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It's a well known fact that not all factors in real estate are equally important, and not all property investments perform equally well. A critical part of successfully choosing the right property, whether it's for investment or personal use, lies in realizing that some things about a given property are completely under your control once you purchase, some things are only controllable by large groups of people acting in concert, and a few things can't be changed at all.

There are graduations among the three, in fact, it's more or less a continuous spectrum from picking up a piece of trash to weather and earth movement. Just because you can't control it doesn't mean you can't take it into account before you decide on where to spend your money. Once you've bought, of course, you're stuck with what events happen to have an effect upon that given location. Just because there hasn't been an earthquake there in 6000 years of recorded history doesn't mean it's impossible for there to be an earthquake. But if the area has a history of earthquakes, fires, landslides, you name it, or even just a known susceptibility, you're wise to take it into account. This extends into human controlled areas as well. Never been so much as loitering within ten miles? Nice, but that doesn't stop the head of the local mob from buying the house next door to yours later on, or the FBI from renting it for their Witness Protection Program (and no, that's one neither you nor I am likely to find out unless and until gunfire starts, but that doesn't stop the crooks looking for those witnesses!). One of the aspects of this being a free country is that bad people are also pretty much equally free to go where they want unless they're actually in confinement somewhere.

There are, however, all sorts of known factors about a property that you can consider, and a good agent can really hep you with. Sometimes it's a matter of capability (whether you can), sometimes of knowledge, sometimes of willingness, and sometimes, of visualization, whether you can really visualize the place with the changes made.

Knowing that difference is money.

Serious money, especially in a high cost area like mine. Knowing what you can change and what is beyond your control. Knowing what stuff costs, in general, is a really valuable piece of knowledge for an agent, and whether it's likely to be worth the money you spend.

Some stuff, like trash in the yard, paint on the walls, and carpet on the floors, is so easy to change it doesn't hardly register. Yes, good carpet costs thousands of dollars, but it's worth every penny at sale time. Paint is cheaper. Window coverings, All of this is superficial, and can be changed easily, but unless you're an experienced agent you would not believe how many times I've heard arguments against purchasing a property that amount to "I don't want to have to spend $4000 to save $40,000!" from buyers. Then they go out and buy another property for that $40,000 more, and stillspend that $4000 - or more - changing out the already good looking stuff that was already there for other good looking stuff, when they could have saved $40,000 off the purchase price by simply realizing they were going to replace it anyway, and buying the property with trashed carpet in the first place. I don't care how often I've seen it. It still blows my mind, every time. And if you're looking to sell, by all that's holy, you'll make a lot more dealing with it yourself than giving Martha Stewart Jr. a carpet allowance. The idea is that you want as much of Martha's money in your pocket as possible! By giving an allowance, sellers not only lose the money several times over in the sales price, they're also volunteering to pay some of the money they do get right out again!

Appliances. Why in the nine billion names of god are some buyers so particular about the appliances? The vast majority of appliances are personal property and are going to go away with the current owner. Who cares if the refrigerator is avocado green now? It's going away. If the owners do leave it, I know places that will pay you money for the privilege of hauling away functional appliances, and then you can put your burnt orange one in its place. Even if the appliances are attractive, unless they're built into the property, they're going away. It's not like it's going to be hard finding a stylish modern replacement. But when you're selling, it really is a good way to sucker more money out of people, and unless you build it in or agree to leave it in the sales contract - a concession the buyers will pay dearly for - you get to take them with you! How cool is that?

Surfaces are a little harder, but I do not understand why people are willing to reward current previous owners who built in things like granite counter tops or travertine floors. Actually, I do. It's all part and parcel of that same desire that Mr. and Ms. Middle Class want to have their home be beautiful, so they'll spend $50,000 more to buy the property that's beautiful now, and then they'll come along and replace all that beautiful stuff with equally beautiful stuff that's more in line with their taste. But granite counter tops, travertine floors, etcetera aren't all that expensive to put in (why do you think they're so popular with developers now?) and they do age. If you stay in the property twenty years, you're going to want to put in new ones before you sell. But guess what? You paid all of that opportunity cost, and interest on all of that cost, all of these years, and now you're having to install new ones just to come close to breaking even on what you've already spent. Smart Investors are looking for the properties where they can get those bumps up in value themselves by putting them in and flipping the property off to Mr. and Ms. Middle Class.

Similar to all the preceding examples, lighting is a relatively cheap investment that pays off. Lots of nice bright soft lumens. Some people will pay big bucks without realizing why, not to mention that light bulbs are both cheap and easy to change and the wiring lasts basically forever, so you can fix it up after you own it, enjoy it all those years you live in it, and still get the bump up in value when you go to sell. Providing, of course, you or your agent has the presence of mind to recognize the opportunity, and you don't insist on having it already in place.

Not quite so easy are windows for natural light. It's very hard to go wrong with too many windows, or too big. Just don't sabotage your structural support. And of course, you're cutting through walls. This isn't cheap; but it is often worth the money. Just like electrical lights. It'll make lots of folks willing to spend big bucks without understanding why.

This contrasts to bad or old wiring. It just won't hold the load modern dwellings need to, or doesn't have enough outlets. Back in the 1930s, one outlet per room was plenty. These days, code requires one per six linear feet of wall in new housing. The house I grew up in had a thirty five amp master fuse. That may not be enough for a linen closet, nowadays, but those houses are still out there. It isn't cheap to upgrade their wiring, but if you've got to do it, overkill isn't much more expensive. If you're running all new wiring and putting in new breakers and new outlets, the cost differential to make it way more robust than absolutely necessary is perhaps 1%. Instead of 500 amp service, consider at least doubling that. As long as you're putting in one outlet every six linear feet, make it a four or six plug outlet (with wiring robust enough to match). Point of fact, investors who flip rarely upgrade wiring - it doesn't pay off in sales price. But if you need to do it in order to make your family comfortable, overdo it. It doesn't cost any more per hour for an electrician to run bigger wires, install bigger breakers, or put in a bigger socket. So you spend $1 extra per outlet - if it keeps you from having to do it again, the money was well spent. There's been a steady increase in the amount of electrical load for the average house over the last eighty years or so. I wouldn't bet on that trend changing any time soon, and when you go to sell in five or twenty or thirty years, the electrical situation will still make buyers happy. Unless that house falls down around your ears in the meantime, you'll be glad you did. Here's another thing I don't understand: People will act like it's no big deal to upgrade the electrical service, even though it's much more costly than any of the stuff you've already read about. Maybe because they don't understand what's involved, or maybe because it's not obvious on the surface, but a house where the electrical grid will handle your requirements is easily worth $30,000 or more than one that won't - because if it won't, guess who's spending that money?

Towards the high end of the subspectrum involving personal control, you're pretty much stuck with the architecture. Put another room on that doesn't match, and people will start describing the house as "ramshackle". Houses where everything matches get more than houses where there are obvious mismatches. Short of hiring a bulldozer and starting over, your architecture is your architecture. Ditto basic construction. If it started with adobe, you'd do well to stay with adobe. If you don't like adobe, don't buy adobe.

Right at the extreme of possible personal control is the lot you're buying. Unless you can persuade one of your neighbors to sell, it is what it is. Don't count on that happening. If it's 4700 square feet, it's always going to be 4700 square feet. If it's next to a beach or next to a toxic waste dump, it's always going to be next to a beach or toxic waste dump.

Getting into things you can't control, but can influence, is the homeowner's association. If there's a homeowner's association, you can influence it by getting involved. You can't control it by yourself, and you can't make it go away, except by not buying where there's a HOA. Learn the rules, and learn the neighborhood, before you buy. If your rules aren't something you can abide by, be certain Mrs. Grundy is going to do her best to harass you into doing so. This starts at letters and goes through fines, and might even include foreclosure. If your neighbors are at war with each other before you buy, that's likely to continue indefinitely afterwards. Just because there's no war right now doesn't mean one won't start the instant you buy. The more recently it was built, and the higher end the property, the more likely it is there will be a HOA. If you buy where there's an HOA, it's more likely one of my grandfathers will give birth to triplets than that HOA will go away (FYI: if being old and male in a species where it's the female who gestates and rarely to more than one child at a time isn't enough for you, my grandfathers are dead). HOAs really are a good guardian of property values, but they sure can make an ordinary person who just wants to enjoy their property miserable.

You can't do a darned thing as an individual about the surrounding property, or the neighborhood. If all around you are 3 bedroom 1.75 bath properties that sell for $400,000, that's the mean your property will tend towards and be judged by. In some areas, $400,000 is a mansion. Around here, it's nothing nearly so grand. You may be able to get a little more if you've got a fourth bedroom, or an extra large lot, but a 6 bedroom 4 bath place will not be worth twice as much, simply because of the surroundings. In fact, it's unlikely you'll get more than 25% extra even if the property is a mansion, that being a relevant appraisal standard. Even if someone agrees to pay it (they won't), lenders won't lend based upon it. That property is a misplaced improvement. It's fine if you just happen to like the neighborhood, but don't expect that your house will sell for twice as much because it's twice as big or twice as nice. Three words: Not. Gonna. Happen. Keep this in mind when you're buying or upgrading your property, also. On the flip side, this can help properties that are below that neighborhood average. Everything around them pulls them up. But it also means that there's a sharp limit to the improvements that are worthwhile.

Traffic, whether you're on a busy street or a busy corner, parks, shopping and other neighborhood amenities, you can consider to be essentially fixed characteristics. No one individual controls them. Even if you get yourself elected mayor, you'll find yourself checked by the power of the rest of the government. There's nothing you can do to advantage yourself without disadvantaging someone else, and if you want the most primal scream of most suburban dwellers, talk to them about lowering property values. It sends people completely around the bend, mental health wise. Sometimes you get lucky and something good happens. Sometimes you get unlucky and the opposite occurs. But it's not under the control of any one person. Know this ahead of time. Acknowledge it to yourself, and worship at the altar of accepting these things as they are. By the way, if I were selling, I'd make certain your prospective buyer is aware of upcoming issues that may negatively influence the neighborhood. Even if you didn't know, if they can make a case that you should have, that may be good enough to win in the courts. It depends upon the jurisdiction. Talk to a lawyer in your area to be certain.

The geography of the land you can consider as fixed. Weather also. Even if you own a large enough parcel to move your house to a better location on the lot, or even to level that hill that's threatening to slide down on top of you every time it rains, your return on that investment is not going to repay the cash it costs you. Earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods. You might was well consider that the price tag includes a certain probability per year of each, be it large or extremely small.

Knowing, or learning, the difference between what you do and don't control, and what is and isn't profitable to upgrade, is a large part of the battle of finding a good property to invest in, whether you intend to flip in two months or whether you intend to live there for the rest of your life. A good agent, who's not dependent upon the tollbooth model of business, will be an immense help to the selection process or the sales process, and likely to make - or save - you enough money to pay their commission several times over, and more so if you include them in your planning process.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Here was an idea I had: Pack a list of the most important things consumers need to know about buying real estate, as packed into the words I can say in sixty seconds without sounding like an over-clocked squirrel. Here goes:


Figure out what you can really afford before you do anything else. Shop by purchase price, not payment, and refuse to look at properties which cannot believably be obtained within your budget.

Listing agents are contractually and legally obligated to sell the property as quickly as possible for the highest possible price. They represent sellers, not buyers. If the listing agent can sell you the property for $100,000 above comparable market price, they have done nothing except their job. Never allow the listing agent to represent you as a buyer.

