In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic.
An experienced agent is frustrated by the lack of inventory in her red-hot market, and is considering aggressive tactics such as searching demographics for elderly homeowners, making connections at hospice facilities, etc. Her broker wants to avoid anything that might embarrass her or the office, reminding her that consistency and focus on the usual best practices will keep her out of trouble and earn her the business she wants. Is there a solution to accommodate both sides?
Over the past two years, our region’s residential market has experienced a historic surge in sales and prices, fueled by domestic U.S. buyers, Sun Belt weather, changing work/school dynamics and successful corporate recruitment efforts.
With COVID-19 somewhat under control in our area, thanks to vaccines and testing, international buyers have also returned to the scene, prompting intense bidding wars the moment a listing hits the market. In my 30 years as a successful real estate agent, I’ve never seen anything like it.
Unfortunately, this trend has either created or resulted in a drastic inventory shortage. Except for divorces and empty-nester situations, most homeowners are not interested in selling, citing (legitimate) fears of not finding the right “next” house.
Even if they do find the perfect new home, there is no guarantee their offer will be accepted, or they may have to pay more than the property is worth. Even with these extraordinary prices, many of the potential sellers in my area are happy to stay where they are, complete home improvement projects, bide their time and wait until things settle down before listing and making a move.
These circumstances are frustrating for agents like myself, leading many of my colleagues to resort to the kind of aggressive tactics that people joke about on social media.
I’m talking about preying on those who are at their most susceptible and likely to be talked into listing — the elderly, infirm, unemployed and facing financial hardships — and knocking on strangers’ doors, cold-calling and basically pestering uninterested homeowners with promises of lucrative offers, which happen to be quite realistic.
While I have quietly put “feelers” out to customers I know well, I have not gone quite as far as those unrelenting colleagues, but I am seriously thinking about it. As long as I don’t break any rules, what’s the harm in nudging a few prospects to consider listing in this insane market?
“Wholesalers” are already out there targeting these people; why them and not me? After all, I’m a professional!
I can certainly appreciate the desire to cash in on a hot market, but there is a fine line that no agent ever wants to cross. While most agents in this situation may be making legitimate, professional solicitations to potential sellers, they could easily get conflated with the sort of predatory solicitors and investors who target the elderly and financially disadvantaged.
These disreputable bad actors use deceptive and borderline-illegal sales tactics to badger homeowners into submission, and are not regulated by the kind of ethical considerations that set professional Realtors apart. (Some municipalities are even creating “cease and desist” regulations that would punish legitimate Realtors for the actions of others.) We must always remember that the actions of a few can also tarnish the reputation of us all in the eyes of consumers.
This kind of negative reputation should be avoided at all costs. People clearly do not like having their door knocked on, and agents could face big fines for calling numbers that may be registered on “Do Not Call” lists.
We also must adhere to the fair housing regulations regarding targeting demographics. These tactics are simply not worth the damage to one’s reputation, license, and bank account.
Realtors in today’s market may be feeling the urgency to do something different in order to stay ahead of the pack. That doesn’t mean they should abandon the methods they have used throughout their career.
While they may seem passive, the tried-and-true strategies of advertising, digital marketing, direct mail and sphere-building — when employed consistently — have proven to generate business in both hot and cold markets.
Agents who are in the enterprise of real estate for the long haul should continue leaning on these methods, and will remain the trusted sources of good advice and service when market conditions inevitably change.
How to resolve
There are some compelling and creative maneuvers agents can employ to take advantage of a robust market, while remaining safely in the confines of industry regulations.
Agents are well within their rights to notify neighbors upon securing a nearby listing, and again upon selling it — with messaging that informs these neighbors that eager “leftover buyers” are still home-hunting in the area. (This messaging can also tout the agent’s success rate in listing and selling homes quickly and with multiple offers.)
Agents can also make tweaks to their standard emails, postcards and other promotional materials by mentioning the hot market in subtle and indirect ways. Phrases such as “unprecedented market conditions” and verified data showing nearby comps distinguish professional agents from unseemly practices and scare tactics that homeowners reject.
An agent who establishes a solid reputation of service, caring and skill is in demand. People do not want to be sold, but most understand that having an expert assisting and guiding them through the real estate sales process is invaluable.
Anthony is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty, with offices in Hollywood Beach, Davie, Miramar, North Miami, South Miami, Kendall, and the Florida Keys, and where he leads the activities of more than 190 agents. He is also a working agent who consistently sells more than 100 homes a year. For three consecutive years (2018, 2019, and 2020), Anthony was honored as the “Managing Broker of the Year” by Miami Agent Magazine’s Agents’ Choice Awards. Follow Anthony on Instagram.
NOTE: Anthony is not an attorney and does not give legal advice. Please consult a licensed attorney regarding matters discussed in this column.