Choosing Buyer's Agents By Commission Rebate: Penny Wise, Dollar Foolish

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I got this email the other day, responding to one of my Hot Bargain Properties posts on my other site:


I am currently working with a coworker with no agreement. However, she has offered to rebate 50% of her commission. Are you negotiable with your commission?

I am very ready to buy a place at a bargain or discounted price. I have been pre approved by DELETED for $550 but I do not want to spend more than $525, preferably around the $450 range.

I have sufficient liquid funds for 10% down and have an excellent credit score...score 3 months ago was 752.

Let me know.

Now, I do have lower cost and commission rebate packages for when buyers bring me transactions that have the property at least settled upon. The reason is that not only is there much less work to be done done, but I'm providing a lot less value in those circumstances. I'm not going out and going over dozens of properties, eliminating eighty percent of them before taking them around to see the good stuff. I'm not doing background checks on all those properties, looking for issues. At the point that the property is settled on, at least half of the value a good buyer's agent brings in is already moot. We've already dealt with the issue of which property (or properties) are worthy of making an offer on. Now we're down to negotiations, where I still provide a lot of value, facilitation of the transaction, which any real estate agent worthy of their license can do, and looking out for problems, which starts earlier when I'm locating the property, but when you have title companies and building inspectors and appraisers getting into the act and getting paid, it becomes easy. It's no longer a matter of spotting the issue before an offer is made, it's a matter of dealing with the issue if and when it pops up. Much easier, much less time consuming, and much less liability on my part. When you've decided to make an offer before I even come into the picture, there is no issue with whether my representations caused you to make an offer on the property when you would not otherwise have done so. I haven't been sued yet, but that's the number one cause of real estate lawsuits. Sometimes it's an unscrupulous agent telling the folks that the airport is going to close, but sometimes it's also people who think the agent said something they did not in fact say, and sometimes it's people who make something up due to buyer's remorse. If you've already decided to make an offer, that whole issue is gone. Liability? Much less. Amount of work done and time invested? Way less. Amount of value provided to buyers? Also much lower. So yes, I'll work for less in those situations.

When I'm responsible for finding the property, I retain the entire commission.

Yes, consumers getting half the buyer's agent commission seems like a good idea on the face of it. One to 1.5 percent of a purchase price in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But how much value do those agents really provide? Consider: Did that agent find them something as interesting as the property they emailed me on? If the agent they were working with was finding them properties like that, there would be no need and no interest in working with me, and they wouldn't be asking about this property I found. If that agent spent enough time shopping the market that she even knows what is and is not a bargain, this person would never have contacted me. Does she look for problems and issues or does she just say "Here is the living room," and try to talk you into making an offer on every property? What value is that other agent providing you? If the answer is, "not much," then no wonder she's willing to rebate half the commission! As far as she's concerned, the half she does keep is free money for going around and looking with you. My goal is that my clients end up with at least 10% they would not have had without me - either a better property for the same money, or the same value property for a lower price, or some combination of the two. Now, if getting half of a two point five percent commission via rebate sounds better than saving 10% of the value of the property, or getting a property 10% more valuable for the same price, by all means keep shopping agents who rebate commission. If getting a property that is worth more, or paying less for the same property, is what you are after, you need someone who is likely to deliver that, and those discounters business model does not allow them to invest the time and energy to do so. Quite frankly, if they don't make a habit of it, they aren't likely to have the necessary expertise, even if they wanted to.

You may ask about how this squares with my attitude about loans. Yes, I'm one of the deepest loan discounters there is. That's because a loan is a loan is a loan, as long as it's on the same terms, and most folks qualify for better loans than they get. A thirty year fixed from National Megabank is the same loan as a thirty year fixed from the Bank of Nowhere in Particular, provided the rate, costs, and terms are the same. Only difference is who you make the check out to.

Real estate is on the polar opposite end of that scale. No two properties are alike. Especially in the current market, the difference between shopping smart and not doing so is multiple tens of thousands of dollars, far more than a commission rebate. I don't rebate buyer's commissions because I provide more than that in value. In my estimation, and that of the people who are working with me, it's money well spent. You get what you pay for.