Buyer's Agents represent buyers, not sellers, and having a good buyer's agent will make more difference than anything else to get you a better property value for less money. Get at least one buyer's agent before you start looking. Sign only non-exclusive buyer's agency contracts, insist they cover bad points as well as good on every property, and fire any agent that won't, or any agent that shows you a property that cannot be obtained within your budget.

There is no such thing as a perfect property, or the perfect time to buy real estate. Properties in immaculate condition command premium prices because the owners can get more money. If you want a bargain, be prepared to do some cosmetic work. A good buyer's agent will help you know what's cheap and easy to fix, versus what's difficult and expensive.

How was that?

Caveat Emptor


Original article here

One of the things that sticks out about buyer's markets is that there are two sorts of listings: Those who are willing to do whatever it takes, anything it takes, to get the property sold, and the other who apparently just likes having the property in MLS.

Many listing agents have made a habit of telling people that they can get more for the property than the next person over. Well, some can. But there really is no secret as to how they do it. They have the discussion to price the property correctly in the first place, and if the listing price isn't appropriate, they will not take the listing. I don't list many, but if someone is insistent upon a listing price that is too high for the market, I am better off not being part of that listing. Even if it does sell after two major price reductions for less than I likely would have gotten straight off, that client is going to be angry, not happy, and they will tell everyone it's my fault.

Indeed, if there ever is a market where listing agents can reliably get more than the value of the property, something I am pretty sure doesn't exist, the buyer's market is the furthest thing from it. What a good listing agent can get you is the full value of the property, but that's a very different value, and a very different mindset, in a buyer's market than it is in the seller's market San Diego had for most of the last decade.

Now, you need to ask yourself, "Why is this a buyer's market?" The answer is as simple as supply and demand. High supply and Low demand. Many people who want to sell, not very many at all who want to buy. Result: Those few buyers who are willing to be out there have all of the power. If this particular seller won't take the offer they make, the next one over, or the one after that, will.

Most sellers would agree that this is a challenge. Buyers think it's great. When I originally wrote this, sellers outnumbered buyers 44 to one. It's a real challenge to have a successful sale in such an environment.

What's a seller to do about this? Quite simply, ask yourself if you have to sell or if you have other options. If you have to sell, make up your mind that you are going to do whatever is required to make a transaction happen. This can be a lot: cleaning your house up, making it attractive, pricing it better than the competition, and not kidding yourself. The offer you are going to get still won't be anything like what you might have gotten when the market was hot, but that was when the ratio of sellers to buyers was about three to one, often less. You will be much more likely to get an offer, and remember, you decided that you need to sell.

Lest you think you aren't competing with other sellers, go find a real expert in your area to help you right now. In the entire history of United States real estate, no buyer ever bought a property because it was that seller's "turn." You are always competing against other sellers, but a buyer's market makes it far more obvious. Buyers make offers on your property because something is attractive to them where other properties are not. This can be features, this can be location, this can be willingness to do what other sellers are not, or this can be price. Usually it's a mixture. In the sort of market like when I originally wrote this - remember that 44 to 1 ratio of sellers to buyers - it's likely to be all four in great heaping gobs.

If you don't need to sell in a buyer's market, get it off the market! If you are not going to accept a much lower price than it might have gotten when the market was hot, you are wasting your time. Those few buyers who are willing to get off the sidelines are bottom feeding and bargain hunting. If you have a better choice than feeding the bargain hunting and bottom feeding buyers, take it. If your property sits on the market, then when the market does turn back, the fact it sat on the market is going to count heavily against you. The agents in the area know that it sat, believe me. I was in a half day class the day I originally wrote this with several hundred other agents. Everybody I talked to agreed that the only transactions that were happening in that market were all happening completely on the buyer's terms. If you are not willing to meet those terms, you are not merely wasting your time, but actually sabotaging your future prospects of selling for a price that you would like.

If you are not willing to do what it takes to sell, get it off the market. Not only are you sabotaging your own future plans, you are adding to all of the excess inventory that's out there as a glut on the market. Indeed, for every additional property for sale in the neighborhood, people who are willing to do what it takes to sell the property are going to have to do a little bit more. Most often, this means "settle for a lower price than they might have gotten otherwise." Just the fact that there are 238 three bedroom houses listed in the same zip code gives buyers substantially more leverage than if there were fifty, or twenty. This drops the market that you are hoping you can use to sell the property two or five years from now, and gives it further to come back, which means that the pricing level will be lower when you go to sell your property for real. Individually, extra properties on the market may not make much of a difference, but collectively, they certainly do.

If you do need to sell in a buyer's market, get all traces of the "they'll do what I want" mindset out of your head. This isn't about pride, this isn't about profit, this isn't even about breaking even. This is about stopping the bleeding. We have established that if you do not need to sell, you shouldn't have your property on the market in this environment. But you do need to sell, which makes the alternative of taking less than you think the property might be worth better than the alternative of losing it completely. For as long as buyer's markets last, that is the attitude I (or any good buyer's agent) am cultivating in my buyer clients. If you won't sell, I'll talk to your lender after the foreclosure - if someone else has not already sold to me by then. When I wrote this, in San Diego, the only power sellers really had was the power to say, "no," and if your alternative is losing the property to foreclosure, a rational, informed person will pay thousands of dollars out of their own pocket instead, accepting offers way below what they owe on the property. And if that or something similar is not your alternative, then why is your property on the market at all? Why are you contributing to the apparent glut of supply to no good purpose?

Caveat Emptor

Original here

I went out previewing properties a couple days ago. That particular client's situation being what it is, I was concentrating on vacant properties. But over half the vacant properties in that area had restricted showing instructions. "Call agent first," or "call for appointment to see."

When the property is vacant, there just aren't any common reasons to restrict showing. It's not like the buyer's agent is going to surprise grandma in the shower or even could make off with the big screen TV. If you're really trying to sell it, if it's vacant, it's empty, at least of your stuff, and the stager's (if there is one) had better be insured. If there really is some reason to restrict showings, it should be somewhere on that listing report. But I'm seeing this schlock on lender-owned properties, where there is exactly zero reason for it, at least as far as the owner is concerned.

Sometimes, it goes so far that they will lie about availability. I call the agent about the property, and am told it's not available. I then get a friend to call as an interested party, and they're told it is still for sale. There just isn't a way to spin that as anything other than a gross and willful dereliction of the listing agent's obligations to his client.

What the listing agent is trying to do is control access, so that people like my clients have a gatekeeper. Why? So that the listing agent has the ability to block other agents from showing the property, therefore forcing people who want to view the property to become their clients also, and keep both halves of the commission (as well as forcing people to sign exclusive buyer's agency contracts just to see it). If the offer they bring in isn't as good, or isn't as quick (thereby costing the owner money), they still made twice as much or more in commission if they represent the buyer as well.

I strongly suspect that many agents - and yes, I'm keeping track of who, even though I'll never share it - play gatekeeper with offers as well. I send over an offer, follow up, and I never hear back. I call the agent, and am informed my offer was rejected, but I never see anything with the client's signature or even initials. I don't list many, but when I do, every single offer gets a written response, even if it's just "Offer rejected!" signed by the owner. It's illegal for me (as a prospective Buyer's Agent) to contact the owner directly to confirm that they know about an offer, or I would. I could really get behind a law that said I could send a postcard to the owner that says: "Dear Mr./Mrs. X. My client made an offer on your property recently at 1234 Name Street. If you are already aware of this, please disregard this notice. If you are not, please contact your listing agent about the details. If they cannot satisfy you as to whether you previously saw it, please direct all complaints to the California Department of Real Estate at XXX-XXX-XXXX." Boy would that be a good use for postage. Agents who did their job would have nothing to fear; agents who failed would be out of the business fast.

The motivations of the seller are to show that property as often as possible, to as many people as possible. No showing means no offer. No offer means no sale. Therefore, anything which is a nonessential impediment to showing that property should be dealt with, and agent restrictions are one of these. Believe me, I understand about not wanting client phone numbers in MLS databases, because the last time I had a listing decide they wanted to postpone the listing (therefore withdrawing it from MLS), they told me they got over a hundred solicitations from agents who ignored both the "do not call" list and the fact that I still had a valid listing contract at the time, which they didn't bother to ask about. It's illegal to solicit another agent's listing in California. If it wasn't, people who list their properties would be getting phone solicitations from 8 AM until 9 PM every day, and the junk mail would kill entire forests.

But the seller, whether they realize it or not, wants their property shown as often as possible, to as many people as possible. That's how you get get good offers, or even better, multiple offers that you can play off one another. Anytime you make it more difficult for anyone to view your property, you make it less likely they will view it, less likely they will make an offer, and less likely that it will be a good offer. The sharks out there don't care about viewing restrictions. They're willing to make their low-ball offers sight unseen, albeit with inspection contingencies. And even a shark's offer is better than no offer if you need to sell.

So how does a Buyer's Agent deal with problem personality listing agents? About the only thing I can do is not waste my time and most especially that of my clients on their nonsense. The only one with the power to deal with such antics is owner of the property. Just insisting that you want to see all offers isn't enough. How are you going to know? You can ask that instructions go into MLS for making certain that you get duplicates of all offers. E-mail, fax number, address, or even a PO Box if you have one. Buyer's Agents can't bypass the Listing Agent, but they can send duplicates if the MLS instructs them to.

Even better is to insist that the Listing Agent forswear the possibility of Dual Agency, or they don't get the listing. In other words, no matter what, they will not get the Buyer's Agent's part of the commission. As I have said many times, make them pick a side of the transaction - yours - and stick to it. The listing agent can refer buyers to another agent, or the buyers can go without representation - it's not your problem. Actually, as a seller, you would prefer that the buyer go unrepresented. Not only will you get a better price from the poor fool, you get to keep the Buyer's Agent Commission. But this way, the listing agent has no motivation to not present offers from other agents, and you can give them a flat $1000 to handle the paperwork so they won't shoo suckers away. You are perfectly within your rights, by the way, to make whether you are going to pay a buyer's agent commission part of your decision making process on offers, but it isn't a good idea to make too big a deal out of it. Most of the reasonable offers you get will be represented by a Buyer's Agent of some stripe.

Nor does it demotivate them from open houses and all that. It is more likely that the people I meet at open houses will want to buy something else anyway. Oh, I do sell listings through open houses - but the one who actually buys that house due to the open house is usually a contact of the neighbor who comes in with no possibility of buying themselves. Curious neighbors at open houses may be the most likely source of the kind of sale price that makes clients happy - if you treat them correctly. Internet marketing is cheap and easy and effective enough that it's worth doing just to get the listing commission. And when the property goes into escrow and people call about the ad in the monthly magazine I put an ad in, well I just find something similar if not better to sell them. Remember that I'm always looking for bargains, and I've usually got several properties in mind where the sellers are more desperate than I ever allow my listings to get.

