lasts long after the offer is signed.

For buyers in this prolonged seller’s market, the longest period of the process is the often time in which we are looking for a house, finding a house, writing an offer on a house, not winning the multiple bid, writing an offer on another house, repeat as necessary.  Sometimes we win on the first try.  Sometimes it takes months.  In a few cases, the search has gone on for a year or more.

And then, when a property goes under contract — for a buyer or a seller — the work for the agent is just beginning.  The four to eight weeks between contract and closing are busy, often complicated and too often very stressful.  There is a lot that can go wrong during that period, and it’s my job to make sure that things don’t go wrong, and that the things that do go wrong are righted again before closing.

And that is often not an easy task.

The list of “what could go wrong” is limited only by the bounds of the human imagination. I have stories for each phase — stories that could turn this little note into a hardcover book.

Inspection: Probably the most common real estate stressor.  They say that, emotionally, the high point of a real estate transaction is when the offer is signed.  And the low point follows immediately afterward, as the buyer hires an inspector to start finding all of the flaws in the property.  Needless to say, there is a lot of room for conflict.  Once a buyer’s agent demanded that we remove “every speck of asbestos” from the house.  (My response:  “It was built in 1923.  It’s asbestos in the shape of a house.”)  That buyer was also demanding a new sewer line — for no good reason — as I recall.  That transaction consumed my life for a good six weeks, and the memory stresses me out to this day.

Appraisal:  I learned this lesson the hard way when I was a young and naive non-real-estate-agent who was selling my house by owner and thinking “How hard could it be?”  Finding the buyer was easy.  Hanging onto the buyer when the appraisal came back low wasn’t so easy.  I lost her, re-listed with a competent agent and pocketed more money in the end than I would if I had completed the sale on my own.  Now that the Dodd-Frank Act has fundamentally changed the appraisal process, expert guidance in anticipating and dealing with appraisal issues is even more important.

Lender: Traditional wisdom would assume that lender issues are the buyer’s problem.  Traditional wisdom would be wrong.  The world is full of incompetent lenders, and when they start delaying closings and threaten to derail your transaction, their problems become everybody’s very big problem.  This, unfortunately, seems to be the case more often than not.  Probably over 75% of transaction problems originate with the lender.

Title:  See the story above.  

Human Nature:  It crosses every line, every phase.  It run afoul of the process, of real estate law, of what needs to happen.  It’s the hardest part of the process to manage, and it’s one really big reason you need professional representation from a third party who understands the process and the law, and isn’t emotionally involved. 

Last year, I had a listing appointment.  After we met, he called to tell me that they had a buyer whose brother was a real estate agent, so they were going to handle it themselves.  I expressed concern but wished him luck.  He called me several weeks later and said “You can say ‘I told you so’ later.  Right now I’m just in trouble and I really need your help.”  I tried to help him, but it was too late.  He wound up losing a lot of money, money he wouldn’t have lost if he’d had good representation.

The “discount” real estate firms aren’t even particularly discounted.  In fact, I just saw statistics indicating that their clients lose money over sellers who list with traditional agencies.  That will have to be a topic for another day.  But -- discounted or not -- they apparently make the same mistake that my would-be seller made.  They think that their only job is to find the buyer.  Or find the house.

If you’re ever tempted to call a “discount” real estate company, call me first.