Good buyers agents make a habit of looking for real bargains, whether or not they have a client it's appropriate for. It's called market knowledge. With market knowledge, a good agent can not only identify the ones that are bargains, you are able to negotiate better terms on those bargains. Good buyer's agents usually have bargains they know about that they just haven't found the appropriate client for yet. If you'd like to work with them and get shown these bargains, or have them go looking for bargains specifically for you, there is a price to be paid, and that price is that they make a little more money than the do-nothing discounter. You don't pay it, at least not directly, the listing agent does, and through them, the seller. If you believe that the final price might be somewhat higher to reflect that, you would have some justice on your side, provided you don't consider the value in locating the bargain property, the value in negotiating for a better price, and the value in avoiding problems before they happen, or dealing with them in initial negotiations rather than at the end of escrow. If you don't see the value, then not only are you saying that you don't see the solution, but that you don't understand that there is an issue. This indicates someone on the first level of competence: The unconscious incompetent. Not only do you not know how to do it, you don't realize that there is acquired knowledge and acquired skill involved.

Now a good agent who knows they provide value should have no difficulties asking only for a non-exclusive buyer's agent contract. if you don't like what that agent does, if you do not agree that there is value in that agent's approach, this leaves you free to stop working with them at any time and go work with someone else. If the agent doesn't perform, as in find and deliver a property that you agree is more "bang for the buck" than you would otherwise have gotten, by all means go work with the bump on a log who splits the buyer's commission with you.

If you want a Yugo agent that breaks down in the middle of the transaction and leaves you stranded, that's no skin off my nose, but you are not the client I'm looking for and the bargains I find are for my clients. I am neither obligated nor inclined to share them with people who want to use some other agent. Go find them yourself if you don't think I'm providing value. Just the knowledge that something like that is available should be a large amount of help. But if you can't, perhaps you might consider that perhaps I might be providing a certain amount of real value for my pay?

Very few people reading this are likely to be receiving minimum wage for their employment. If you are not prepared to concede that it is possible for more skilled, more knowledgeable people to deliver a more valuable product, whether that product is service or commodity, what possible justification do you have in making more than minimum wage? For that matter, unless you are one of those people whose work has to be done on site, why isn't your job being done by some subsistence level worker in a Fifth World hellhole? Even if we limit ourselves in the application of this principle to qualified and licensed people here in the United States, my guess is that your boss could probably hire other people to do your job more cheaply, but his additional investment in you probably makes him more money than that cheap replacement worker would save, and that's the reason you are worthy of your pay. This very same reason is why I am also worthy of my pay.

By the characteristics they are claiming, the person with the email at the top of the article is a very qualified buyer. Don't you think that should be working with someone who knows how to use that as leverage to get them a better bargain? Suppose they weren't so qualified. Don't you think it might be in their best interest to have an agent who knows how to structure a transaction so that it can work, and can help avoid wasting time and money on properties and transactions where it can't and sellers who do not have the option of working with them in the requisite way?

Or you can pay full price for a mediocre property, and console yourself with a rebate for much smaller amount of cash, that when you consider the entire situation, is a fraction of the money that came out of your pocket but didn't have to. Pay too much, and get a check back for at most a fifth of it in cash. Sound like a good deal to you? Maybe you didn't pay cash for the property, but then you've got a loan, and you paid additional fees based upon the size of that loan, and interest because you borrowed that money, and more in property taxes because you paid more than you should have. All of this eats away at money you would otherwise have in your pocket and equity that you would otherwise have in the property. Just because there's no explicit dollar figure on it doesn't make it any less real. How would you feel about writing a check drawn directly on your net worth for some unknown amount? Not so hot? That's what you are doing by using some bump on a log discounter who basically allows you to keep a percentage of what they provided no real value to earn. This is one of the largest transactions of your life. Scrimping on the compensation of the person who has the knowledge and skills to save you many times what they cost is almost as intelligent as OJ Simpson hiring a cheap lawyer. Even though I hope that you haven't been accused of murder, using a less skillful agent means you wasted money. Even though that's not a crime and you did it to yourself, it's still nothing beneficial to your overall financial picture.

Caveat Emptor

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 22, 2013 7:00 AM.

Top Ten Reasons Your House Isn't Selling was the previous entry in this blog.

Lump Sum Payments on a Mortgage and Alternative Investments For the Same Money is the next entry in this blog.

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