Represent clients, don’t pull their strings

Realtor Notebook

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This summer I have been representing more buyers than sellers.

I know agents who don’t like working with buyers because it’s so much work. Yes, working with buyers can be exhausting. But it also keeps me at the top of my game and helps me do a better job representing sellers.

I enjoy looking at houses and, when the weather is nice, I feel lucky that I get to be out and about. I also feel like I’m really adding value when I work with young, first-time homebuyers.

There was a time when almost every offer I made for a buyer on a home ended in a closed real estate transaction. That is not the case this year.

We are finding more sellers who will not negotiate, homes that do not appraise, and other challenges like short sales that do not get approved and homes that get multiple offers.

In addition to all of these challenges, we get to deal with agents who tell us what’s in the "best interests" of his or her clients, and what’s in the best interests of ours. Sometimes they even make decisions for the people they represent.

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We may think that we know what is in our clients’ best interests. But we don’t call the shots — our clients do.

Our clients need to be presented with all options. I can’t tell you how many times in the last month another agent has told me that she is doing something because it is in her client’s best interests. That’s not what we are licensed to do, which is to represent another person in a real estate transaction for a fee.

Sometimes I will have an offer for a seller, and the seller’s agent will try to say no to the offer before the seller has even been told about it. Sometimes I even have to ask for some kind of proof that the offer was presented if I am not allowed to present it myself. If a buyer’s offer never gets to the seller, and I represent the buyer, I may have some legal exposure myself.

I have worked with sellers who have suggested that I not bother them with lowball offers. I respectfully explain to them that it is my job to present all offers to them. Although I am truly sorry if they get offers that they don’t like, I tell them to think of me as the messenger.

There are agents who have an answer for everything. They always know what is in their clients’ best interests, without even asking them. Sometimes what they are really doing is making their own jobs easier and controlling the transaction.

On some level there is a little control freak in most real estate agents, myself included. I know I have to constantly remind myself that working through a real estate transaction isn’t about control, or about doing things my way. It’s about helping my clients get what they want.

My clients are amazing people. Their life experiences lead them to come up with some interesting solutions to problems that can arise during a real estate transaction.

I listen to them, and always ask them what they want to do. I have been known to do things for my clients that other agents never expect, like verifying the existence of multiple offers by asking the listing agent for the names of the other agents who wrote them.

Both buyers and sellers have so much more to lose or gain in a real estate transaction than the agents. We get one commission. In the long run I won’t even remember which bills got paid with the money that I made. The transaction has a much larger and longer-term impact on the buyers and sellers.

Even though it would be easier to just take over and make decisions for my clients, I need to check my ego at the door during negotiations. Sometimes I even need to suck it up while another agent calls the shots. I am happy to do both if it helps my clients get what they want.

I won’t tell people what is in their best interests. I will give them options, and my opinion. I don’t always agree with their choices or decisions — sometimes I get irritated, but I keep it to myself.

There is more than one option in almost every situation. Even though agents use words like "never" and "always," life is full of "sometimes" and "maybe." When we work with our clients we need to let them make the decisions that are theirs alone to make.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minn., and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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