General Real Estate: March 2007 Archives

People ask for referrals all the time, and many folks will stumble all over themselves to provide referrals. Some of them really are excellent providers. Others are not so good, but the person providing the referral has an agenda of their own, and you have to be aware of the possibility. Never give anyone your business without shopping it around just because someone referred you to a certain provider.



In many cases, the reason why you are referred to Company X Realty or Company Y Loans has nothing to do with any allegations of them being an efficient, diligent, effective or inexpensive provider of those services. Number one on the list of reasons why people tell you about X Realty or Y Loans is because company X or company Y refers business back to them. This isn't illegal, but when you ask a real estate agent for a referral to a low cost mortgage provider and you get referred to one of the ones that's competing on the basis of consumer name recognition, you should realize that the mortgage providers with national advertising campaigns are not among the low cost providers. For analogous reasons, I usually advise people to stay away from the national realty chains, even if they're not local to me. But I digress. The point is that the person who refers you to this person is effectively getting paid by referring you to them. Not exactly a sterling reason to trust their motivations in making this referral.



Indeed, this is one of the ways that lenders in particular avoid competing on price. Ladies and gentlemen, so long as it is the same type loan on the same terms, a loan is a loan is a loan. The only real difference is the tradeoff between rate and cost, or, in other words, price. But lenders do not want to compete on price, because that means they don't make very much money. In fact, they want to avoid competing on price, and the captive audience from referral business is one prime example of how they do it. Joe Realtor sends Jane Lender business because Jane refers business right back to Joe Realtor, and because the client has been told that Jane Lender gives great loans at a great rate, the client doesn't shop loan providers like they might otherwise have done, leaving Jane a freer hand to charge a higher markup.



These are not the only reasons why referrals happen. For instance, here in San Diego, many real estate agents will refer to one particular loan officer because they know that loan officer won't tell the client any inconvenient truths, such as, "You cannot really afford this house." They refer to this loan officer because that loan officer will just keep their mouth shut and put the negative amortization loan through, and everybody gets their commission check. But this sort of thing happens in markets where there are affordability issues for the average person.



Finally, explicit kickbacks are illegal, and there are limits on how often Joe and Jane can buy each other dinner out or whatever arrangement they have to transfer wealth, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen sometimes. After all, there aren't any Department of Real Estate employees following Joe and Jane around 24 hours per day, so this kind of stuff gets hidden all the time. I've had more than one blatantly illegal offer of referrals for kickbacks since I've been in the business. Some of these folks are brazen. No, there's no percentage in turning them in, either. This is one of those situations the saying about, "No good deed goes unpunished," was invented for. One guy who did turn someone in years ago told me about the thousands of dollars in legal fees he incurred, plus three years of investigation that shows up on your license as an unresolved complaint. No thank you. Sometimes, you have to content yourself with remaining apart from any illegalities, while warning people that this sort of thing does happen.



Caveat Emptor

 



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