I don’t really care about the commission debate among and about real estate agents. It is what it is and there will always be buyers and sellers who assign their own value to the work we do. But I do care about a pervasive lack of awareness as to what it is we (and by “we”, I mean hard working, competent, conscientious, ethical, and honest real estate sales professionals) do not just for a living but in service to our clients.
But an article in the Seattle Times real estate section really goaded me out of my complacency. Authored by Cindy Zetts, the Times’ real estate blogger, it provided an overview of readers’ opintions on the subject of real estate agents and their commissions. This topic is a perennial subject of debate. Are we really worth what we charge?
Not surprisingly, comments covered the broad spectrum of consumer experience. Satisfied customers offered easy support of current rates, while others suggested we are grossly over-compensated for the apparent light work we do and that we’re teetering on the edge of the abyss; poised to fall into that great void while discount brokerages and the Internet fill our shoes.
I attended a real estate seminar once, where the lecturer likened the role we play in peoples’ lives to that of an airline pilot. On a calm flight with no turbulence, freedom to move about the cabin, and little to think about other than how good those highly paid pilots who are flying this crate have it, we may find ourselves thinking, “hmm, this really is a glorified bus, isn’t it? How come they make so much?” On other days, when the chop is severe, bucking the plane up and down, and the oxygen masks deploy, that inner voice screams, “I’ll give that damn pilot a million bucks just to land this thing safely.” There you have it. It’s a matter of perspective and context.
A great agent is like is like a great lawyer is like a great doctor is like a great professional in any field. Whether fine or foul weather, you know you’re in good hands and your best interests are the primary concern. You don’t question the money you spend because spending it yields the result you want. My job is to protect you, my client, and get you to a successful and timely closing; to explain clearly the nuances of what are now very complicated contracts; to negotiate on your behalf, getting you the best terms possible and to watch your back at every turn. There are myriad of issues which are bound to get in my way during that process. There have been many times when showing homes, for instance, that I’ve had to point out some material defect only my trained and experienced eye may notice, to clients who are wide-eyed and wrapped up in the adrenaline rush of “finding their dream home”. Yes, I get to burst the bubble, letting them know that making an investment in this million dollar money pit is a really bad idea. I have perspective and that’s money in the bank for my clients. Though I typically refer my clients to lenders and other service providers I trust, there are times when they bring me their own team. And it’s usually during those transactions that the worst things happen, especially in this current lending climate. So, it then falls upon me to problem solve, pick up the phone and coerce, coddle or downright yell at whomever it is dropping the ball on the other end of the line.
I don’t spend my time on the golf links, nor am I roaming around in my bathrobe mid-afternoon as one reader in the aforementioned column commented on about his neighbor, an agent. No, I often work sixty or more hours per week; dropping what I’m doing to deal with a client’s problem. My family hasn’t had me home for a complete weekend for months. I lose sleep at night wondering what else I can do to help sell my clients’ home or help them through this hellhole of a lending world we find ourselves in today. When my clients need to be made whole and it’s my bad, I make them whole. And I do it all because I love the business, believe in the services I provide, and am self-employed. And, yes, I charge my fixed percent because I’m excellent at what I do and am helping them ensure a sound investment.
Sure, there are agents who are giving us all a bad name. I know plenty who offer “full service”, willing to lift barely a finger to help their clients. But I can tell you, there are many more out there prepared to do whatever it takes to get the job done, and those are the ones you want to hire. You do not want the agent who is eager to negotiate away his livelihood at the drop of a hat. What will he do for you when he’s negotiating on your behalf? What would you say to your oncologist if you asked for a price cut on his services while treating your cancer and he said, “sure, no problem?” Wouldn’t you be leery? I think so. It is incumbent upon you, the consumer, to do your homework. If you want to have a great experience with an agent, know your money is well spent and make a terrific new friend and advocate in the process, interview several. Ask your friends and family about their experiences and find the one they’re raving about. Find an agent who is passionate about her work, diligent in process and very clear about boundaries. And don’t put dollar signs before all things. A great agent will be saving you money, heartache and stress and sometimes you won’t even know it.
Though I work the hours I work, I do so gladly because this is the path I’ve chosen for myself. When I need to say “no”, I say it. Find me the president of a thriving small company who isn’t in the thick of it with his employees, sleeves rolled up and sleeping on a cot in the office when deadlines loom. Ours is not an industry for the lazy and contrary to popular belief, the dough comes neither easily nor does it stay in ones pocket for very long. If someone’s making a lot of money selling real estate, it is typically because they run an efficient, well oiled machine, earning their clients’ trust in the process.