What Type of Real Estate Listing Agent to Choose
On a regular basis, I see advertisements for real estate offices that say "discount broker - full service".
This is nonsense.
A discount broker has consciously chosen a business model whose economics do not permit them to give the same service provided by a full service provider. Here's the rundown.
A discount broker's listing agreement typically calls for them to receive 1 percent of the sales price, and the "selling broker" to receive the area standard, whether it's 2.5 or 3 percent (perhaps higher in some areas). Some few will reduce the selling broker's commission if it's them.
A Full Service broker's listing agreement typically calls for both sides to get the same 2.5 to 3 percent.
So a discount broker is saving you 1.5 to 2 percent of the cost of selling your home.
But what does a selling broker or agent do?
They put your property on MLS and put a sign in the yard, of course. And when there is an offer, they serve as "go between" on the negotiations.
This is all a discount broker can afford to do. They have expenses of being in business. Rent, machinery, assistant's salary, etcetera. It's not like they get to freely spend every dollar they are paid, and you're not paying them enough that they can do more. Furthermore, their business model requires them to sell more properties than a full service broker, just to stay in service. The difference in their compensation between a $450,000 sale and a $470,000 sale is only $200. Which would you rather have - the high likelihood of a $4500 paycheck in a couple weeks, or the hope of a $4700 paycheck eventually? They're human too. They are much more likely to advise you to take the sale in the hand now even when you would likely do better to wait. Even though it would make a difference of nearly $20,000 to you (and that may double the money you actually get from the sale in many cases), it's not important to them. Full service brokers are hardly perfect either, but they tend to be at least somewhat stronger negotiators on your behalf. At least the $20,000 difference it makes to you means $500 or 600 to them.
A Full Service broker can afford not only the Multiple Listing Service and the sign in the yard, but also ads in the papers and other places that people actually see. MLS is the single best way to sell a house, but hardly the only one. Signs in the yard help me find clients and keep my fellow agents from bugging you for the listing, but rarely actually sell that house. Ads in the correct papers at the correct time are the second best way to sell the property, and full service brokers can not only afford them, but they are motivated to do them by the "carrot" of the doubled commission if they also find the buyer. Open houses also help significantly, and full service brokers and their agents have a business model which makes holding frequent open houses worthwhile and advertising them correctly a paying proposition. Furthermore, you're likely to see better offers off of these sale sources. MLS offers are more likely to be people looking to buy on the cheap, whereas advertisements and open houses target people who want to live in your neighborhood. Once you have an offer, full service types tend to be tougher negotiators. Finally, once you accept an offer, the prospect of getting a larger paycheck motivates them to work harder getting the sale consummated, including being at the property for inspectors so that you don't have to. Some discount houses do a decent job of this last, but full service do better.
Which of these alternatives is better? Well that depends upon the state of the market and your situation. In a white hot market where everything that gets listed gets four offers within three days and bidding wars break out between prospective buyers, a discount broker or agent is likely to be the way to go. If, on the other hand, the market is a much cooler one like most of the country nowadays, and it takes considerable effort to bring in any offer, or if your property has issues that make it undesirable (less 'curb appeal' than average), you're likely to want a full service broker or agent.
Your situation also plays a part. If you don't care if the property sells tomorrow, next year, or at all, a discount broker is more likely to meet your needs. After all, if you don't get a good offer, you'll just keep the property. On the other hand, if you need the property to sell fast, or if you need the offer to meet certain criteria, and most especially if it would be difficult for you to accommodate inspections yourself (for example, if you're now hundreds of miles away), a full service broker or agent is likely to be the choice for you.
I have seen many sales where paying a full service commission would have caused the seller to end up with more money in their pocket. See my article Production Metrics versus Consumer Metrics for more.
Discount Real Estate Brokers should also not be confused with Discount Mortgage Brokers. The "discount" part of a real estate broker's name usually refers only to listing agreements - people who want to sell a property. For customers who approach them as property buyers, these places usually receive the same full commission that anyone else does. There are exceptions where they rebate part or all of their commission for buyers, which should be disclosed and committed to in writing. But typically if you use them to buy, if it's 3% for the full service folks, it'll be 3% for them. Furthermore, I have directly encountered several of them who benefit from the presumption that any loans they provide will be as low cost as their real estate services, and this is far from the case. I've had direct dealings with very well known discount real estate brokerages, and their margin on the loan they got their borrower was much higher than mine - from triple to more than four times what mine would have been. My responsibility was to my clients, so I kept my mouth shut and got my clients their money for the sale of the property. But inwardly I was definitely wincing.
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