The Best Way To Solve Problems in Real Estate

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The same as in every other area of life: Get out in front and stop it from becoming a problem.

I do not understand why many people approach real estate transactions like a casual outing. Go window shopping, decide on an impulse purchase, expect to sign a few papers and you're done. That might be appropriate for a toaster oven or microwave, possibly even for a refrigerator. In all of these cases, you're dealing with huge companies and products that are basically commodities. All the important stuff like price, size, and functionality is right out in the open, and you're spending $50 for the toaster oven, $100 for a microwave, maybe $2500 or so for a top of the line refrigerator with lots of bells and whistles. Furthermore, the huge companies that make and sell these need to sell millions of these to other people. It's not only not worth it, but actively counterproductive to their bottom line if they don't deal with complaints both quickly and generously.

Contrast this with the situation in real estate. First off, you're not dealing with a major company whose deep pockets are going to bail you out. You're dealing, at most, with a franchise operation that's paying big bucks to license a name, and consumers have no claim against the franchising organization. Here is a list of California license actions in the most recent three months for which information is available. Not one heavily advertised household name among them, although every one of those household names was affiliated with someone on the list. The big names might have some neat bells and whistles in the way of agent tools and client interface, but that's a distraction, especially in these days of expanding MLS capabilities, where any agent can set up a client gateway and get a link to the public portions of MLS on their website.

More importantly, the amounts at stake are, instead of fractions of someone's monthly salary, multiples of their yearly gross income. What this means is that the amounts at stake are many times larger, and therefore the potential reward. I don't know anyone who will cheat over a penny, and not many over a few dollars. But when the amounts at stake inflate to hundreds of thousands of dollars, that's a different level of temptation, and the list of people that can be trusted shrinks drastically. A smart agent working for you will always be on the list, if for no other reason than you can sue for breach of fiduciary duty and expect to win more than they could ever make for that breach. Unfortunately, as has been made clear to everyone who's paying attention, not all agents are smart.

Most important of all, a large fraction of the important issues aren't out in the open. Indeed, the amounts at stake are sufficient for the other side to do their best to bury them. Spotting these issues, particularly before a client has wasted time and money on the property, is one of the prime characteristics of good real estate agents. Whether or not you spot them is not the determining factor as to whether these issues are present, nor does keeping quiet make them go away. Even when called upon the facts, however, many sellers and their agents will still try to brazen it out in the best tradition of the communist party, by denying the issue. Several years ago, when buyers outnumbered sellers 4 to 1, many of them got away with it. Getting away with it is a lot less likely in a buyer's market like today. Furthermore, deceits of this nature are fertile ground for lawsuits, but despite the fact that it is far better - for both buyer and seller - to deal with all of the issues in a straightforward manner, there will always be those who think they can vanish with the money if only they can get that money wired into their account. They can't, but it can be more trouble than it's worth to track them down. Better just to deal with the issue in the first place, even if it's by choosing not to pursue that property.

When a good agent takes a listing, they have all the issues from appropriate pricing on down the line dealt with before the property actually hits MLS. The seller has to have restrictive showings? Reflect it in the asking price and tell everybody when and why in the property profile. There's an issue with the property? Make it clear in the property profile - showings where the prospective buyer aren't willing to deal with the issue do nobody any good. Even if you can hide it temporarily, you can't hide it forever, and the effects when the deception are discovered are going to hurt more than if you were honest in the first place.

When a good agent considers a property for their client's purchase, they consider it complete with shortcomings. If there's an issue with traffic, noise, structure, schools, or anything else, I want my client to be aware of it, and I want to have a plan to deal with it in negotiations, before my client says they want to put an offer in. Yes, this makes it more difficult to persuade a client to put an offer in, but if your agent hasn't explained that there is no such thing as a perfect purchase situation long before you get to the stage of making offers, something is wrong. I haven't seen a property yet that was an exception to this. They've all got problems and issues. The question is whether these problems and issues are ones that the client is comfortable dealing with. Even if there are no other problems, the issue then becomes, "Is your client happy paying the extra money not to have them?"

Any time the problem gets in front of an agent, they are playing catch-up, much like a Cessna pilot trying to handle a high-performance military jet. It's controlling them more than they are controlling it, and the same applies to real estate. Pilots have a saying to the effect of "he (or his body) got to the crash site fifteen minutes after the airplane." Real estate is no different, except the time lag is usually measured in months instead of minutes, and only gets caught up when a lawsuit is filed. I've seen agents - usually "team leaders" trying to pack in more business than they can really handle - so far behind the power curve on actually solving real problems for their clients that the client would have been better off with a fresh licensee on their first transaction, who at least aren't so busy delegating that they can keep track of what they need to know and what they need to deal with before it bites their client. Those subsidiary functions that busy high producing agents "delegate" to lower paid "team members" (which is 95% industry code for "poorly trained low-paid employees who have no idea how that piece of paper relates to everything else about the transaction but enable the agent they work for to rake in more commission checks")? You'd be surprised how often the details that bite agent and client both are buried in them, and any time an agent puts their focus on production, the quality is going to suffer. A better agent may not live so high on the hog, but their clients come out of the transaction much happier.

Caveat Emptor


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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on February 20, 2008 7:00 AM.

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