Real Estate: General Education versus Specific Expertise

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Hi Dan,

Your blogsite is great; I stumbled on it and find you very credible and knowledgeable.

I have two questions for you, if you are looking for things to write about:

1) What are your views on the DELETED area? That market is so high, and I wonder if it will follow the pattern that San Diego sets for price adjustments in the market this year. I'm looking to relocate there from San Diego, so I've started researching that market. And I thought San Diego was expensive... the DELETED area is unreal.

2) As a law student, I've had five professors mention that it's a good idea to get a broker's license in order to represent ourselves as our own buyer's agent when buying our homes (if we can ever afford to with those huge students loans to pay off!). The upside is getting back the buyer's agent commission as a sort of "rebate." To support this, a couple of professors framed the issue as roughly: "most agents you would work with only have a high school degree and a few real estate courses under their belt... and could know nothing about property law. Do it yourself, control your own contract, save a lot of money." What do you think about attorneys who get real estate licenses to represent themselves, having lots of knowledge about legal issues and contracts, but no practical experience and training?

Have a great weekend!


In theory, it's a really great idea.

In practice, unless you're out there in the market all of the time, learning all of the tricks that get played or attempted, learning what the market is actually like, etcetera, you will fall into that group of persons known by the technical description "sucker."

Some lawyers apply for their broker's license and use it constantly. Those folks do fine. They know that being an agent is not just about that subset of lawyer functions that agents are allowed to perform, and if they learn about the rest of the business and keep their finger on the pulse, they are formidable.

Those who just use it to do their own occasional transactions, on the other hand... Let's just say I've had to explain to lawyers who took that kind of professorial advice exactly how they got "taken" more than once. Loans are also the same license, but there probably isn't enough money in the average loan to interest the kind of lawyer that does well in the real estate market, and what clue do they have who are likely to be the best lenders who give the best rate for a given client if they won't spend the time learning the loan market? Truth be told, they can make more money with the same time representing those who've been raked over the coals than they can working their own transactions.

The lawyers that the good agents know about and go to when there's a question or a problem? They strongly tend to use agents and brokers for their own transactions. My last boss did half a dozen transactions in the year I worked for him, for one of the best regarded real estate lawyers in town.

Your professor appears to me to be making a "does not follow" error. By the logic of "not much education", he'd be fixing a car himself, rather than using a professional mechanic. Once upon a time I was a pretty fair amateur mechanic. I haven't done more than an oil change in twenty years. I know better.

The real problem here is confusing general education and specific expertise.

In order to be a good agent, you have to spend time constantly keeping up with the state of the market. If you think a given property is worth less than it is, no transaction. If you think it's worth more, your client is wasting money. The questions I keep asking myself have to do with the utility of this one specific property for one specific client, and at what point, in my estimation, they're better off just walking away from the negotiations.

It's true that some agents are just barely high school graduates. Others have MBAs. More important than level of education, more important than how much business they do, more important even than experience, is attitude. Just as important as attitude is market knowledge. And right up there with both of them is negotiating skill in the context of real estate. None of these three skills is certified by a law degree, passing the bar, or anything else.

The result? Lawyers who work at real estate make formidable agents and brokers. Lawyers who get their broker's license because they think they're going to save themselves money by doing their own transaction are lawyers who represent themselves. And we've all heard about lawyers who represent themselves having a fool for a client. The amounts at stake in real estate are large enough that items which are small differences relative to the size of the entire transaction are nonetheless, significant amounts of money. Getting paid all of a three percent cooperating broker's concession can end up costing you ten percent easily. And that is in addition to the costs of doing real estate (MLS access, agent keys, licensing fees, etcetera) and the economic costs of the other money you could be making if you were doing what you're really trained for.

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on February 25, 2007 10:01 AM.

Games Lenders Play, Part VII - Selling Mortgage Accelerator Programs was the previous entry in this blog.

Changing Lenders After the Loan is Approved is the next entry in this blog.

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