The Internet is an absolutely wonderful tool. I would guess that relatively few people use or know how to use the Internet much better than I do. The availability of services and products that you can reach through the Internet is truly astounding. Those services and products that I can get at the click of a button make my life easier.
Yet sometimes even I get absolutely sick of people trying to force the round Internet peg way of doing things into the square peg of what people need. It's especially irritating when the transparency of their desire to get rich is so obvious.
The case in point would be a NY Times article forwarded to me by Stephen, a good friend who probably knew that the text would rattle my cage. The article, "The Last Stand of the 6-Percenters?," talks a good deal about Redfin an on line real estate firm. Refin's revolution is that it rebates a good chunk of traditional commissions back to its "customers." The article goes on to talk about how the commission system in real estate doesn't benefit either sellers, buyers, or real estate agents. And it talks about the wonderful benefits of using the Internet but how real estate agents control the information so that very little information is available on the Internet.
In fact the article has the following quote.
"You can find out more on the Internet about an eBay Beanie Baby than you can about a $1 million house," said Glenn Kelman, chief executive of Redfin, a licensed broker in Washington State and California.
That my friends is pure poppycock or the not so pure stuff you clean out of a bull's pen with a pitch fork. I've just spent the last three summers looking for the right spot on the North Carolina coast. I worked with real estate agents and used the Internet extensively. The comment by Glenn Kelman is little more than self-serving marketing. At my request I'm still getting announcements of new listings from the agent who eventually helped us find the right property. I've gone to the effort of editing out, changing or erasing information so that the following glance into the MLS system is pretty generic. I encourage you to click on this link and tell me how much more information, you would want. You might want some of the stuff that I've erased like the location, directions, price, and legal description of the property. You might want the days the property has been on the market, which is something our agent always made sure we knew about.
Then again maybe you want to click on the map button to see the lot size in relation to other lots or perhaps you would like to see the one in one hundred years flood zone or the wetlands. Then there are the pictures or sometimes virtual tours which I sure anyone who has spent some time looking at real estate on line has seen. Of course you can check Zillow.com to see if the tax value of the house is available. Try entering your own house. You should remember that tax value usually does NOT match market value. I guess they really document those Beanie Babies on eBay.
So if the real estate system is working so badly why aren't more people other than Mr. Kelman who stands to make a fortune screaming for change? Well the likely answer is that people are pretty well satisfied with the current system which has a tremendous amount of flexibility.
If you don't like the current system, nothing stops you from putting up a for sale by owner sign and selling your own house. Perhaps you might want to ignore the statistics considering the source, but people who sell their own homes (FSBO) didn't do as well as those helped by agents according Realtor.com.
....the typical FSBO home sold for $198,200 compared to $230,000 for agent-assisted home sales.
There are plenty of organizations out there to help people sell their homes without a traditional broker. My expectation is that if this worked really well, regular real estate agents would be out of business already. As a buyer you're free to buy one of those houses or go knocking on doors and try to buy whatever house strikes your fancy. If you're a "For Sale By Owner" and want to put up information about your house, go to it if you know how and have access to a web site. May your site get all the traffic you know how to bring to it.
Now perhaps I have a little twisted view of the situation since I spent three summers looking for a beach house and eventually got so I enjoyed real estate so much that I'm now on the road to becoming a real estate broker in North Carolina some time in the future, assuming I can pass another test and meet my continuing education requirements. I also found our house with the expert help of a human real estate agent willing to pound the pavement with us and for us. All my Internet experience wasn't the key to success. A great traditional real estate agent with local experience was how we ended up being successful.
Yet part of the reason I'm headed to a future as a real estate broker myself is that after the three long summers, I really see the benefits that an outstanding agent can bring to the table. There's a true value proposition in the relationship between agent and client. In these days of humans being replaced by machines or Internet sites, that's rare, and I would like to be part of it for as long as it lasts. You get to help people find their dreams, and actually that's a lot of fun. It's a satisfying job. I can see myself applying that same dedication that we got from our agent to the needs of my clients. There will be plenty of frustrations, but I don't know of a job that is without those unless maybe writing less than correct articles for the NY Times is. :)
It's interesting to note that in the Times article, a Mr. Wolf, who used Redfin, refers to himself and others as "customers." That is significant since anyone who has just come out of a real estate pre-licensing course will tell you there is a huge difference between clients and customers. Actually real estate agents are required by law to explain this difference to you. Then you get to pick whether you want to be a client or a customer.
There are real estate agents who focus on listing houses. Their clients are the sellers and the real estate agents have a fiduciary responsibility to them to get the best possible prices for their houses. These listing agents have a signed a contract to deliver a "ready, willing, and able" buyer to the seller. At the point the seller has received a signed offer meeting the conditions he or she set out in their listing, they can still choose to not sell his or her house, but the seller will likely still owe a commission to his real estate agent who did the job specified in their contract with the seller. Most listings I've been told specify how much the listing agent is willing to pay another agent who delivers a buyer. How a buyer's agent gets paid seems negotiable.
