Facts Of Life On Buying and Selling "Without an Agent"

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I saw your article on about exclusive buyers agents and I have a couple follow up questions pertaining to my own situation that I am hoping you could shed some light on.

I don't have any buyers agent (currently). However I have spotted 2 houses in an area that I think I would like to make an offer on. Both of these houses are listed by real estate agents. I am obviously eager to save as much money as I can and think it would be great to try and save on the agent undefined if at all possible (I have bought FSBO before, so I am familiar with the process and I don't see much value add with an agent since I have already found the properties).

However I just don't get it - if I make an offer on the property by working with the sellers agent then the sellers agent gets both commissions? Is there a way to just take the buyers agent commission off the sales price? If there isn't then I guess there is no reason not to go and find a buyers agent to assist me? Seems like a waste of money.

I have found an buyers agent that who said he will give me 50% of the commission if I sign an exclusive buyers agent contract with him however I am worried that my hands are tied if I don't end up purchasing one of these properties I have already identified (ie I could end up paying 1/2 his typical commission if I found a FSBO).

Any insight you could provide would be of great help - I love reading your stuff.

Thanks,

The first thing I need to clear up here is the nature of listing agreements. The standard listing contract form gives the listing agent the full commission for both buying and selling, and if someone other than them represents the buyer, then they agree to pay the buyer's agent a portion of that. If there is no buyer's agent, they keep it. Since you have to make your offer through the listing agent, the listing agent is get that commission, and that is as it should be. Note that I believe it is stupid to act as agent for both parties in the same transaction because seller's interests and buyer's interests are often at impasse, and when you're acting as agent for both sides, there are many potential issues which, if they happen, are lawsuit material one way or the other no matter what the agent does. If I find a buyer for my own listing, I'll find another agent I trust to do a good job, and that way there is no conflict of interest. But greed is a powerful motivator, as you yourself are illustrating. The fact is that if the listing agent wants the full commission, they will probably end up with it, and justifiably so, as they found the owner a buyer, didn't they? That's what the contract says the seller's commission is for. You saw their sign, you saw the house they listed, you made an offer through them, the house got sold through their efforts. According to the terms of the listing contract, they found you, whether you realized it before now or not. The buyer's agent commission is for an agent who has a buyer who sells them that property, as opposed to the one down the street.

Many agents make side agreements to rebate part of their commission in certain circumstances. But that potential rebate contract in this case is with the seller, not you, and is none of your business. Unless the agent has a release to discuss it with you in writing, they are violating confidentiality to do so. The seller may sell to you cheaper because of such a clause, but they are under no obligation to do so.

Now before you dismiss this with, "That's Stupid!" or something worse, because it appears that things are stacked to cost you money, consider that this has evolved over many years as the best and cheapest way to preserve everybody's best interests. Without these forms, there would be a lot more lawsuits filed over commissions, with the side effect that the lawyers get rich, and the money ends up getting paid anyway on top of that. The listing agent commission is partially a hold over from the old single listing days of half a century ago. Over time, the buyer's agent commission evolved as a way to open the system up, so that homes sold faster and those agents and offices without a large, pre-built client base could break into the business. But it's still intentionally structured that way as a way to motivate that listing agent to advertise the property far and wide and especially in all of the most effective venues. It costs money for that sign in the yard. It costs money for MLS access. It costs money for advertisements in the paper. It costs money for all the trappings that enabled someone to go find that agent and list the property in the first place. It costs that agent money just to stay in business whether they have any clients or not. It costs the agent money for the advertising to attract clients in the first place. And chances are, if they hadn't spent that money, you wouldn't have found that property, and the owner wouldn't have sold it. Consider also the liability issue, which is huge and real. Are you volunteering to give up any legal rights for a complaint? Didn't think so. Which means they have to go through all of the disclosures, and they're still liable if they make a mistake. How many people do you know that do major work in their occupation for free, even though they're still going to be liable for potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars if something isn't perfect?

