Homebuyers don’t ask who’s got the best pizza

Broker's Notebook

The real estate market is a lot like it was a decade ago. Homes don’t stay on the market for long.

Most of us who work with buyers are spending some serious time looking for houses for them. Then we’re trying to get them into the house to see it before someone else makes an offer on it. We’re also working hard to find more sellers as the inventory of homes continues to plummet.

The buyers that I work with rarely — maybe never — ask me about the local coffee shop. I occasionally get asked to recommend a pizza place. But by occasionally I mean once in the last decade. There are several things homebuyers want from me and my advice on where to have a beer isn’t on the list.

This isn’t 2008. Buyers are in a hurry.

One thing you often hear from industry leaders is that agents need to be neighborhood experts. Sure it’s wonderful to know everything about an area. But it’s essential to understand housing and the housing market.

My clients want to know everything there is to know about the properties they are interested in buying, including personal information about the current owner and their family. I have had people ask me if I could get an entire history of a house for them. I suppose I could do a history, but I would have to charge extra for the service.

Potential buyers also want to know why the owner is selling and they want as much information about the neighbors as possible.

Buyers ask me how much money I think the sellers will accept. They expect me to be an expert on the housing stock and recommend houses to them. They expect me to give them advice and be able to recommend a price and even know exactly what the seller’s bottom line is.

I really know my market and I know my numbers. I can quickly price a home because I am looking at numbers and houses every day. I understand the housing stock. 

I know my way around a boiler, and I understand roofs and plumbing and electrical. I live in an historic home and sell older homes and I always recommend a complete home inspection by an expert. I can explain things like load-bearing wallpaper and how to live with knob-and-tube wiring. I actually like houses — even the greasy and rusty parts. (And yes, I know wallpaper can’t actually provide structural support. But in my house, painted-over wallpaper was holding a crumbling wall together.)

Both buyers and sellers want and respect my opinions on home prices and values. When I talk association documents and property taxes people listen. When I explain contracts and inspections my clients hang on my every word. This is all useful information that my clients can’t get anyplace else.

Buying a home is more of a commitment than buying a pizza.

By using technology I can quickly find a bungalow that first-time homebuyers will swoon over, and I can help them make an offer very quickly. That way, they’ll beat out all the other homebuyers who are working with an agent who is an expert on neighborhood bars, iPad apps and social media trends, but who has not taken the time to tour homes that are on the market, or keep up with pricing trends and recent sales.

Go ahead, listen to all the advice about the things you can do for real estate clients and what they want. But don’t be surprised if what they really want is expert help and advice on buying or selling the biggest purchase of their life. It works that way sometimes.

It’s likely that the local real estate agent isn’t the only person in town who can recommend a good coffee shop. But he or she may be one of a small group of people who can help a first-time buyer find and buy the right home using down-payment assistance.

The agents who are really good at real estate may even get repeat business and referrals just for doing an outstanding job — even if they don’t have the time to wine and dine their clients during the process or drive them around in an expensive car.

Sellers want to know what they need to fix before they put their home on the market. They want help choosing paint colors and making landscaping decisions. They need to know whether hardwood floors or carpeting commands more money.

There are tons of technology webinars, and we get loads of advice on what clients want from us. It’s amazing that real estate and houses are rarely mentioned.

Housing is an area where agents should be experts. Agents need to know their numbers and their housing backward, forward and inside out.

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

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