Before learning about the local restaurants and parks, consider becoming an expert on the housing stock in the neighborhood. Commit important numbers to memory, and beat your competition.

Teresa Boardman is a long-time columnist with 400-plus Inman columns under her belt. She writes about her real estate observations and experiences as an officeless indie broker in Minnesota.

Real estate agents are encouraged to be knowledgeable, but sometimes I think marketing folks encourage them to be experts on too many things — and on everything except the local housing market and housing.

When I started in real estate, we were told we needed to be able to recommend a school. That is something I have never done. I am not an expert on education, but I do know of a few websites where people can go to get information. I have no idea how to become a school expert or where to start, and I am not comfortable helping parents with such an important decision.

Real estate professionals are supposed to be neighborhood experts, but they cannot recommend a neighborhood. Homebuyers always want a home in a “decent neighborhood.” I have no idea what that even means.

It wouldn’t be hard to come up with a calendar of local events, but there are numerous places local residents can find such information. There are even local Realtors who write about places to go and things to do in the area.

It is nice to know where to get a craft beer, but there are numerous websites and directories where people can find information about beer if they are 18 or older, of course.

Homebuyers and sellers alike want and like information about local housing and about real estate. Providing them with this information might even be a great way for the average real estate agent to distinguish herself or himself from the competition.

Houses and housing are complicated. In St. Paul, the houses are old. It helps to have knowledge about lead-based paint, asbestos, mold and various types of plumbing. Being able to at least explain knob-and-tube wiring and knowing who to call to upgrade an electrical system from fuses to breakers can help justify those high buyer’s agent commissions.

There are few agents in my area who understand or know anything about the ancient sewer system in the oldest parts of town.

Understanding how the system works and being able to direct a homebuyer, seller or inspector to the right person at the department of public works is even more important than being an expert on local parks. The city has websites dedicated to information about the parks, but the old sand tunnel sewer system seems like a closely guarded secret.

Knowing where downtown condo owners can park and how much it will cost is important to condo buyers. Once that is taken care of, they can figure out which restaurants are the best all on their own, using free information and reviews that can easily be found online.

Understanding home prices and being able to recite neighborhood median prices from memory can mean the difference between getting a listing and losing it to a competitor.

Helping homeowners decide what to repair or upgrade and how much they should spend to get more for their house is even more valuable than having a list of the best summer camps in the area or having a website with places to go on the weekend.

Basic knowledge of local building codes and ordinances and zoning as well as how the city government works is useful in everyday life as a real estate professional.

There is a lot to know about houses, local market conditions, housing types and prices in each neighborhood. Knowing what style of housing is available in each neighborhood is crucial.

In Minnesota, furnaces and boilers are important. Agents are not expected to repair them or determine if they are working correctly, but they should be able to tell a furnace from a boiler, and be able to tell the approximate age of the heating plant. I cringe every time a professional calls a boiler a furnace.

Homebuyers are always interested in the topic of heating, and homeowners are impressed when an agent can talk knowledgeably about the heating plant and the importance of having it tuned and inspected before the putting the house on the market.

Real estate professionals can take classes and read books to learn about different housing styles and how they are built.

I meet real estate agents who do not know the difference between double-hung and casement windows. That is something that can be learned very easily. Shouldn’t people know a little about the product they are selling? Some agents don’t know the difference between a 1.5 story house and a two-story house.

After showing and selling hundreds of houses in one area, we end up learning all sorts of knowledge that comes from years of experience. Looking at pictures of the insides of houses every day for decades also adds to the knowledge.

Before deciding to become a local expert, consider becoming an expert on the housing in the neighborhood. Commit important numbers to memory, and beat your competition.

  • What is the average age of housing in the neighborhood?
  • What is the average size?
  • What is the average sale price and an average number of days on the market?
  • How many months’ supply of houses are currently on the market?
  • How many homes were sold in the area in the last year?
  • How many homes are currently on the market, and what is the average list price?
  • Which is higher the average list price or the average sale price?
  • Can you express the relationship between the list price and the sale price as a percentage?

It would be wonderful if real estate agents could be the experts on all things in their town, and also if they could also be the community leaders, volunteers and the peacemakers.

Those are all lofty and admirable goals. But being an expert on how to buy and sell real estate in your area is a must. A thorough understanding of the attributes of local housing is a definite plus.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of

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