People think agents are making money hand over fist, when the reality is that unless they're putting in the long hours and hard work to make multiple transactions happen every month, they're just barely scraping by. Most of the successful agents I know put in sixty hours or more per week, and if they are putting in less than forty, I'll bet money on no other data that they'll be out of business in a year. This is not a cheap business to be in, or an easy one. I don't blame you for wanting to economize - it is a lot of money. If you don't think about what it's getting you, and what you're getting, and what agents are giving you, and the liability they're assuming, and what they have to spend to stay in business, and you just look at the check the brokerage is getting, it seems like a lot of money.

Put yourself in the shoes of a seller. You have a property, but you want cash. Real estate is not liquid, a property interchangeable with billions of other shares in planet earth that you can call a broker and sell over the phone because there's a ready market for shares in planet earth which are all interchangeable. Instead, each and every property is unique. This means it is bought and sold on the basis of those unique individual characteristics. You want results, you want your property sold for the highest possible price, you don't want it coming back to haunt you if there was something wrong you didn't know about, and it costs money and it takes work to make buyers want to buy your property.

Sometimes the agent gets lucky, and it sells quick. Sometimes the agent works hard - and they really do work - for months with no offers despite all of it. We're coming off of a market where a monkey could have sold a residential property within a week for more than the asking price, and entering a difficult period. This requires an adjustment in thinking if you're going to do well. Average total commission paid is up locally in the last few months, from five to six percent. Particularly in a rough market, if the seller tries to sell it themselves, it will statistically take longer, and they will statistically net less money from the sale, not to mention what they spent on the property in the meantime. Some few get lucky. People win lotteries and casino jackpots, too. Betting that you'll be one of them is a sucker's game. Any number of studies and statistics show this fact, and many brokers make a good living buying FSBOs to then resell for a hefty profit. The last broker I worked for is one example. In one month, we sold four properties he bought from FSBOs, all for a substantial profit, even in a down market. Sellers tried to think like you do, and it cost them over $150,000 net of commissions, and these were all fairly quick sales. Had we tried harder to get maximum value for his money, we could likely have gotten more, but he's not complaining.

Now, with that said, let's look at your current situation. I've already covered the fact that the listing agent is entitled to that commission. Now let's put you on the other side of the table from a guy whose responsibility it is to get the best possible price for the property, and his commission depends upon how good a job he does. He does this constantly, for a living. He's set up with information to ensure that he gets the highest price. It's cost effective for him, in a way that it isn't if you aren't doing it constantly. Betting that you're better at his profession than he is would be like him betting he's better at your profession than you are. My money is on "you end up paying more than you have to."

Here's a dead giveaway that an agent's job is trickier than you think it is: That you're even talking about an exclusive buyer's agent contract in this situation. So long as you already have the property in mind, there is comparatively little risk and a lesser amount of work for him in the situation. He's not going to have to drive you around to four million properties over the next twelve months to maybe find one you want. This is a buyer's agent's dream situation - cut straight to the bargaining, no preliminary work. If this one falls through, he can either look for more or blow you off, depending upon what he has time for. Offer him a general non-exclusive buyer's agent agreement with a fifty percent rebate if you find the property yourself, as you did in this situation. This motivates him to do his best bargaining and looking out for your interests without sabotaging the transaction. If this one falls apart, he's still got motivation to find you something on your terms, and you're not bound to him unless he introduces you to the property or you use him for negotiations, etcetera. You get a negotiator who knows your market and should know most of the tricks and is working on your behalf, and if this one falls through you have someone who's motivated to find your something with better tools and more relevant skills at his disposal than you have. He gets a commission which, if smaller, is also easier and walked its own self in the door rather than him having to go out and spend time and money to drag it in. Everybody wins. If he won't do it, find someone else in your area who will.

(Before anybody asks, I don't propose client contracts that I wouldn't accept)

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on October 20, 2007 7:00 AM.

Looking For Loans In All The Wrong Places was the previous entry in this blog.

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