Q: I have to decide between two Realtors — the two finalists of my search. One lives in the area we want to buy and knows everybody, but is a snob and works mostly with sellers in a higher price range than mine. But she says she can show us houses before they go on the market. She has eight years of experience, is a member of our church and has connections in high places. The other one is a pro with 29 years of experience but does not usually work in that area of town. Generally, though, she seems more knowledgeable and down-to-earth. I have to say I like her better. The first Realtor lists many properties and her phone rings constantly, but my husband leans toward the fancy lady. Please advise.
A: Bigwig agents like the fancy lady are successful for obvious reasons: They tend to be high-powered, well-connected, and expert deal-makers. These traits make them good choices for marketing high-priced listings. However, they are not always the ideal representative for a first-time home buyer or someone looking to buy at the entry-level price range in their area. As a longtime buyer’s broker, based on what you’ve told me, my vote is for the "down-to-earth" Realtor. Let me count the ways.
Buying a home — especially for the first time and/or in the entry-level price ranges — is not purely a business transaction. Rather, it is an intimate, interpersonal interaction that arises in the context of a business deal. You should really like your Realtor. You need to feel very comfortable revealing all your personal information and financials, of course, but also all of your relationship stuff and life plans to her. She will be at least a witness (and maybe a participant) to your process of working through the sometimes intense emotional issues involved in home buying.
In a home-buying transaction, it is not unusual for me to learn whether my clients sleep in the same bed or share bank accounts, to coach them through some major decision-making around whether they have the maturity to make various commitments, or to help them negotiate new financial and relationship boundaries with their partners and parents, etc. Does every Realtor get this involved — or need to get this involved — with every client? No, probably not. But when these emotional and relationship and maturity issues arise, it can vastly improve your experience of the transaction to have your real estate expert also be someone with whom you can identify, and someone who makes efforts to be an accessible resource for you.
If you feel intimidated by your Realtor, or perceive yourself and your transaction as low on the totem pole of her priorities, the chances that you are going to have a drama-free transaction with a satisfying outcome are slim.
Experience is important, but honestly — both of these ladies appear to possess perfectly adequate real estate experience to draft and negotiate offers, manage your escrow and transaction, help you decipher inspection reports, and the like. Then, the question becomes, what about neighborhood specialization? Chances are strong that a Realtor with almost 30 years of experience in the same general area — not necessarily focused on that precise neighborhood — can handle herself, your house hunt and your transaction just fine. Frankly, the neighborhood listing agents are likely to come away with the same impression of both agents as you did — fancy, well-connected and busy vs. competent, experienced and down-to-earth. In this current market, the average listing agent would leap at the chance to do a transaction with any experienced agent representing a qualified buyer; the fact that she is not a neighborhood specialist has a negligible impact, if any, on her ability to represent you well.
In terms of access, in this market virtually every property that is for sale is going to be listing on the multiple listing service (MLS) — that’s the only way sellers can maximize the chances of getting the house sold. As such, your down-to-earth Realtor is going to have access to virtually every property the other Realtor does.
Now, the other Realtor has told you that she can show you her listings before they go on MLS. I don’t feel this is a compelling rationale to have her represent you if you are otherwise leaning toward the down-to-earth Realtor, especially because you know most of the fancy Realtor’s listings will be out of your price range.
Additionally, there is nothing to stop her from letting you know about pre-MLS listings just because you don’t work with her on your house hunt. If her motivation for the offer was to earn a double commission by selling it directly to you without exposing it to the market, she may not want to give you pre-MLS access if you work with someone else. If that is her motivation, though, that may represent a major conflict between her interests and those of her seller (which are usually furthered by generating maximum exposure to the market to flush out the highest-priced offer). That would make me nervous about where your interests, as her client, would come out if they were ever placed in direct conflict with her own.
However, if her motivation for offering to give you pre-MLS access was to get her listings sold — period — in this tough market, or to save her clients the hassle of putting the place on the market, then she should have no problem working with your agent and paying your agent a commission. (To be fair, it is possible, but unlikely, that her motivation might have been to get it sold and save her clients the cost of a buyer broker’s commission. However, that rationale does not make it any less desirable for you to have your own representation; sellers on this market must factor in the costs of compensating buyers’ representatives if they want to sell.) If I were you, I’d be honest with the fancy Realtor, and ask her to give your broker or agent a call if she lists a place that would meet your needs and feels comfortable showing it to you — and paying your agent’s commission — before it hits MLS. If she refuses, don’t be afraid — the chances that she’ll sell the place to someone else before it hits MLS on this market are infinitesimal; it is much more likely that you’ll get a chance to tour any of her listings that are in your price range once the lockbox is on for Realtor access.
If you feel that the down-to-earth Realtor has your back and you trust her to protect your interests, tell the fancy Realtor that you’d love to see her pre-MLS listings, but that you will need to be represented by your Realtor if you decide to buy one. In fact, it is probably best to have her call your Realtor directly with these sorts of opportunities.
Also, keep in mind that your "hire" is not irrevocable by any means — if you start working with either one of these Realtors, approach it from the start as a trial and don’t sign a buyer-broker agreement that binds you to a long term of exclusivity unless and until you are sure that the Realtor you have selected is the right one for you.
Well-connected, power-brokering listing agents are often not the best for buyers, because buyers can be very time consuming to work with, and these agents may simply not have the time to devote to your search and the emotional and interpersonal goings-on inherent in a house hunt. I cast my vote for the down-to-earth lady.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook," and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
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