This isn't all of the games that listing agents play to try and get themselves a larger commission. Many try to require a pre-qualification letter from a particular lender, which is over the border into illegality, or even requiring that you use their loan brokerage, which a dead center violation of RESPA - no borderline about it. I ignore either of these requests, and I'm not above bringing the latter to the attention of the Department of Real Estate. The vast majority of all pre-qualifications are worthless. Nonetheless, the tactics I've suggested cover you against them pretty thoroughly. One more worthwhile tactic if you don't follow my advice about disallowing Dual Agency is to walk into their office at random intervals, and insist that they pull an agent report - as opposed to client report that is all the general public is usually allowed to see - for your property in your presence and give it to you. You are allowed to see agent reports on your own property (and only on your own property), as the privacy reasons that restrict agents from showing agent reports to the general public do not apply. Look at the showing instructions. Does it say what you want it to? Are the requests for making offers restrictive? If not, you may have legal grounds to terminate the listing, and you should want to, because the reason MLS evolved the way it has is to encourage the widest possible interest in your property. A listing agent who wants to restrict that so that they can receive both parts of the commission is moving you back into the days of the single listing half a century ago, and that is not in your best interest, not for price, not for timeliness of sale, and not for the ability of prospective buyers to actually qualify.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


Here's the real issue about commissions: They need to be structured to incentivize good results - rewarding those agents who do good work, and just as importantly, penalizing those who don't. The current structure, where the brokerage gets a flat percentage of official sales price - doesn't really motivate agents to perform. It really doesn't make a huge difference to the brokerage whether a property sells for $500,000 or $400,000. Assuming a 3% commission, they get $15,000 in the first case, while getting $12,000 in the second, despite that any monkey should be able to sell a $500k property for $400k. Basically, they get 80% of the reward for doing nothing (worse than nothing really), but that failure makes a huge difference for the property owners. If they owe $400,000, that's the difference between going on to their next property with about $60,000 in their pocket or coming up short about $30,000 and having to do a Short Payoff, with all of the resultant consequences to that family's future. Nonetheless, at 3% commission, all this means is the difference between $12,000 to the brokerage and $15,000. There is a dissonance between the interests of the owner, who this makes a $90,000 plus difference to, versus the agent who will still get 80% of the same paycheck if they do nothing but persuade the owner to accept the first lowball offer that comes along.

This dichotomy of interests encourages all sorts of games, from "buying a listing" (leading a homeowner to believe the property will sell for more than it will in order to secure the listing) to failing to negotiate hard to accepting too many listings to be properly serviced. If I can really service six listings, and I take ten, the individual selling prices will suffer while I make more money - ten times $12,000 is more than six times $15,000. Most agents - just like most people - will do what aligns with their personal interests.

The major alternatives - "net listing", where the consumer "nets" a certain amount and money over that goes to the brokerage, and "Flat fee listing" don't really float my boat either. The first has the advantage of pay for performance and severely discourages agents from over-promising on price; nonetheless the homeowner isn't motivated to maintain the property, and the agent is a little too motivated to wait for a better offer that isn't likely to come. As for the "flat fee listing", all that motivates the listing agent to do is get it sold - never mind the price. Whether the owner makes $60,000 by selling for a great price, or loses $30,000 by not getting so great of a price, that's all the same to the agent with a "flat fee" contract. But the owner wants it to make a difference to the agent, because they want that agent to get the best possible price, not just the first offer. As for the "flat fee in advance" listing, why should that brokerage want the property to sell at all? They've made their money already! If the property sells, now they have to do all that work and assume all that additional liability!

What we really want is a fee structure where the agent is motivated to get the highest possible price as soon as possible, the latter being more important than is generally recognized, as carrying costs eat profits very quickly, especially if the family vacates so as to show the property to best advantage and get the best price, or if they've already moved to their new home for whatever reason.

There should be several terms in this equation. It should take the form a+b+c+... For every factor the owner and the agent can agree upon having an effect upon consumer benefit, there should be a term in the compensation equation. Note that if the agent doesn't measure up in some way, any of these terms (except the one for doing the base paperwork) should be able to go negative. It's likely that good agents should be making more for listings than they are, while ineffective bozos quickly go bankrupt.

I'm not concerned with getting paid for a listing that fails to sell. In fact, I consider the concept anathema to a good agent - or any other business. If I do not get the job done, I do not deserve to be paid. Nor does any other agent or any other business. The world doesn't pay off on a good try (let alone a bad one), and my experience is that listings that don't sell aren't likely to have been a good try. I just visited a listing yesterday, a preview for a prospective client. Showing instructions said "vacant -go" Got there, it's a combo lockbox, but no combo anywhere. Spend half an hour in the front yard on the cellphone trying to get a combo from agent, listing office, the number the listing office referred me to, the number I was referred to from that, and so on. Finally gave up. How many others like me have there done that? Sounds like an agent who wants both halves of the commission to me, discouraging prospective buyers represented by other agents. Sound like someone you want to work with? Sound like someone you want to reward if you do inadvertently sign up with them?

This doesn't change the fact that if it does sell, there's a given amount of work no matter what the price is, and a given amount of liability. That's just part of being in this business. No matter how careful you are, no matter how good you are, eventually something is going to bite you. It's just a fact of life, and is the reason for E&O insurance. Just because I haven't been bitten yet doesn't mean it won't ever happen. The commission structure needs to recognize this fact of life, or it will fail. But this is not how agents should earn most of their money, and most agents don't do this paperwork themselves, but have assistants paid as little as they can get away with to do it. A flat fee of $1000 is probably about right in California. Enough to pay the rent, the utilities, and the receptionist who actually generates the paperwork off WinForms for most offices.

Performance pay is a separate issue, and should be a separate term in the equation. I'll happily pay $20 to make $100 ("here's another $20 if you bring me another $100!"). The most central idea of engaging an agent is to get a better price for the property. My client shouldn't be expected to pay me if I'm not performing services of value - enabling them to get higher price for a quicker sale and less. Any twit should be able to get $300,000 for a property that's worth $400,000. That's not a valuable service, and that's not something an agent should get paid for. If the agent can't get a good enough sale price to meet even a minimum test of benefit for the client, they should lose money. If the sale price is low enough, it should eat up even the base transaction fee, or even send the commission negative - the agent pays the consumer for so badly bungling the transaction. This is nothing unusual in other businesses. Even doing mortgages, I'm perfectly prepared to pay money out of my own pocket if I can't deliver a loan on the terms I quote (for reasons other than client not telling me the whole truth, that is!). The goal is complete consumer satisfaction, and taking money when my client doesn't benefit doesn't help my business in the long term either.

This performance pay should be steeper than current standards. Between ten and twenty percent is about what I think will do the most good. Give the agent a good solid incentive to want a higher price if they think its coming, while still reserving the lion's share of the benefit to the client. If I get Joe a price $20,000 higher than he would have gotten without me, Joe should be quite happy paying me a portion of that money by prior negotiated agreement. I would be ecstatically happy to do so in the reverse situation. And if you wouldn't happily pay it, I suggest you need a financial guardian because you're not economically sane. You want the agent to have a personal incentive to make that money for you. But it should be 10-20% of the excess or shortage relative to a base amount - whatever the seller and their listing agent think it could be sold without the agent benefit. It should also be based upon the sale price net of all negotiated "seller givebacks" not related to specific later discoveries (i.e. inspections and requests for repairs based upon them). I am talking about the NET sales price, not gross. If you have to give a buyer back $15,000 on a $300,000 sale, it's really a $285,000 sale, not a $300,000 sale. On the other hand, If an inspection shows unsuspected repairs costing $20,000 are needed, the seller would have to pay that anyway, and it's not the agent's fault that need exists. But the idea is that client benefit should translate into agent commission, and client detriment should translate into money out of that agent's pocket.

There should also be a healthy term built into the equation to reward or penalize the agent for a quicker sale or a slower one. This can be based upon a flat duration, or upon average days on market for properties in the same class. More expensive properties take longer to move - that's just a fact. But this component term should be based upon date of sale, and should be based upon a very high percentage of carrying costs for the property - about thirty to fifty percent, maybe even sixty. I'll happily pay fifty bucks if it means I don't have to pay a hundred - that is real savings! Say average days on market in a given market are roughly 120 from listing to close of escrow, and it costs $4000 per month to carry the property. So for every month above or below four months, at fifty percent carrying costs, the agent gets $2000 more or pays $2000. If it's a six month listing with no offers, the agent pays $4000 at the conclusion. This would force agents to learn what are and are not qualified offers, and force agents to live with the same kinds of tradeoffs that our clients do. No more, "Sorry that escrow didn't close. It happens," when it should be part of our business to know that that offer was pie in the sky in the first place. When it's their own pay being docked, agents will learn to do real investigation.

So far, the structure the ideal listing commission formula looks like this. $X basic commission, plus or minus $Y price performance (based upon 10-20% commission for over- or under-performing a certain price mark, plus or minus $Z time performance. Note that all of these are based upon demonstrable good for the client, and the client ends up with more money in their pocket as a result of every penny that agent is paid in incentive.

There should be one more flat component built in, contingent upon events. You don't want agents discouraging other offers, but you don't want them turning away foolish buyers who don't want a buyer's agent either. If someone is foolish enough to come in unrepresented by an agent, you don't want to shoo them away. So a fee for handling the buyer's end of the transaction is in order if there's no buyer's agent is a good idea - roughly half a percent of the sales price seems about right. Not enough that your agent is turning away offers made through other agents or pretending they don't exist, but enough so that they won't shoo any unrepresented buyers away, either.

None of this has any bearing upon the buyer's agency commission. That's a completely separate issue, and a separate article. But there are two issues you don't want happening to you. You don't want the listing agent discouraging buyer's agents so they can get both halves of the commission, and you don't want them shooing away an unrepresented sucker because it's extra work and liability that they won't get paid for.

Here's the really fun part: all of these terms need to get negotiated with every listing. Furthermore, it would tell a consumer quite a bit about whether they can really expect to get that listing price. I certainly wouldn't take a listing on terms which I wouldn't expect to get paid for, and neither would most agents.

As I've said, good agents would probably make more on this scheme, while poor ones will make considerably less, if they don't end up actually paying the client. You'd have agents advertising their average commission - paying a higher commission would do clients demonstrable good, rather than the standard "statistical studies show" argument NAR wants us to make. "Yes, I happily paid Joe $16,000 because because we agreed anyone could sell it for $250,000 in six months, and he closed a sale for $300,000 in thirty-two days." That's a five percent plus listing commission if the agent can pull it off - far more than any percentage I've ever heard of - that the seller was happy to pay because they demonstrably made more money and spent about $10,000 less in carrying costs! If an agent is that good, they can make that kind of money on every listing, and the clients won't be asking "What do you do to earn that money?" They'll be lining up to pay it! But to earn it, the has to deliver something good for the client, and if he can't help the client, he's going to end up owing the client money. Performance becomes the reason why agents are paid, individual performance for individual clients. It completely kills "buying listings", it completely kills "do nothing" agents as well as clueless ones, it discourages accepting more listings than you can service, it discourages working with more clients than you can handle, and it rewards agents who can actually get the job done better by the only universal measures - more money actually in the client's pockets sooner, with fewer carrying costs. The client benefit always leads to the agent reward - and client detriment always leads to agent penalty.

(the obstacles to it becoming standard practice are immense, because it would completely kill the idea and utility of National Brand Real Estate, or any branding above the individual agent level, and it's the big chains control the industry and lobbying - but that doesn't stop you from negotiating it for your own sale with an individual agent)

This does appear to be legal in California at least. It doesn't require any systemic changes - it all can be written into the listing contract, and it has no effect upon anyone other than seller and listing agent, meaning that if it's legal, there are no other interested parties, and a rational consumer would be as happy as a good agent to sign that listing contract, and happy to pay that commission, because it means they made even more money!

Isn't that what clients want? Isn't that what agents should get paid for? Don't you want an agent that's motivated for your benefit?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Found this on a public forum


I need help to stop foreclosure on my home. I need to sell quickly? I am a couple months behind on my payments and want to sell now. I am not looking to make a profit just need to get what i owe.

Boy, did the sharks swarm over that one! There were at least a dozen offers to purchase before I saw it.

Anybody will buy your house for half the market value. The mere prospect of a seller who is desperate and doesn't know any better sends these folks into paroxysms of lust - lust for the profit they're going to make on the property.