So I wonder why an agent wouldn't want a buyer for their clients house? My guess is that Redfin is trying to strong arm the agents into taking less than what is specified in the contract they have already signed with the sellers. I have heard that MLS systems are very localized so I'm sure you can find ones that might be tough to partner with from the perspective of Redfin, but you can also just go to the next county if you're having challenges. It is against the law to regulate commissions or to try to standardize them. If you and a real estate broker can't agree on a commission structure, try another one. No one says or can say you have to pay six per cent.
I'm pretty sure the system we have today is flexible enough to meet the varied needs of all sorts of buyers and sellers. If Redfin's model is the one model of the future, I would be very surprised. I own Amazon.com stock, but I don't buy every book from Amazon. I still value local book sellers. I've bought cars over the Internet, but the last two I bought through local car dealerships. The test drive and service were important to me on those two vehicles.
If this is really the "Last Stand of the Six Percenters" as Damon Darlin's article in the NY Times would have us believe, then people should at least know that agents working for a company end up splitting their commissions with their companies. Unless the agent has no company behind him or her, it is unlikely that they are getting a full six percent. They aren't getting nearly as much money off a single sale as some would have you believe. Also the marketing costs of selling a listing are born by the agent.
If the agents disappear, then the buyers should remember "Caveat emptor," because there will no longer be agents around who are required by law to disclose material defects. The sellers' requirements actually vary depending on state.
Then after these buyers have bought their house for less, perhaps they will also enjoy selling it for less. It's interesting that of the last three houses we've bought, all three have been in the neighborhoods where our real estate agents lived or were going to build houses.
Darlin's article makes a big deal out of the average real estate agent only making $49,300. It's pretty hard to make an argument using $49,300 that real estate agents are pillaging either buyers or sellers. I don't exactly see how commissions as low as Redfin's helps the real estate agents. Even with the current weakening of the market in some states, it's also hard to convince me that the current system hasn't brought great benefits to most homeowners.
As to the small average income, just maybe not everyone wants to make a pile of money. Perhaps the author neglects to understand the other benefits of the job, such as being an independent contractor largely able to succeed or fail through their own efforts or scheduling of their own time. Maybe there could be other things that motivate good agents like helping people find their dream spots or sharing their dream neighborhoods with others. There are lots of other professions where the average is under $49,300 per year. A number of real estate agents I've talked to agree that they're willing to trade money for control over their own jobs. Finding a job that lets you do that is also a rarity in today's workplace.
My suggestion is that if you've been living in an area for ages, you might well be able to buy your own home with very little professional help, but if you sign up to a buyer's agent agreement with a good agent, you are likely to get yourself a better deal with a lot less work. If you're selling your home, the numbers suggest that you'll do better with a seller's agent, but if you want to do it yourself, there are lots of way to accomplish that.
If you're going into a new area and think you can buy the best house for your needs without the help of some local expertise, I wish you luck. Just maybe you haven't bought as many properties as I have. As I think back on the ones that I bought through real estate agents and the ones that I didn't, it's pretty clear to me that I got a better deal on the ones that I bought with the help of agents. I have no question we've done better selling with the help of agents.
The cool thing is that with selling and buying real estate, no one is forcing you to do it one way or the other. The idea that information on the Internet is restricted by real estate agents so that a poor struggling Internet company can't provide information to its customers is just another Internet get rich quick scheme, if you don't believe me try searching a few MLS systems yourself. You'll be stunned by all the information there.
If you're a serious buyer, pre-qualified for a mortgage, and not someone just playing "let's go look at houses" on Sunday afternoon, make sure you call me when you find a listing agent who won't take you to see one of his or her listings because I need a photo of that idiot.
Just as I choose to not always shop at SAMs' Club or to not always buy things over the Internet, so will I always choose to be situational when buying or even selling something big like a house or a car. As someone I respect says regularly, what I do "depends" on the situation. I read the local paper in hard copy and subscribe on line to the New York Times. I asked my wife which is the easiest to do, buy clothes through LL Bean's on line catalogue or call them by telephone with a paper catalogue by your side? She quickly replied, a phone and a paper catalogue. I would agree.
Use the Internet, just realize that people can still be of tremendous value in the real estate equation. Sometimes local knowledge can't be shoehorned into a computer. Some things are perhaps better bought straight from the web. Yet the Internet can be a square peg in some round holes, and once in a while the real goal of an Internet based business isn't so much doing something better, but actually figuring out how to get themselves rich faster without perhaps providing you with all the services you might end up wanting or needing.
There aren't many free lunches out there, and you rarely get more than you pay for even on the Internet.