OpinionBrokerage

What’s a marginal agent — and are you one?

Broker Notebook

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I keep reading about marginal real estate agents, but I cannot find any actual definition or statistics. How many real estate agents are marginal? How would I define a marginal real estate agent?

Being an agent or broker is all about technology and how to make money. Those who don’t make a lot of money must be marginal agents. The focus on building better teams, capturing more leads, making more money and using better smartphones dominates the real estate industry.

Recent experiences — working with some clients who own a home in a less affluent neighborhood — have helped me get a better understanding of a marginal agent. It has also given me an idea of how they might operate and how they hurt us all.

I am finding that the agents who are representing the sellers of lower-priced homes do not use professional photography. In fact, it’s not the photography that markets the homes, and they look better in person than they do in the photos.

Sometimes the pictures are blurry or sideways, and I cannot always tell exactly what they are supposed to represent. Sure, this can be found in all price ranges, but in the lowest price ranges, even adequate photos are rare.

The owners don’t always tidy up the home before pictures are taken — and they’re almost never staged. Most homeowners will make some changes and are open to some staging. Of course, that’s if it is explained to them how much more money they can get for their home and how it will make their home stand out. After all, there are many homes being listed by marginal agents who enable marginal home sellers.

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It seems like, in at least half of the homes for sale that we have been looking at, the seller’s agent is paying out a smaller percentage of the sale price than what I usually see. My theory is that the listing agent keeps a greater percentage of the sale price rather than sharing it with the buyer’s agent because there isn’t much money to share on the lowest-priced homes. This example is likely another way an agent can be marginal.

These agents are also less likely to let us know that the home has six offers on it before we show it to buyers. And they are more likely to be representing clients who are government agencies or other entities that take advantage of the free labor that buyer’s agents provide, as they plow through mountains of paperwork required by large bureaucratic organizations with obsolete business practices.

Helping a buyer buy a home through some of the special programs can be challenging and time consuming. Real estate agents have to take the time to learn the programs and do the extra work.

I found one listing where they told me they would not even consider turning on the water or electricity for a home inspection. I had to explain to my buyers why I would not even show them such a house.

I’ll admit it is hard to get excited about a 1 percent payout on a $100,000 house. I will do my best to get paid while I also do my best to find my clients a great house at an affordable price. In general, I will give them my very best service — it would be better to pass on working with these clients than it would be to give them marginal service just to get another transaction.

It reminds me of when my husband and I bought our first home. We could barely afford a house, and we had two small children. Our rent kept going up, and all we could think about was buying a house.

We went to open houses, and we thought most of the agents we met were pretty scary. We found the whole process intimidating. All the houses we looked at needed work and were barely affordable, but the agents described them as “fabulous.”

Interest rates at the time were around 9 percent. We ended up working with the listing agent on a home we eventually purchased. She strongly discouraged us from getting an inspection, and we took her advice. We needed help buying a home, but instead we found marginal agents who gave us bad advice so that they could make a sale and move on to the next.

It was blind, dumb luck that we bought the right house — at least as I compare it to the other homes we had looked at. I sometimes drive by the homes that we thought we wanted to buy. I’m so thankful that we made the best choice, in a neighborhood that seemed kind of “iffy,” but the property values have soared.

Our area is vibrant and walkable with a lot of amenities and events, and it was a good place to raise our children. It is close to downtown and some major local employers. Would we have been as happy if we had purchased one of those other homes? Would our children have done as well? Choosing the right home, especially the first one, is so important.

I am not suggesting that real estate agents become social workers. But I challenge agents, real estate companies and their brokers to find ways to serve lower-income homebuyers and sellers and to keep the standards of service high even though profits are likely to be lower. And I challenge them to treat everyone as if they matter rather than as just a sale, transaction or commission.

Let’s do it because we can. We can make a difference for our clients. Never be a marginal agent for any client in any price range. Everyone we choose to work with deserves our very best work effort and diligence.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker-owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.

Email Teresa Boardman.