Contact an agent about selling at quick sale prices. Offer 2% or 2.5% to the listing agent, 3% or whatever is average or slightly above in your area to the buyers agent. Even a quick sale price should get you at least 80% of value. Yes, that will cost you 5%. But you'll come out with 75% of value net, instead of the fifty you'll get doing business with the sharks. If your loan balance is anywhere under 75% of the value, this puts more money in your pocket. If your loan balance is more than that, it means you'll owe less in taxes when the lender hits you with a 1099. Not to mention that trying to sell a short payoff without a good agent is an exercise in futility.

Now this is not to say that you should list it for 80% of your most fevered imagination of what it is worth. You need to sell, as in have someone offer a price that they can actually pay you, and quickly. You need offers. Ideally, you want multiple offers fast. You do this by not over-pricing the market value of your property, so that you will attract people who want to look, and they think it's a good price so they make an offer. The offer will not be full asking price, and don't waste your time hoping that you will get such an offer. Once that Notice of Default hits, everybody knows that you need to sell. To use one example I'm going through with a buyer client right now, if your property is a two bedroom place that basically looks like wild animals have been living there, and your list price is 99% of the three bedroom down the street, you are not going to get it, and you have a deadline, while your prospective buyers do not. You need to figure out what it is really worth by sales of comparable property happening right now, and then you need to discount that price by enough to make a difference. How much? Depends upon what your local market is like. That's part of what good agents get paid for.

Toss any concept of "negotiating room" or "getting what the property is worth" out of your head. Get your attitude completely out of the seller's market we had a few years ago. In this situation, all of the power is in the hands of the prospective buyers. If you won't sell for what they offer, the one down the street who is a little bit smarter, or a little bit more desperate, will. Sellers have little enough power right now without the deadline of foreclosure. People who need to sell have only the power to say no, and what happens if they don't say yes to someone? I'll tell you what happens: You get nothing. The chances are better of flying to the moon by flapping your arms than of getting some of your equity back out of a foreclosed property, even in the strongest of markets. Since your best alternative is lose everything you have in the property, that's not a strong negotiating position. This buyer does not have to have your property. They can go find a more attractive property, cheaper, from someone else. Their best alternative in negotiations is that they go find some other seller who will sell for what they want to offer. Negotiating position: Very strong. Net result, the buyer offers what the property is worth to them. If you won't take it, they only need a bit of patience to find something else that will. If you didn't need to sell, you could just hold on to the property, of course, but we've already determined that you don't have that option, and time is not your friend. A very large proportion of agents still have their heads in seller's market mode. Indeed, most of the major chains are still telling their agents to think like it's a seller's market. This kind of thinking is of no use in the present market, as residential property owners are re-discovering in San Diego County now that the things that drove the feeding frenzy have cooled off. Even during that feeding frenzy, there were properties that didn't sell. which is a warning now that the market has cooled again. When you consider the time constraints of selling under pending foreclosure, it behooves you to understand your position.

The only power a seller in this situation can get is by pricing it attractively enough that there are multiple offers that a good agent who's willing to work hard and really negotiate with all of them can leverage into something reasonable. Playing them off one against another is all you've got - and please note that the buyer who is willing to give the most is still going to get a better deal than they would have otherwise, because the thing that attracts them is that the property is a distress sale.

The sharks who buy properties for cash won't match the prices you get by selling through the normal marketplace. Ever. But even the normal marketplace does not reward you for being in a situation where you must sell.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

Don Henley has a fun song off his second solo album called "Driving With Your Eyes Closed". I can't find a video performance, but here are the lyrics. It's got a chorus that ends with the line, "You're gonna hit something /but that's the way it goes."

A lot of what I read about the real estate markets reminds me of that song. Mostly, people are looking in a rear view mirror myopically, and think that's going to tell them where the market is going. Not so.

Let me tell you the most important "secret" about the real estate market - or any other market. Short term results are mostly about mass psychology. People are so into what is happening right now that they will react to it the same way as everyone else without thinking, whether it's fear and greed driving the market up or fear and greed driving it down. The short term, in real estate, is this year, next year, and maybe the year after. But the actual real estate transaction is expensive. It can cost you a couple percent just for the transaction to buy real estate, seven to ten percent to sell, so you've got to clear ten to fifteen percent higher price just to break even on the costs. Those costs will more than pay for themselves, but they are there. An average year in my market is about 5% up, and 20% up in one year is one of the best years local real estate has ever had. Short term flippers work by different parameters than most consumers, but these are the market factors most people have to deal with. It takes about three average years to break even on the costs you have to pay for the transaction.

This is enough to take the majority of real estate investing out of the frame of the short term market, controlled by mass psychology, and into the realm of the medium to long term market, where psychology is a factor, but as time goes on, more and more of your investment results are controlled by pure economics. Supply versus demand. How much people who want housing make. What the interest rate environment is like. Oh, and don't forget the effects of government and public policy. When somebody says, "The market has dropped in the last three months, therefore it's going lower" that is no more correct than the opposite: "The market has been going up - five percent in the last three months alone! Therefore it's going to keep going up!" In either case, making this sort of claim is functionally equivalent to blacking out your windshield and driving by the rear view mirror. "You're gonna hit something, but that's the way it goes!"

Furthermore, there is no such thing as a national market for real estate. It does not exist, and anybody who claims it does is either so clueless as to the nature of real estate markets that you should pat them on the head and say, "That's nice dear. Now run along and play with your Duplos," or they are actively lying. There are factors such as the interest rate environment that influence real estate markets nationally, but there is no national real estate market. In order for a given area to be considered one market, the properties within them must be functionally equivalent for the residents as to location. Let's look at the City of San Diego: No way is San Ysidro, right by the Mexican border, functionally equivalent to Del Mar Heights, twenty-five miles away along the coast on Interstate 5 just north of all the corporate buildings in the Golden Triangle, and neither is equivalent to Rancho Bernardo, which is about that same distance north inland along I-15. All three are part of the City of San Diego, and we haven't even gotten to the suburbs yet, they are three very different markets, with different demographics, different lifestyles, different building styles and all that that implies. For my real estate work, I specialize in and around the City of La Mesa, which borders San Diego on the east, and is different from all three previously described areas, and there are areas of La Mesa which are decidedly different from other areas of La Mesa. These markets are close enough physically to have market interactions, but different enough to constitute different markets - never mind Idaho, Georgia, or Vermont, which are not part of the local commuting area. Talking about a unified countywide market is occasionally a useful fiction, as there are interactions. People are able to commute from home to work and back again, no matter their respective locations within the county. Talking of a national real estate market is blatant nonsense. At most you can talk about a national amalgamation of local markets - a statistical hash of what is going on in all of the individual markets. Even when most real estate markets are in the tank, though, there will be local real estate markets that are doing very well, and others that are poised to do so.

You can talk about national factors influencing all of the local real estate environments. Interest rates, lender requirements, legislation in Congress, federal rule-making in general, all of these have a national influence. The markets themselves remain local.

For longer term analysis, you've got to talk about the economics of an area. Current supply versus demand, and where that ratio is going. What do people in the area make? What is the regulatory environment? How difficult is it to build more housing? What are the population trends? What is the economy of the area doing? What are the factors influencing rental price and availability? How likely is any of this to change in the future? It doesn't matter whether people are getting "priced out" or even how many people are getting "priced out." People have been priced out of Manhattan for decades; it hasn't stopped Manhattan real estate from rising in value. What does matter is whether enough people with the economic ability to pay the current prices are available to buy up the new inventory that hits the market. It doesn't matter that people who bought twenty years ago could not afford to buy their properties at current prices. What does matter is that enough people who can afford it will buy to more than balance out the people who want to sell at current prices.

So while you can talk about national trends, any given property sits in a particular local market, and any discussion of whether to buy a given property has to be rooted in the local market situation. National trends may have an influence upon its value. If interest rates go to eight percent, people can only afford about seventy percent of the loan amount they can afford if interest rates go to five percent, so falling interest rates are a time of rising prices, other things being equal. Of course, interest rates now are lower than when the market was going gangbusters, and prices aren't rising. The explanation is that there are stronger factors at work.

Nonetheless, if a million people want to own property in an area (say, La Jolla) and only 40,000 people can, then the price will be determined by the 40,000 people willing and able to pay the most. If twenty million people want to live in San Diego County and only three million can, the prices will be determined by the three million people willing and able to pay the highest prices. End of discussion. Not all properties in all locations are equally valuable of course, but the mix will be determined by what prospective buyers are willing to pay the most for. Note that not all costs are in dollars. Sometimes it's opportunity cost, sometimes it's any number of other costs, such as the risk of earthquake, the heat when the Santa Anas roll in, etcetera. Some people absolutely require living in a six bedroom 3000 square foot house, and if they can't afford the prices those command here, they'll go elsewhere despite the fact that they could easily afford something less expensive. Others will put up with living in a broom closet or a cardboard box so long as they can go surfing every day.

Analysis focusing on a market's short term results are largely a study in mob psychology. A few years ago when property was overpriced locally, I couldn't slow people eager to follow the other lemmings with a locomotive. When that changed, with available property prices well below historical trendlines locally, it took taken entire battalions of wild horses to pull individuals off the sidelines due to media coverage. But mob psychology is a changeable thing. A co-worker and I were talking about modifying an old T shirt just before I originally wrote this. The original version has two vultures sitting on a tree limb, discussing the negative utility of patience: "Patience MY ---! I'm going to KILL something!" (pardon the vulgarity.) We're going to change the second line to "I'm going to BUY SOMETHING!" That's the mood of the market we we're encountering then. The people who had been holding off seem to have realized that this is about as good as things were going to get for them. Maybe they're tired of waiting. Maybe they realized things were more affordable for them than they were in 2000, let alone 2004. Maybe they got "priced out" during the bubble and want to move before it happens again. Once you buy, it's not like the seller can come back and ask you for more money later because it turned out to be such a wonderful bargain - you're locking in your cost of housing. Putting it under your own control forever. The vultures were starting to swoop.

(Since then, of course, we've had the federal government ruining the economy and the machinery of lending, while pretending that things are getting better. They're not fooling anyone who's making major economic decisions - as evidenced by national housing statistics. We here in California have been hit by the double whammy of a state government that is also run by special interests and so pretends not to understand basic economics because the alternative is politically offending those special interests.)

Analysis on a local market's longer term prognosis have to ignore mob psychology. It's unpredictable on that scale, and nobody ever knows just when it will turn, or how. But there's only so long mob psychology can trump practical economics, which is the norm that any particular market will follow ever more closely the longer you run the experiment. With the recent decline in values, San Diego has dropped significantly below long term value trends and was still below them even with the aborted recovery, let alone since. This means that considering current supply and regulatory barriers to increasing it, demand of people who want to live here, the values that those people can afford to pay, and increasing demand for housing in San Diego, not to mention the changing dynamics of the rental situation (be prepared for rapid increases in rental rates), right now is an excellent time to buy, as prices are below where you would expect, given the longer term factors influencing the San Diego regional housing market.

Articles which consider only short term price fluctuations are looking backwards as we go into the future. They're looking at where we've been, not where we're going. And as always when you're effectively driving with your eyes closed: "You're gonna hit something, but that's the way it goes..."

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


First off, let me make something very plain. All a CBB (Cooperating Buyer's Broker compensation) can do is give good agent an incentive or disincentive to look at the property. A high one will not, by itself, sell the property. A low one will not completely prevent it from being sold. Buyers, being interested in their own bottom line, will persist in choosing the property that offers them the best property for their purposes at the lowest price, and agents with about an hour in the business should understand this. I not only cannot sell a buyer on a property that isn't at least as good a bargain for them as the competing properties, I won't try. It's contrary not only to my client's interest, which should be the ultimate consideration of any agent, but it's not in my interest either.

