Finding a Good Buyer's Agent (And Eliminating Bad Ones)

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I hear people complain that they've never had a good buyer's agent, that they can't find one, or that they one they had hosed them (Sometimes, they're wrong about that, by the way). I also regularly get email from people claiming they did fine without one, often despite evidence in their own email that says they didn't.

Finding a good buyer's agent is trivial. Literally as easy as moving your eyes and turning your head to look around. Open your phone book. Run a search engine. You get the idea. At last resort, stick your head out the window and yell. Seems you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a real estate agent.

The one thing to understand, and you need to understand it before you start looking, is that for every good buyer's agent out there, there's at least one not so good one. The best way to handle this is by giving every agent who wants one a chance to work with you. You have literally nothing to lose beyond a little bit of your time. But while you shouldn't give anyone an exclusive agreement, there is no reason whatsoever not to sign a non-exclusive representation agreement. A non-exclusive buyer's agency agreement is quite literally a bet that consumers cannot lose. And here's the rub: The agents who won't work without an exclusive contract are the ones that can't really compete. The agents who will work on a non-exclusive basis are the ones that know they're good. I don't care whether someone is working with just me, or has ten other agents on the line. I am willing to make the bet that in heads up competition, I can beat anyone else. If I'm wrong, then I get the important benefit of knowing I need to improve. And the agents who are not willing to make that bet are among the ones you should avoid at all costs. Nor does the mere fact you have an agreement mean you must continue to work with them. On the contrary, all of the good agents maintain something close to a "fire me at any time!" policy - it's implicitly part of the non-exclusive agreements I advocate.

There are only two reasons why you didn't get a good buyer's agent: ignorance and not trying. Ignorance as in you don't know that a listing agent is working to get the best deal for the seller. That is their contractual and fiduciary duty. A seller wants the highest price, quickest sale, with the fewest problems possible, and it is the listing agent's responsibility to see that they get it. If you bought when there was a better property cheaper, if the seller would have negotiated a better deal, if you don't understand that the disclosure they bury in the middle of 425 other pieces of paper is really important, that's not the listing agent's problem. Ignorance as in you don't know how critically important it is to get expert help in the biggest transaction of your life. Ignorance as in you didn't do the tiny bit of research that lets you know not to sign an exclusive agency agreement. Ignorance as in you don't know how much you don't know about putting all of the information in the proper context, whether something is trivial or whether it really is a deal killer - information you have no hope of knowing unless you make a habit of buying and selling real estate in this area. Ignorance as in you don't know that the number one set up for buyers who spend too much to buy properties they should not have considered purchasing at all is that they don't have an expert on their side.

Not trying explains itself. You just didn't try, whether because you thought it wasn't important (there's that ignorance factor again), or because you thought you could save yourself money by not having one (ignorance yet again). Go ahead and tell that to a roomful of agents sometime. Buyer's agents or listing agents or both, it makes no difference. The good ones will all laugh because no matter how often they hear it, they've learned enough that it's still funny, and we're always encountering examples. If it isn't the funniest thing I've ever heard, it's a real contender. When I try to explain what they did wrong to people who ask, they say something like, "You're blowing the tiny details way out of proportion!", usually in quite a defensive manner. Ladies and Gentlemen, real estate is all about the details - lots and lots of details. Details ad nauseum, and even small details can make a difference of tens of thousands of dollars in the value of a property. Furthermore, it is precisely those details upon which your agent will be judged. It doesn't do yourself any favors to pretend you didn't cost yourself four or five times or more what you saved. If your agent was yourself, look in the mirror for the person to blame. There is no one else. If the ego thing is more important to you than the money, that's fine, but you need to admit it to yourself at least. Otherwise, get a buyer's agent before you start looking. A good buyer's agent is far more important than a listing agent. There is no other factor that even compares for predicting how well you will do in real estate. Get more than one if you like. As long as you don't sign any exclusive agreements, you can always hire more and fire the bad ones you already have.

The big thing to evaluate agents on is not experience, but attitude. Not have they been doing transactions for eighty-three years, but are they going to tell you about the problems and issues they see with this property? I would work with a brand new agent with the ink still wet on their license who will bring your attention to issues over the most experienced agent in the world who won't. Heck, I'd advise still working with the newbie even if the more experienced agent also will. In my personal experience, an agent who says "I've been doing real estate for 57 years!" is most likely about to tell you what they've been doing wrong for all those years. Experience doesn't make it right, particularly in the face of the complexity of real estate and the fact that most state regulators don't know any more than beginning consumers, and it can be almost impossible to prosecute for some of the worst abuses there are (e.g. buying listings)

It may take some cut and try for find a good agent, but firing a bad one takes no effort and shouldn't require a confrontation - if you signed the right agreement in the first place. You just stop working with them. Whereas if you sign an exclusive buyer's agency agreement, firing a bad one takes a formal release, and you can't force them to do it. It's bad business, but probably the majority of brokerages won't sign such a release. What they'll do is talk like they will, in order to get you into the office, but if they can't get you calmed down or substitute another agent, they refuse to actually sign. If you sign a non-exclusive agency agreement, on the other hand, you just stop working with them. If there was something they showed you that you liked enough to buy, you would have already made an offer. Furthermore, you probably wouldn't want to fire them. Therefore, you just leave that agreement in place and stop working with them, and your problem is solved. Pretty neat, huh?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on January 25, 2020 7:00 AM.

Real Estate is More Local Than Most People Think was the previous entry in this blog.

Lipstick on a Pig: Selling the Property You Should Never Have Bought is the next entry in this blog.

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