Q: I am a first-time homebuyer in my 50s, and I have a problem with real estate agents. I am very private about my finances, and everyone I run into asks me questions that I’m not comfortable answering.

My mother grew up during the Depression and instilled in me a sense that I should be very skeptical, take my time making decisions and not just trust anyone who claims to be an expert. These values have stood me in good stead throughout my whole life, but they seem to cause me to clash with real estate agents, who want me to take their advice and make offers immediately, even though that’s not my style.

I’ll find one, work with them for awhile and then things fall apart. The last one actually told me that she wouldn’t work with me anymore. What am I doing wrong here? I thought they would be much more grateful for my business than they seem to be.

A: I’ve written over and over again that if you’re working with an agent, you need to trust their advice and that if you don’t trust their advice — for whatever reason — you need to find a new agent who you do trust. Your question highlights the interesting dilemma of what to do if you’re incapable of trusting any agent.

You are absolutely correct: Agents on today’s tough market tend to be extremely grateful for any business they have, and in many areas, a qualified buyer is a prized client these days. However, most seasoned agents are clear that "business" that will never turn into an actual commission because of the client’s mental obstacles to buying a home is not real business.

In fact, buyers who exhibit self-defeating behavior and are mentally stuck in an unrealistic view of the market or what it takes to be a successful buyer can actually cost a buyer’s broker a lot of time, gas and money in the net analysis — not to mention the opportunity costs of taking time and attention away from other clients who are ready, willing and able to buy or sell in the near future.

As I buyer’s broker myself, I have a professional policy of hanging in with buyers as long as I see them doing their end of the work it takes to buy on today’s market. If they show up, provide documents when needed by the mortgage broker, prioritize getting to hot properties in a timely manner, make offers expeditiously and write reality-realm offers on properties that fit reasonably well into their wants/needs matrix, I’ll show them five houses or 50 houses.

When new clients come in that need some education about the market and what it takes to buy a home, I’ll work with them through that process of learning what they can buy for the money, managing their mindsets accordingly, and even (unfortunately) losing a home or two, which puts the entire experience and market in perspective. …CONTINUED

However, when a buyer client comes in and is simply oppositional for the sake of being oppositional — e.g., they’ve had a traumatic experience in the past and refuse to consider my advice just because I’m a broker, or they exhibit self-defeating behavior (like not going to see desirable properties in a timely manner, making lowball after lowball offer, or constantly missing appointments or calls arranged in advance) — and they are committed to sticking with their position, that client might very well, with their behavior, do what I call "opting out" of my practice.

There’s a saying in self-help circles that is on point here: The way you do one thing is the way you do everything. The reality is that most of the brokers who have the professionalism and expertise that you should want simply cannot afford the time and expense of working ad infinitum with a buyer client who battles them on every single point and might not actually have the temperament to ever close a deal. You might want to sit down and reflect on whether your distrust and suspicious stance on everything in life are truly working for you as well as you think, or whether perhaps you are driving away the very sort of trustworthy people you should want in your life (and in your real estate transaction).

I’m not advising you to follow anyone’s advice blindly. With that said, how would your experience of homebuying be transformed if, instead of assuming that your agent isn’t trustworthy, you assumed that they had your best interests at heart until they disprove your assumption? That doesn’t mean you follow 100 percent of their recommendations, but I submit that your interactions and relationship with your agent will take on a much more constructive and positive tone if your approach does not put them on the defensive.

How would this look? For example, instead of disregarding everything they say just because they said it, perhaps you might consider every recommendation, asking them to explain the rationale and data underlying each piece of advice they provide.

What you might want to do is take on a self-education program so that you can know the norms in your market in terms of list-price-to-sale-price ratio and the average number of days a property stays on the market — this will allow you a reasonable way to put your agent’s advice to the smell test.

For example, your agent is likely advising you to make offers quickly because they know from experience that the sort of properties you’re looking at will not stay on the market long. If you take a week or even a few days to make an offer, it might be too late, leaving you with an even worse taste in your mouth around real estate than you already had.

Also, in the future, you might try finding an agent via referral from friends and family members who know you. Your privacy considerations might make this seem nerve-wracking, as I know you don’t want them to spread your business in your circle, but perhaps a loved one’s ability to vouch for their broker or agent might allow you to release some of the distrust, which doesn’t seem to be working for you, in any event.

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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