With that said, you really don't want to do is give agents a reason to sell the other property instead of yours. A cheap CBB does not motivate the agents to work. Suppose a boss told their workers "You will be paid $10 for every green widget you sell. You will be paid $15 for every purple widget you sell." Assume the widgets are identical in every way except color. How many green widgets do you think would get sold versus purple? Sure, they'll sell green if the customer wants it, but that's not going to be what they suggest first. If a customer came in the door wanting a green widget, they'd get a green widget. But if they walk in the door and aren't sure they want a green widget, the sales staff will quite predictably see if they can sell them the purple widget first. If they can, the green widget sits unseen, untried, and unsold.

In real estate, the person who sets that compensation is the owner of the property. There are lots of properties out there, even in a seller's market. When you go to sell, do you want your property to be treated like a green widget, or a purple one?

This isn't evil. Agents have to eat, pay the mortgage, pay expenses, etcetera, and we don't make as much money as people think. Even less so than most people, agents don't get to keep every dollar their company gets paid for their services, and they don't get paid instantly for waving a magic wand. It takes time, work, and expertise - I've spent six months, hundreds of hours, and over a thousand dollars just in immediate expenses working with clients to close a deal. If the company gets paid $10,000 and the agent has an 80% split (far better than most), they get $8000 gross. Less monthly desk fees, less per transaction fees, and less fixed expenses of staying in business, that's maybe $6500, and social security eats twice as much of that as normal, leaving about $5400 - and we haven't even considered income taxes or advertising yet. For a solid month or more of work, and who knows how much time looking before the clients made the offer that was accepted. With practically unlimited liability, and requiring continuous training and work to keep their edge. If it takes 3 months in all, that's barely minimum wage, and most agents work sixty hours per week at a minimum. Quite often, we've got to reduce our commission to put some money back into the transaction so it can close. Sound like a cushy sinecure to you?

Of course, most agents are working with more than one set of clients at a time, but as you can see, a $10,000 commission doesn't translate into a huge windfall for the agent. If the company only gets paid $8000, that translates into maybe $4100 that the agent can use to pay their family's living expenses and taxes. Which do you think they'd rather have, the bigger check or the smaller? Ask yourself what you'd do in their place. If it's a question of the smaller check or nothing at all, there's no question, but there are a lot of properties competing with yours for the available buyers, and more coming onto the market all the time. Do you want to give agents a reason to try and sell your property, or a reason why they'd prefer to sell someone else's property?

With all of this in mind, a screaming deal will sell. You don't have to worry about whether or not the agent is going to be on your side. Buyers will beat a path to your door, with or without an agent. However, pricing your property as a screaming deal is not something most rational owners want to do. They want to get top dollar for that property, and it takes at least ten percent below the rest of the market - more likely twenty - to get attention as a screaming deal. I've said this before, most notably in How to Sell Your Home Quickly and For The Best Possible Price, but this is twenty percent off the correct asking price, not the owner's fevered dreams of greed. The average CBB around here is three percent. So, save three percent to lose twenty? Not something I'd do. Furthermore, you're not going to put up a CBB of zero, no matter how low it's priced. I've explained before why the seller pays the buyer's agent. Finally, if you end up needing to give the buyer an allowance for closing costs to get the property sold, you're quite likely giving out with the other hand the same money you withheld in the first place, as buyers paying their agent is a closing cost. Why not put it out there in the first place, where it is likely to do you some good?

The differences a higher CBB makes for the seller are three: You don't have to worry whether buyers needing to come up with cash to close to pay their agent will impact buyer cash to close, you get more attention for your property more quickly and more consistently, and you don't have to worry about buyer's agents creating reasons not to buy your property. Put yourself in this situation: Most buyers are reluctant to pull the trigger on a half million dollars. They need some good hand-holding and reasons to buy, and instead, their agent is looking for a reasons to help convince them why they want to buy some other property instead. Do you think it might take longer for the property to sell? With carrying costs of somewhere around two-thirds of a percent per month for most properties, if a CBB a half percent higher gets the property sold three weeks faster, you are ahead of the game. The time difference will almost certainly be more than that, and - statistical fact - the longer your property sits unsold, the lower the price it will sell for.

If you want to offer a low CBB, that's your prerogative. The property had better sell itself enough better than anything comparable to still the doubters - and practically every buyer is a doubter. The lower it is, the worse it will be, the longer you'll have to pay carrying costs, and the lower your final sales price. A low CBB, especially in conjunction with other factors about the listing can advertise to buyer's agents that you aren't ready to sell yet, warning them of a difficult transaction with lots of opportunity to fall apart due to seller issues. If I can find a model match with an obviously motivated seller around the corner, why should I take my buyer to yours? We're going to get a better price on the same thing with the property around the corner, there will be fewer issues with the transaction, and the fact that I'll make more money even though my client got a lower price is pure bonus for being a good agent. Call it karma.

On the other hand, offering a significantly higher than average CBB doesn't work as well as some people seem to think it does. It definitely won't sell the property for more than it's really worth. Furthermore, it raises all kinds of red flags in my mind, and, I imagine, in the eyes of most agents. "Why do they think they need to offer five percent when the average is three?" springs to mind pretty much unbidden. Most often, the property is overpriced. Almost as often, there's something wrong with it that only an experienced investor is going to be able to deal with - and experienced investors don't pay top dollar for a property. Ever. Quite often, there's something unrepairable detracting from the value of the property. It might get the property sold much more quickly - most agents have some investors I can call if we have reason to, and if you get our attention with a high CBB, both we and our clients are happy. So if you're stuck with a property that has something seriously wrong with it, a high CBB and a low price will cause it to see a lot more action. But they have to be coupled together. High CBB won't do it on its own. On its own, high CBB is pointlessly wasted money.

An average CBB or maybe slightly higher will quite likely accomplish what you want; a quicker sale and therefore a higher sales price. If you're a half percent above average, that's not enough to raise red flags, and it will get you attention. Good buyer's agents will still require that it be an above average value for the client, but they will look, where they might not otherwise. It also stands a good chance of motivating them to really take a good long look at the property.

Short Sales are worse than everything else, as far as CBB goes. Short sales usually take much longer, are more often than not overpriced, and there's a much higher chance of transaction falling apart and the agent losing the client as a result. In my area, over eighty percent of all short sales fall apart, and there's not much the buyer's agent can do to alter the odds - it's in the hands of the listing agent. The lender is going to require the agents involved to reduce their commissions. Agents know this, and they can't really fight it. If you're out there on the cheap end of CBB before the lender wants to grab money we've earned away from us, and statistically four out of five short sales self-destruct and lose the client without closing, what reason is there to show your property, as opposed to the one down the street that's not a short sale? Cost my client money and time to no good purpose, when I can usually find them something just as good at a better price that closes faster and without the eighty percent chance of fallout. But there's always a reason for a short sale. I've never seen one yet where the owner didn't need to sell for some reason or another. Why doesn't matter; If a short sale is the least bad thing that can possibly happen to you, the one thing you don't want is for the property to fail to sell, and a below average CBB on a short sale will practically insure that the property won't sell.

If I had my druthers as a buyer's agent, I'd rather buyer's agency commission be set as a flat amount, regardless of the actual sales price, so that the agent isn't shooting themselves in the foot if they can negotiate a better price. On the other hand, it's not a crime for the seller to structure it in a way that produces dissonance between the interests of the buyer and the interests of that buyer's agent. I may not like it, but I take shameless advantage of it when I'm listing property - I advise owners to make CBB a percentage when I'm the listing agent. Just because I understand a happier client is likelier to bring me more business doesn't mean every agent does. Maybe it's because I read Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz at an early age, and military history has always been an avocation with me. Maybe it's because I took almost enough probability and statistics courses in college for it to count as a major. Maybe I'm just competitive by nature. Whichever it is, I believe in taking every opportunity to load the dice in my client's favor before they get tossed. Anytime there are large amounts of money at stake, you're either in it to win or you are a sucker. There's a lot more money involved in real estate than almost anything else.

At higher valuations, reasonable agents expect CBBs to go down. There's not much difference in the actual work between a half million dollar property and a full million dollar one. Higher liability exposure and a little more hand holding and a little more service. Furthermore, the kind of people who buy million dollar properties tend to be better qualified to do so, leading to fewer escrows failing due to buyers failure to qualify.

One of the things I don't understand is that many agents are the worst about CBB. They should know the power, and yet when it comes to their own money they disregard the facts and try and to do it on the cheap. I make a special note when I notice those listings, because it's like they're shouting, "I'm just out for a quick buck! I don't really know what I'm doing!" to those with the ability to hear it. With that information, I keep a special eye on their listings for other clients. Just part of my desire to look for opportunities to depth charge fish in a barrel. When I find one, it always results in a happier client.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

I just picked a random ZIP code in my local MLS, and out of the first twenty listings I came to, ten had explicit violations of one or more of the sections of RESPA regarding steering right there in the listing. This did not include lender-owned real estate, which has its own set of issues in this regard. All I did was count two common violations.

The first was "Buyer must be prequalified by X", where X was some loan originator. In a way, I understand this. Forty percent plus of all escrows locally are falling out, and the vast majority of them because of unqualified buyers who cannot qualify for the loan. This wastes a minimum of about a month, plus when it goes Active again, it looks like it's been on the market for longer than it really has. Bad thing all around for the seller. The justification used is that for some reason, the agent trusts that particular loan officer to render a real opinion. Perhaps occasionally, a lender owned property will even try to require prospective buyers to prequalify through them. While it might seem reasonable, here's some relevant law from RESPA

Business referrals

No person shall give and no person shall accept any fee, kickback, or thing of value pursuant to any agreement or understanding, oral or otherwise, that business incident to or a part of a real estate settlement service involving a federally related mortgage loan shall be referred to any person.

They mean that "any thing of value" bit, if you peruse down to the definitions. It's defined very literally by about a paragraph of text that boils down to four words: ANY thing of value. You refer business to them, they give you approvals you can count on. It doesn't matter if you require "only" a prequalification - they now have the prospective borrowers information, including credit information and home telephone number. This means that even if there's no application fee, no deposit, not even a credit report fee, you have still given that loan originator a "business relationship" with the borrower. That makes for legal consideration on both sides of the equation, and both the originator and agent are guilty. This is just as hard a violation of RESPA as a fraudulent HUD 1 form. It hasn't been enforced much of late, but I believe that the State of California could probably put over half the brokerages and lenders in the state out of business over loan steering. I only counted four out of twenty actual explicit requirements to pre-qualify with a specific lender this time, while the last time I conducted the exercise it was eight. Maybe it's getting better, maybe it's not, but twenty percent of a representative sample of listings having an explicit violation of the law right there for everyone to see is not something agents should be proud of. When it comes to holding someone responsible for their representations, pre-approval doesn't mean anything. If you're a real estate agent who doesn't do loans, talk to a lender you trust about necessary information to determine whether a loan is doable. I've created a special form that I send to agents making offers on my listings. Nothing in the way of personally identifiable information except the borrower's name - no social, no contact information - but it does have credit score, late payment history, income information, etcetera, to the point where I can tell whether or not I could do the loan on the terms necessary to make the transaction fly. Furthermore, it does require the loan officer to sign a representation that they aware that a decision as to whether or not to grant credit - in the form of agreeing to enter escrow - will be made based upon this information. They don't need to make representations of opinion - all I'm asking for is verified facts. Armed with those facts, I have a pretty darned good idea if this borrower is capable of consummating the transaction. Doesn't tell me whether they will or not, but that's not what wanting a prequalification or preapproval is about.

