SAN FRANCISCO — When 30-year-old prospective homebuyer Greg Pasquali and his significant other went in search of a real estate agent to represent them, they chose a site well-known to anyone searching for a good restaurant: Yelp.
"We used Redfin for open houses, but we didn’t get a good feel for agents there, so we used Yelp," Pasquali told attendees at the Real Estate Connect conference Friday. He was part of a panel of millennials who answered questions from Inman News Publisher Bradley Inman on stage about their recent home searches. The other panelists were Brittany Ashlock, 32, and Martin Ringlein, 30.
"I think there’s a general publicity problem for real estate agents," Pasquali said, noting that a turn-off for him was agents who were "trying to sell us something" and didn’t listen to what they wanted. The couple walked away from one agent who would send them online listings that didn’t match the criteria they had told the agent they were looking for.
Pasquali searched Yelp for agents by ZIP code and found one with rave reviews and a reputation for taking the time to educate her clients. Did their experience match up to the reviews?
"Absolutely," Pasquali said, noting that, before showing the couple homes, the agent conducted two hourlong sessions in which she explained what to expect in the homebuying process, including relevant real estate terms.
Fellow panelist Ringlein found the home he eventually purchased on classifieds site Craigslist, along with the listing agent for the home, who served as a dual agent for the transaction.
While Ringlein said he found "less professional" postings on Craigslist untrustworthy, it was clear that the listing for his future home was coming from an automated system and handled by a broker, he said.
Ringlein’s agent was friendly, knowledgeable about local neighborhoods and very accommodating about driving him around, but he’s not sure he would recommend her.
Despite the dual agency, she didn’t lower the commission on the transaction. He also didn’t feel she had negotiated properly on his behalf. He could have done the other things himself, he said, but saving money was most important to him.
When an audience member later asked Ringlein if he’d been given an agency disclosure form, his answer was blunt: "I didn’t read any of the forms." Pasquali said he thought he remembered the form, but received so many that he couldn’t remember what was in that particular one.
In general, paperwork seemed to be a frustrating experience for the homebuying panelists.
"At this point, I think I’m pretty experienced at going through this process," Ringlein said. "But my first time at it was overwhelming. All the documents you need to sign, I feel like I’m signing my life away."
Pasquali noted that during his homebuying process, he had to submit one form five times. The lender wanted him to sign his name in a specific way, but couldn’t tell him which way to do it because the system accepting the signatures was automated.
He also remembered having to submit a letter certifying that his driver’s license and other documents weren’t fraudulent and mused that it would probably be easier to fake that letter than it would be to fake his driver’s license.
"Some of (the paperwork) feels stupid and frustrating and almost insulting," Pasquali said.
On the plus side, Ringlein said his transaction was completely paperless.
"I’m used to in the past having to sign everything by hand, but this time everything was digitized for me. It was great," he said. "And I kind of made that a point when I was picking the agent."
Fellow panelist Ashlock agreed that handling paperwork electronically was "huge" particularly "for our generation" because of its convenience, quick turnaround times and ease of working around buyers’ schedules.
Ashlock moved to the San Francisco Bay Area from Denver, where she currently owns a home she tried to sell for a year before putting it on the market as a rental. Since she is currently a landlord with a mortgage, she and her fiance decided to rent when relocating.
The couple went through the renting process in San Francisco, which Ashlock described as "a nightmare" given that rental supply is extremely tight and the couple’s 10-pound dog turned out to be a major impediment to their application being accepted among stacks of other applicants.
The couple did not work through brokers and found rental listings through friends as well as online sites such as Craigslist and Trulia. They eventually gave up on San Francisco and have moved to Walnut Creek, a suburb 25 miles east.
Pasquali also found a home in the East Bay. After finding out he could not afford a home in San Francisco, he eventually bought a home in the Oakland neighborhood of Rockridge. While finances did play a role in why he decided to buy — interest rates just kept getting lower — he said he does not expect to make money on his purchase.
"We (didn’t) want to have neighbors upstairs and downstairs anymore," he said. "We didn’t buy it because we’re going to make a lot of money. I don’t believe in that."