The Division of Labor Between Buyers and Their Agents
During the initial interview with prospects, I like to cover the division of the labor that goes into a purchase that makes the buyers happy.
I have to know what's important to the buyers, how important it is, and what the budget I have to work with is. My goal is to get my clients some combination of better property and a lower price that's at least ten percent better than they would have had otherwise. That's a realistic, achievable goal. But in order to deliver it, I have to know what's most important to them, what's not so important, and what's not important at all. That way I can ignore the property where the owner is so proud of some modification my client doesn't care about that they're not prepared to be reasonable.
Once I know what they want and what their budget is, I can tell them how realistic they are being. A good buyer's agent can hit a goal of making a ten percent difference with pretty much every property purchased. I can't guarantee it, but I'm pretty certain all of my clients would agree I made at least that much difference. In some situations recently, it's been thirty percent. But I can't find three bedroom houses in good shape on the top of Mt. Soledad for $250,000. It's not going to happen, and it's no service to anyone to pretend that it's likely to. If your budget and your desires are mismatched, it is my responsibility to inform you of that fact right at the beginning.
Once we have a meeting of the minds on what is possible and achievable, and what may be necessary to do it, the job that comes next is finding "possibles". I define a "possible" as any property which meets the client's essential requirements and might be obtainable within their budget. Budgets should be expressed to agents in terms of purchase price, not monthly payment, by the way. Expressing it in terms of payment leaves you open to being sold a property with a negative amortization loan. You get a higher priced property for a payment that's within the payment you told them, and by the time you figure out the gotcha!, they've already been paid, and now they're going to want you to do another transaction and get paid again!
Back to the "possibles." The primary responsibility for finding them is mine, but if the client wants to suggest possibles, that's fine with me. Once possibles are identified, I've got to do a little records research and go look at them. It doesn't take long - fifteen minutes inside each one is more than enough to tell me if this one makes the cut, as far as amenities and value and condition go. Because I'm looking constantly, I've got a pretty solid sense of where the market in my usual areas is. In most cases, I've been inside several that were initially built to the same floor plan that have already sold recently. I've got a laundry list of common problems I specifically look for and evaluate how bad they are if they are present. I've also got to see if I can find a reason why it's obtainable within the budget I've agreed to work with. The obvious case is that if the asking price is less than the client's budget, that's pretty good evidence. That's not the only possible evidence by any means, but it's a pretty solid indication. Where the cut is varies. The easier it is to find what my clients want within their budget, the pickier I can afford to be. The one thing I don't want to do is waste my client's time with below average properties there's no reason for them to be considering.
If a possible makes the cut for value, amenities, and especially condition, while being obtainable within my client's budget, it then becomes a "likely". This is when I bring it to my client's attention, we go take a look at it together, and I tell them what I see that's right and wrong with the property. Most of my clients aren't real estate experts. On the other hand, they know what they like and are willing to pay for better than I ever can. If the only way you'll ever get take action is if your agent tells you it's perfect and doesn't have any flaws, please get real. No matter how great it is, there's at least a dark lining to every property. If it's huge and beautiful, maintaining it is going to be expensive or you're going to be losing some of your return to deterioration. Fact of life. There is no such thing as the perfect property unless you've got an unlimited budget. Seeing as not even the richest man in the world has an unlimited budget, one hopes that you get the idea.
Agents should tell you about the pluses and minuses of every property they show you. They shouldn't be shy about making recommendations as to which one they like or has the best apparent value. With that said, however, it's not the agent's job to tell you which one you like. You're the one that needs to be happy at the end of things. No matter how much I like a property, if the client doesn't like it, that property profile goes into the wastebasket. Similarly, if the client likes one that I don't, it's my job to report the facts, not to talk them out of it. I can tell them why they shouldn't like it, but if I explain why they shouldn't like it and they still do, well, it's their money and their life. I'm the consultant, not the boss. I'm the hired expert who knows more about the market than they likely ever will, but they're the one that knows their own mind best. It's darned few who are silly enough to disregard my advice, but they must be able to do so. I'm permitted to try to talk them out of making an offer, but not to prompt an offer, and whatever the clients want to do, they have to be the final authority.
Once they've decided to make an offer, it's my job to figure out how to conduct negotiations such that the clients get the best possible price. To this end, I'm always looking for things that aren't money to offer. For instance, with sellers nervous about committing to move out before close of escrow, a short term leaseback can make an offer more attractive. It amazing the difference that can make to the price the seller may be willing to accept.
Finally, the due diligence period is mostly on my head. Getting the inspections and appraisal done promptly is important. It's great if the client is there for the inspection, but despite lawyers who advise agents not to be there, it really is a responsibility that can't be ducked. I can't see how it can not be negligence to be not be present at the inspection. Make certain the client knows and understands what is going on. If I have to call the inspector back to explain something, I have to call the inspector back. Make certain the client understands the title report. Etcetera.
A good agent provides lots of professional advice and input. More than some clients want, as a matter of fact. But real estate is enormously complex and if there were easy answers, everyone could do it. It's my responsibility to help you understand the issues, and also to make certain that you've got the best possible set of choices to choose between. The decisions themselves, however, must be yours.
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