But when I'm a buyer's agent, which is most often, I simply ignore these requests that violate the law. Furthermore, this puts me in rather a strong negotiating position if the listing agent repeats the request or brings it to my attention. Now they've compromised their client's interests, by giving the other side (me) a concrete legal issue to aim at them. Game, set, match. As I said, four out of the first twenty listings in a random ZIP code explicitly violated RESPA right in the listing, without counting the ones that say "Contact us prior to making an offer," where that's usually what they want. Four out of twenty where there is precisely zero doubt that they're violating the law.

Actually, that wasn't the most common violation, either. That goes to "Seller to select all services," at six out of twenty - thirty percent. Also from RESPA:

Sec. 2608. Title companies; liability of seller

(a) No seller of property that will be purchased with the assistance of a federally related mortgage loan shall require directly or indirectly, as a condition to selling the property, that title insurance covering the property be purchased by the buyer from any particular title company.

(b) Any seller who violates the provisions of subsection (a) of this section shall be liable to the buyer in an amount equal to three times all charges made for such title insurance.

Even though in California the seller usually buys the title insurance for the buyer, I've had more than one lawyer tell me that failure to negotiate is construed as a violation of RESPA by the courts. It works like this: In the case of simultaneous owner's and lender's policies from the same company, there's a discount for the lender's policy, essentially requiring the lender's title insurer to be the same as the owner's title insurer. Since this happens on every purchase transaction where there's a loan, you have the requirement to negotiate. Seller and buyer negotiate until they come to a mutually acceptable compromise. Neither one of them gets to dictate to the other. Furthermore, failure to consider the best bargain for the client is a violation of fiduciary duty for the agent. It's not the sellers who want to choose services. Other than corporate owned property - lender owned and corporate relocation properties - there just isn't a reason for many sellers to care. The only reason is if they're employed by a title or escrow company, and their fringe benefits include free title or a free escrow. I've seen that once in the last four years.

What's really going on here is title insurance companies providing free farms, or subsidized mailings, or any number of other freebies they use to attract real estate agent business. Or the brokerage has a captive escrow company they're required by the broker to use, despite the fact that failing to negotiate this point is a violation of the law. I've had agents or their idiot assistants tell me that they get "discounted service" even when I've got a lower quote from the competition. Furthermore, the interplay of title company and escrow company is important. If there's no common ownership between the two, the title company will charge a "subescrow fee" that I've seen be anywhere from $100 to $450 (usually about $350) because they're the ones who are actually set up to accomplish some things that are legally the escrow company's responsibility. For instance, recording. What this means is that even if the actual quote is lower from unaffiliated companies, the clients are quite likely better off choosing escrow and title companies where there is common ownership, even if the quote is a little higher - because there won't be subescrow fees, and quite likely not messenger fees between title and escrow. To paraphrase an common saying, $350 is $350, even when there's a half million dollar deal happening. Make certain you get a guaranteed total fee for services quote based upon the actual escrow and title relationship to each other. I'm quite sorry for independent escrow companies - I have no reason to believe they're any less competent or charge anything more than title company affiliated ones - but they're competing at a disadvantage because the title company wants to charge more to work with them, and this is quite reasonable given that they will be performing services that are the escrow company's responsibility. They waive subescrow for their own affiliated companies simply because, one way or another, they're responsible for the work.

I've also heard all sorts of nonsense about competence of title and escrow officers. The fact is that most of them are perfectly up to your transaction. Even corporate owned relocation properties, where there may be some complex tax issues, aren't significantly more complex than your garden variety individual buyer - individual seller, and don't get me started about 1031 exchanges, which are perfectly straightforward from escrow's point of view. Any good agent's agenda is very simple - competent service providers for the lowest total price. The vast majority of the time, this means a title and escrow company with common ownership. Note that I don't care which title company and affiliated escrow company. I'll do business with anyone that hasn't hosed a client, and even if they have, I'll simply require a different title or escrow officer - just because John has a recto-cranial inversion doesn't mean Jane, another officer at the same company, does. Even lender-owned property will negotiate service providers if you approach it right - which is how it should be. Oh, you'll end up with their choice of providers most of the time, but you can get them to pay for subescrow and messenger fees, and quite likely an allowance to meet your lowest quote elsewhere - meaning your client doesn't really have a reason to care. Essentially the same product at the same price to them. Why would most clients raise a fuss about that? Indeed, the only thing worthy of most clients raising a fuss would be if you didn't negotiate for that. Explaining the whys and wherefores of the whole service provider quandry has gotten me a seller or two working at cross-purposes to their listing agent, who had someone all picked out without informing their seller. When this happens, my buyer wins. How could I not use every weapon at my disposal?

The intent of Congress on steering is quite clearly spelled out:

TITLE 12--BANKS AND BANKING
CHAPTER 27--REAL ESTATE SETTLEMENT PROCEDURES
Sec. 2601. Congressional findings and purpose
(a) The Congress finds that significant reforms in the real estate settlement process are needed to insure that consumers throughout the Nation are provided with greater and more timely information on the nature and costs of the settlement process and are protected from unnecessarily high settlement charges caused by certain abusive practices that have developed in some areas of the country. The Congress also finds that it has been over two years since the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs submitted their joint report to the Congress on ``Mortgage Settlement Costs'' and that the time has come for the recommendations for Federal legislative action made in that report to be implemented.
(b) It is the purpose of this chapter to effect certain changes in the settlement process for residential real estate that will result--
(1) in more effective advance disclosure to home buyers and sellers of settlement costs;
(2) in the elimination of kickbacks or referral fees that tend to increase unnecessarily the costs of certain settlement services...
(emphasis mine)


Whatever forms those kickbacks and referral fees may take, if your agent is violating this, do you really want to do business with them?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


There are two sorts of buyer's agency contracts, exclusive and non-exclusive. Note that this has nothing to do with Exclusive Buyer's Agents, who do not accept property for listing. I disagree with their reasoning on the virtues of doing so, but I can see a reasonable person making the arguments that they do. Despite the fact that ninety percent of my business is as a buyer's agent, I have no plans to become an Exclusive Buyer's Agent. The line their organization takes is that agents tend to work on behalf of their listing clients, neglecting buyers even when they're representing them as well. To be fair, I do see that happening in the industry. The solution is quite simply to refuse Dual Agency. I get referral business by making each individual client as happy as I possibly can, not by hosing one class of clients so that I can make another that little bit happier. I'm only on one side of a given transaction, and my clients will tell you I'm not in the least hesitant to advise them if something isn't quite like I would like it to be. Furthermore, I learn things by listing properties - things that I can turn around and use to help my buyer clients - just as I learn things by representing buyers that I can turn around and use to help my next set of listing clients. Without that feedback between the two very different tasks of representing buyers and representing sellers, I'd be a much weaker agent, whichever side of the transaction I was on.

Some states permit agents to call themselves "exclusive buyer's agents" if they work with exclusive buyers agency contracts. An exclusive buyer's agency contract, however, does not mean that all of that agent's business comes from representing buyers. It means that they require buyers to sign a contract that essentially prevents those buyers from working with another agent. An exclusive buyer's agency contract says that no matter which property these buyers buy during the period it runs, that agent will get paid. End of discussion. Since the buyers accept responsibility to pay the agent if the seller or someone else doesn't, which isn't a problem if there's only one buyer's agent, because it is in the seller's interest to pay the buyer's agent. However, what the seller pays only covers one agent, so if there's a second agent involved, the buyer has to pay that second agent out of their own pocket. This essentially constrains them to work with the agent they've given that exclusive contract to. Many very weak agents require exclusive buyer's agency contracts because they're scared of the competition - they know they don't measure up, so they cut the competition out by binding them with an exclusive agency contract. They've got good advertising campaigns in effect, good networks of people, whatever - the essential element in their strategy is that the prospective buyers talk to them first, before those buyers understand what's really going on. Not to mention that this does, in some states, allow them to designate themselves as "Exclusive Buyer's Agents." This is confusing nonsense, and not beneficial for consumers.

There is, however, an alternative. This is the Non-Exclusive Buyer's Agency Contract. This is a standard contract, available in all fifty states through the work of the Association of Realtors (self-interested dinosaur controlled by major chains though the organization is, it does do some beneficial work). In California, it's put out as a part of the WinForms program of standard forms, and I suspect the same is true elsewhere. When you strip it of all the legalese, what it says is that If you buy a property that agent introduces you to, then that agent will be entitled to a buyer's agency commission. Notice that construction, straight out of you high school geometry or logic course? If A then B. If not A, then nothing. In other words, if some other agent introduces you to the property you buy, you owe this agent nothing.

Consumers can be working with literally any number of prospective buyer's agents through non-exclusive contracts, and be perfectly safe. There's only going to be one commission due - to the agent who actually gets the job done. Because of this, consumers can sign one of these and start working with any agent, safe in the knowledge they're not stuck with that agent if they find out they're not doing the job they should. The only thing consumers are giving up is the ability to cut out the agent who actually finds the property they want to buy at a price they're willing to pay. Since this is the hardest, most difficult, most time consuming and most liability ridden part of a buyer's agency job, this is only reasonable. You don't go down to the premium mechanic, have them fix your car, and get out of the bill by paying the cheap shop on the corner. That is the real work for a buyer's agent, not the paperwork of the offer and escrow period, or the gladhanding, or even the showing. The ability to recognize and negotiate a bargain are closely related, however, so even if you get a lower buyer's agency commission by cutting out the agent who finds the bargain, or a cash rebate, you're likely to end up paying more overall for the property. How is saving one or two percent and missing out on five percent, ten percent, or more a good investment? The lowest difference I've made in the last year was over fifteen percent, by CMA of properties sold. That's what a buyer's market will do for you. But you're unlikely to find the agent who makes that kind of difference in your area first time out of the box. The non-exclusive buyer's agency contract lets you give every agent you meet the same chance to earn your business - which means consumers get to force the agents to compete on the basis of who actually does the job!

This makes signing such an agreement a bet the consumer literally cannot lose. In fact, the more such bets the consumer makes, the better it's likely to turn out for them. The weaker agents will self-select out of the process in most cases. What this means in plain every day talk is they won't exert themselves because they know they're not likely to end up with the business. The consumer who signs ten non-exclusive buyer's agency contracts might have, at most, two or three agents who actually work for the business. The others simply won't. They know they can't compete, and simply won't bother. Actually, most of them won't sign the non-exclusive agreement. They'll try to talk you into an exclusive agreement, but don't let them. For the consumer's part, they can simply keep looking for agents until they find the ones that will compete.

Indeed, it's only when signing an exclusive contract that consumers are making a bet they can lose. Not only can they, they are extremely likely to. Remember the ten non-exclusive contracts you signed in the last paragraph, out of which you got two agents who were willing to actually do the work? Look at that the other way around. Eight out of ten didn't, and the real proportion is probably higher than that. So if you sign an exclusive buyer's agency contract, those are the kind of odds you're facing. Eighty percent or more chance you're locking your business up with an agent who won't really do the most important parts of the job. I get calls from these people's victims all the time, asking me to work for them without any chance of getting paid. My answer is no. I'm perfectly willing to compete for the business, but I'm not willing to work without pay so that someone else can get paid. I'm eager to make the bet that I can out-compete other buyer's agents, but if someone else has already been awarded the gold medal, I'm not going to so much as head for the stadium for that particular event - I'm looking for stadiums and events where the gold medal is available to me. How hard do you think the person who has been pre-emptively awarded that gold medal is likely to really work for you? If the answer you got is, "not very" then you understand why you shouldn't sign an exclusive agency agreement. But buyer's agency is one competition where "time in the competition" doesn't control who wins. If you don't award that gold medal before the competition is held, good agents will compete, and they'll work all the harder because if they don't measure up, you can always find some more agents who will. Isn't that what you really want as a consumer?

Caveat Emptor

Original article here


The answer depends upon what they're doing for you.

If you contact them because they're the listing agent for a property, they shouldn't ask you to sign an agreement at all. They have a fiduciary duty to that seller to get the property sold. If the act of asking to sign the agreement causes you not to buy, or not to view the property - something that cannot be known in advance - they have violated fiduciary duty. They've just caused potential buyers to be discouraged. That's as hard a violation as it gets. It doesn't stop a lot of agents, as I've written before about Tina Teaser and Sherrie Shark, but it is a straightforward, no nonsense, no kidding violation of fiduciary duty. It is also a marker for the informed buyer that this is a awful agent. You don't want to do Dual Agency, as I've written on many occasions. There are many reasons why you want a buyer's agent representing your interests, especially if it's a new development. There are all sorts of issues that will bite people without buyer's agents ten to a hundred times or more frequently. Issues that arise directly because of Buyer's who don't want buyer's agents are about nine of the top ten reasons why buyers get burned, including the top three or four.

If all an agent is doing is setting up an internet gateway, or search, that's no big deal either. MLS will allow me to have something like 120 client gateways at a time. I've never had half that at any one time. I can't serve that many people. I can only work with an absolute maximum of about six sets of full service buyers at a time - and that's if I don't have any listings. A smart agent will quite happily set up an internet gateway on the speculation of getting a transaction out of it. I'll call or email these folks periodically to see if they want to look at anything, or anything has caught their fancy. I'm not investing any significant time with them; they don't count against my (self-imposed) limit of six clients at a time. In fact, I make a lot more per hour with these clients than any others. Indeed, those of these folk who only want me for the paperwork will ask me for a contract that says I will rebate part of any buyer's agency commission at that point in time. If my liability is less and I'm not putting in anything like the time I need to for a full service client, I'm perfectly willing to work for a lot less money.

If you come to me to put an offer in, I don't need a contract there, either. The purchase contract specifies that I'm the buyer's agent - I don't need another one. Some agents use this moment as an opportunity to "lock up the business" by insisting people who want to make an offer through them sign an exclusive buyer's agency contract, but there is precisely zero need for any kind of agency contract at that point in time. The agency is created for this offer by the purchase contract itself, either explicitly (as in the California standard contract) or implicitly, by agency law. There's absolutely nothing wrong, ever, with an agent who asks you to sign a non-exclusive buyer's agency contract. You can walk away from a non-exclusive agency agreement at any time, but an exclusive agency contract requires that you stick with them even if this transaction falls apart. Suppose they do something to sabotage the transaction? It happens.

It's a rare client who requires something I have to pay for, but It does happen. Mostly, it's fresh foreclosure lists when it does happen. I haven't been subscribing consistently, as right now the well-aged ones (at least four months old) are mostly better, but I know the ones that work for when I do have clients that want them. I can get them starting that day, and going back. I don't charge for this - but that's the only time I ask for an exclusive buyer's agency contract. Not only am I putting out a significant stream of money for their benefit, these people do count against the limit of six clients at a time I can work with - they count double! Working the fresh foreclosure lists is a lot more demanding than anything else I do, because it's all time critical. I can't put it off a day, and often not even an hour, even if there's something else going on with another client - it's got to be done NOW, and there are a lot of misses for every hit. It's kind of like being married to the ultimate high maintenance spouse. If that spouse is not willing to give just as much, nobody rational wants any part of that relationship. If you want an agent to put in that kind of work, you're going to have to commit to that agency relationship.

But the one common time a good agent will ask for a buyer's agency contract is when someone wants a real full service package. Property scouting is far too time intensive to do on speculation that you might want to do the transaction with me after I invest the time to find a real bargain. The agent has to invest usually weeks of time up front, culling out the bad prospects in favor of the better ones. This is, by the way, far and away the hardest work of the transaction, and the work that gets done has most of the liability of the process. A good agent - one who knows how good he or she is - will still only ask for a non-exclusive contract here. I'm perfectly willing to bet that I'm going to find you something you want to buy, and if I don't, then you owe me nothing. I'm eager to make that bet, as a matter of fact. I am not frightened of people who want to work with multiple agents. I know that the vast majority of other agents won't get out of their offices to go look. But if I do find something you want to buy - I take the time and do the work, and my experience and training spots a superior value - then I'm not going to countenance you then taking the transaction to some other agent. Kind of like a mechanic who gets the problem fixed - and then you decide to take the car to another mechanic. You're still going to have to pay the mechanic who actually solved your problem, and you're still going to have to pay the agent who finds the bargain. You don't think the agent did anything to deserve getting paid? Then don't buy that bargain property they found for you! But if you want to buy the property they found, then there is, by obvious fact, something particularly valuable, both about their property and about their work in finding it! If that were not the case, you wouldn't want to buy it.

So it's reasonable to be asked to sign a non-exclusive buyer's agency contract. As a matter of fact, agents that actually do this work have learned that if they don't get you to sign it, a very large percentage of people will then go to a discounter or rebate house, or even just buy the property "without an agent", thinking they'll get a better bargain that way. Not only will you get a better bargain through the agent who understands the property and the market, that agent can then stay in business for the next time you, your friends, or your family wants to buy real estate. That's a win-win. But trying to cut out the agent who found the bargain is a lose-lose. You'll get a cookie cutter transaction from someone who doesn't understand the market and can't bargain as well - you'll end up paying more, and if there comes a point where you should walk away, they won't know it and won't tell you if they do.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

The Basics of 1031 Exchanges

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Section 1031 of the IRS Code has to to with tax treatment on the exchange of one parcel of real estate for another. It's similar to Section 1035 which covers most non real estate exchanges. Car for a car. Boat for a boat. Business for a business. But section 1031 allows indirect exchanges so long as you follow certain guidelines. After all, how often do folks want to trade two parcels directly? It happens, but not very often. Usually, if A is buying B's parcel, then even if B wants to replace it with another piece of real estate, it probably isn't owned by A.

Why would you want to do this? Taxes. No other reason but taxes. If the taxpayer makes the exchange according to the provisions, they defer the gain. But we're talking capital gains, not ordinary income, so keep in mind it's not worth going gonzo over. The maximum long term capital gains tax rate for most folks is 15 percent. Getting to keep 100 percent of your gains instead of 85 is worthwhile, and when we're talking sometimes about multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions, that's quite a bit of motivation. It's nice to be able to invest and use those (potentially) tens of thousands of dollars, rather than basically forking them directly to the tax man, but there are additional costs to the 1031 exchange that you would not otherwise pay, costs that vary between a low of about $4000 per property involved in a straight exchange or $7000 per property in a 'reverse' exchange, and can be significantly higher. This erodes tax benefit in a hurry.

Your primary residence is not eligible for 1031 Exchange. Second homes are severely limited in eligibility (general rule: You can't occupy it more than 10 percent of total occupancy, although you get up to fourteen days per year. Check with your accountant for details. Matter of fact, check everything with your accountant. This is just a basic overview, and the devil is in the details). Section 1031 is for investment property, of whatever nature.

Section 1031 is not for "flipping". I am not aware of any explicit minimum holding time requirements for 1031 exchanges in general, but the IRS looks hard when the held period is less than a year. Questions arising from Section 1031 exchanges are good jumping off points for general audits - the IRS gets out the big magnifying glass to go over your taxes. Be careful. If the properties are being sold between related parties, there is a two year minimum holding rule, and nobody can end up with cash. For this reason, 1031s with a related party transaction are tough. If it's a property you bought as investment that you later made into a personal residence (or vice versa) the minimum holding time is five years.

There are some significant complexities in duplexes where one unit is for personal use, or personal use dwellings where there's a home office. I've gotten to the point where I don't understand the attractiveness or value of a home office deduction for many people, but people keep insisting upon trying for them.

There are three major requirements for a standard "forward" 1031 Exchange. You can not have constructive receipt of the funds. You must designate replacement properties within 45 calendar days of the sale of the relinquished property, and you must consummate the sale within 180 days or before you file your tax return, whichever comes first.

Constructive receipt is a fancy way the IRS has of saying control of the funds. If escrow sends you the check, or if the check is in your name, you have constructive receipt of the funds and the 1031 will be disallowed. So what happens is that you need to pay a 1031 accommodator (most title companies have one) to act as trustee for the money, and the actual transaction is done in the name of the accommodator. If you see something about cooperating with a 1031 exchange at no cost to you as part of a sale or purchase, this is what it's about. Makes no difference to the other party in the transaction, but the Grant Deed has to be made out to (or by) the accommodator entity, not the people who are actually taking part in the transaction.

There are three rules I'm aware of to use in identifying replacement property. The 3 property, the 200 percent, and the 95 percent. Keep in mind that this is investment property, often commercial in nature, and that even within major metropolitan areas it can be difficult to replace the property with something similar within the time frame. This is one case where the law is a lot more flexible than most of the people. As long as it's real estate within the United States not held for personal use, the law doesn't care what the use of the property you replace it with is, but lots of folks are trying to find something as specific to their purposes as possible. Also, in hot markets, there may be difficulties created with finding a property you can afford and that the seller will agree to sell to you in that time frame.

Keep in mind always that we're not necessarily talking a straight one property for one property exchange here. It can be multiple relinquished properties for one replacement (in which case the sale of the first relinquished property starts the clocks), it can be one relinquished for several replacement properties, or any mix of A properties now and B properties later, where A and B are nonzero, whole, and positive. Counting numbers, to use the technical mathematical name. For every additional property in the exchange, you can expect to spend more in fees to the accommodator, exclusive of all other costs to the transaction.

The first method of designating replacement properties is what's called the 3 property rule. You may designate up to three properties of any value, and as long as you actually acquire one or more that fits the parameters within 180 days, you've met this requirement. The second rule is any number of properties but no more than 200 percent of value. The final rule, 95 percent, is basically worthless and a good way to get in trouble, because unless you only designate one replacement property, you're not going to be able to acquire 95 percent of the total value of the designated properties. Identification of these properties must be precise and unambiguous. "Land at the corner of First and Main" won't work. You need something like a legal description or an Assessor's Parcel Number (APN).

Finally, you need to acquire the replacement property within 180 days of selling the property, and before filing your tax return for the year. This can and often does require the person undertaking the 1031 exchange to be forced to extend their taxes.

Where the person making the exchange wants to buy the replacement property before selling the relinquished property, that's called a "reverse" 1031 exchange. It's basically the same concept switched around. You have 45 days to designate which property will be sold (usually not difficult), and 180 days to actually sell it, which may be a problem in slow markets. Reverse exchanges are also more expensive, as they require accommodaters to take title to an actual piece of land, and they are not, in general, for the weak of wallet. Any financing must be non-recourse financing, because the accommodater is in title and they're not going to agree to be on the hook for the value of the loan if you can't sell the property. This can also cause a requirement for larger down payments.

There are also "partial" 1031 exchanges, where you end up not only with a replacement property, but also something else you didn't have before. For the exchange to qualify as for full deferral of the gain, the replacement property must cost at least as much as the relinquished was sold for, the equity in the replacement property must be at least as large as the equity in the relinquished was, and the loan must be at least as large as the previous loan. If any of these three conditions is not satisfied, you've probably ended up with what the IRS code calls "The part of a like-kind exchange transaction which is not like-kind exchange" but most accountants and other people in the real world call "boot," as in "you've got this, and that to boot." Boot is taxable, so if there's a lot of boot, it may defeat the purpose of a 1031 exchange.

One final thing I should mention is that a 1031 exchange can force you to delay filing your taxes. If you start the exchange in December, selling one property, and concluded it in June of the following year by buying the replacement but filed your taxes on April 15th, the IRA will disallow the deferral. The 1031 exchange must be absolutely complete before you file your taxes for the relevant year.

There are a lot of pitfalls to 1031 exchanges, and with typically large amounts under consideration, the IRS is notorious for being hard nosed about all the particulars of 1031 exchanges, whether they are forward or reverse. Don't try this without the aid of a tax professional, and for real estate purposes, an agent who has a good understanding can save your bacon. But if you do fulfill the requirements, it can be a good way of keeping money in your hands that you can continue to have invested in your new property, reducing your mortgage on that property, further saving you money, where otherwise nobody would be happy but the tax collectors.

Caveat Emptor

Original here


Several times a month I get calls and emails. Sometimes, it's even people stopping in. "I've heard you're good at finding bargains." Well, yes I am. "Please tell me the addresses of some bargains so I can drive by."

Well, facts are cheap in the age of transparency. I will quite joyously look at stuff on the internet, even set up an MLS Gateway or feed for someone on the speculation that they'll come back to me later for a showing or to make an offer. Setting up such a feed takes very little time, and about the expertise of an eleven year old that has learned to fill out internet forms. Oh, and MLS access. Can't forget MLS access. We've got a system that lets me custom define the search area now - I can click the corners of a search area I want on a map, and it will return only the results within that area. It's a really neat feature, and using it takes about ten seconds of training, and maybe ten minutes to do the whole thing. I'll happily do it as the possible prelude to a limited service commission, and even if the prospects end up using another agent, I've risked and lost nothing significant. No agency contract required, or even asked. I've even done it for folks who didn't want to give me their phone numbers so I could follow up. If they come back to make an offer, my compensation will be set in the offer paperwork.

But good analysis, experience, and expertise are not free - or even cheap. Furthermore, my time is valuable - and you're asking for a lot of it. I might find three or even four real potential bargains when I spend a full day searching - and that's in a target rich environment. Furthermore, I've got a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge to draw upon that many agents don't, and I look at a lot of properties. I can winnow 100 listings on the internet to twenty possibles in about an hour, go through them in about five hours, of which I might show a client who has made the commitment to work with me six, with usually one or two standouts among those. The rest will have something that to experienced, knowledgeable eyes, are reasons why it is not a viable choice for these particular clients. Maybe it's overpriced and I have reason to believe the owner won't negotiate. Maybe the location or surroundings have an unsolvable issue - one reason you can only tell a bargain by getting out of the office and looking at property. Given the area I work, most often there's something going on with the property itself that's not worth what it's going to cost to fix. I love the older East County suburbs of San Diego - they are good places to live, and when you consider what you get for what you spend, they blow the rest of the county away as far as value. Furthermore, I think the conditions are getting right for the housing buzz to rediscover them. But anytime you consider structures that mostly vary from thirty to eighty years old, you have to watch for maintenance and repair issues, and it really helps to know what you're looking for. Furthermore, it is always necessary to understand the market the property is being listed in. The only way you can do that is by having been in the properties that have sold recently, and the only way you can do that is to go out and look at them while they are still "for sale" because it's not likely the new owners will let you in after it sells.

What I'm trying to say is that the fact of the existence of a listing on MLS is cheap - basically free. You want me to send you addresses of properties for sale meeting certain criteria, that's easy and I'm happy to do it, no strings attached. Anything like that, that can be done by automated computer search, is not a part of what I'm really offering for sale, and I'll give it away on the speculation that sometimes, I'll make something when that person comes back to me to write an offer.

But the ability to recognize a bargain and equally important, what is not - that's the largest part of what I'm really selling as a buyer's agent. Winnowing those 100 listings to a few standout values is a valuable skill. If you don't agree with this, you shouldn't need or want that skill, and you shouldn't be talking to an agent about finding bargains. For people that want access to that skill, there is a fee - they must sign a standard non-exclusive buyers agency agreement. This is precisely equivalent to the difference between a computer programmer giving away some old boilerplate code for free - but they want to be paid for a brand new custom program. This requires all of the same things: Expertise, analysis, experience, knowledge of the area and the current market, the time it takes me to build, run, and debug the bargain-finding program in consultation with the client, and everything else that's involved. The mental ability to do those things did not suddenly appear one morning and it does not maintain itself. Furthermore, the liability for doing this if I make a mistake is huge. Agent mistakes cannot be undone by simply re-writing a few lines of code to work correctly, and having the ability to sue me and my insurance company if I do make that mistake is a huge benefit to the client in and of itself. If they make the mistake, they're stuck - and to be blunt, the probability of a non-professional making that mistake is both much larger than most home buyers believe and many times the probability that I will make that mistake - while if I make that mistake, they can get a lawyer and sue me for everything they might have lost, plus court costs, plus other damages ad nauseum. The idea isn't to sue, but rather not to make that costly mistake in the first place. An amazingly large percentage of buyers make mistakes of a magnitude that I find incomprehensible, all in the name of saving a fraction of what the mistake costs.

The ability to recognize a bargain property is a valuable skill. If you disagree with this, what reason do you have for looking at properties before you buy them? Why don't you simply pick out the cheapest property that meets your specifications on MLS, make an offer, come to an agreement, and pay the price, all sight unseen? Remember, you're claiming that the ability to recognize a bargain does not have value. Why would you want to take the time to look if there's no value in it? When there are ten thousand identical items in a warehouse or on the grocery store shelves, you grab one and get on with your life. You might look at the label to make certain it was manufactured to fill the need you have. You don't bother opening the box - if it's defective, you can just exchange it for another. They're all interchangeable.

But that isn't the case even on everything in the grocery store. There's a reason they wrap meat in transparent plastic - so you can see the piece of meat you're buying. To view the cut, how much fat is on it, how large a piece of meat it really is, how fresh it is - in short, the value of the meat. If you know what good meat looks like, you've seen people that have no clue as to what to look for choosing crummy meat that you've just rejected. It happens most of the times when I'm at the meat counter, as a matter of fact. It's why the grocery stores keep putting out bad cuts of bad meat. Somebody who doesn't know any better will buy it.

The same thing happens in real estate. I have dealt with people who bought into just about every bad situation imaginable - and now they're trying to unload the results of that onto someone else at a premium price. When I list a property, it's even my job to help them do so. But a significant percentage wouldn't even be selling if they had made the right choice in the first place!

The point I'm trying to make is this: Because the ability to find and recognize a bargain is a valuable skill, if you want it, you're going to pay for it. You can either pay me consultant rates by the hour, or you can pay me by doing the transaction with me. In either case, you're going to sign a contract that spells out exactly what that pay is. If you want bargains I've already found, those are valuable also. I can use the basic information as a lure to attract other people willing to work with me. If you buy it and you are not my client, the simple physical reality is that it's not available for people who are my clients. You got the benefit of my expertise without paying for it - and those who are willing to pay for it didn't. Contrary to something I read by a listing agent the other day, I have no responsibility to market the property - I haven't accepted agency, sub-agency, or anything else. When I'm acting as a buyer's agent, I have no obligation to any owner to sell their property. And until some prospective buyers sign my agency contract, I have no responsibility to them as far as locating and evaluating property. So if they're not going to sign my contract - and a non-exclusive agreement is all either one of us needs - I have no responsibility to give them the benefits of my expertise for free, any more than a lawyer or a computer programmer does.

As a matter of fact, that non-exclusive contract is me betting that I will find something sufficiently above and beyond the market that they want to buy it - because if they don't buy it, the contract says I don't make anything because they don't owe me anything. It's me betting that my expertise will cause them to want to stick with me - because if it doesn't or they don't want to, there's no reason they have to. If that bargain I find isn't a bargain, they can walk away with no obligations. But if it is a bargain, they use me as buyer's agent. The only reason to refuse to sign a non-exclusive agency contract is if you're not willing to work with the agent who brings you the bargain.

And that describes most of those who call or email. When asked to sign my non-exclusive contract, they'll say, "I'm working with someone." To which the answer is, "No, you're not. They're not doing the job. If they were, you wouldn't have come to me. What you are asking for is no different than asking one lawyer to do for free what you're paying another lawyer to do, or asking one computer programmer to do for free what you're paying someone else for. If you didn't think that what I do was somehow valuable to you, you wouldn't have contacted me and we'd both be doing something else right now. So your choice is this: Do you want to stick with someone who isn't doing the job, or do you want to work with someone who will get the job done, and will give you permission to fire him if he doesn't?"

Loyalty has a place. It's perfectly fine to give your Uncle Harry a chance to earn your business. But if Uncle Harry gives you his business card and tells you to call him when you've found the property you want to buy (or a property you may want to buy), he hasn't earned your business. In fact, he's told you he's unworthy of it. That's not an agent. That's a transaction coordinator, which many agents will charge you extra for so that they can go out prospecting and gladhanding for other business while the transaction coordinator does paperwork - the only real work their office does. But full service should be a lot more than a transaction coordinator doing paperwork in the office - and the office should pay for that coordinator out of what they make, not charge you extra for it. In this scenario, what expertise are you really getting? The ability to fill out all the paperwork on a checklist? It is important - but is it worth the thousands of dollars to you? Or is the ability to find you a bargain while discarding properties that aren't bargains what's really worth what a buyer's agent makes?

If you want a bargain on real estate, work with the buyer's agent who finds bargains you want to buy. The principle is the same one that says if you want the ditch Charlie digs, you pay Charlie to dig a ditch, not George. If you want the haircut Jane gives, you go to Jane's shop for her haircut - not down the street to Mary. And if John the mechanic isn't fixing your car correctly, you don't pay John and then ask Dave to do the work for free. You take your car away from John and take it down to Dave, and pay him for the work he does. It doesn't matter that John's mechanic shop has nifty uniforms, a funny advertising campaign, or anything else other than the mechanic who fixes your car so it runs right, which they don't. Dave fixes your car so that it runs right, you pay Dave, and you go back to Dave the next time it breaks down. If the funny advertising campaign is worth giving John some money, that's fine. But you're still going to have to pay Dave to fix your car, and he's going to want you to sign his service contract before he does any real work. The same thing applies to when you want to buy real estate. If Uncle Harry isn't doing the job you need him to do, you fire Uncle Harry and start working with someone else. Don't tell me you want me to find bargains for you but you're working with Uncle Harry. Get Uncle Harry to find you the bargains. If he's not doing that, your choice is really very simple: Suffer with Uncle Harry, or start working with someone who will do the job that he isn't.

When I'm looking to buy professional services, I don't look for the office with the lawyer with the neat ad campaign, computer programmers who act friendliest, or the doctor who talks about how to draw customers into their office. I look for the office who will demonstrate their expertise, keep me there by demonstrating their knowledge of the expertise I need, explain everything I need to know (preferably before I need to know it), advise me as to what my best choices are and the consequences of those choices. I want the office that finds other, better alternatives and offers them to me. That's sanity. That's what's valuable to me.

The same principle applies to real estate. If you want to do the searching yourself, that's fine. Here's your MLS gateway, call me if and when something pops up that you want me to get involved in. But if you want real expertise on the buyer's side of the transaction, that gateway is not what you want and you're going to have to agree to pay the agent who gives it to you. Because it is valuable, and if you didn't think it was valuable, you wouldn't be asking for it. I am not what most people think of as cheap - no good agent is. But I'm a lot less expensive than using a cheap agent. Or a bad one.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

There is no such thing as the perfect time to buy. The perfect time to buy would mean that you have all kinds of leverage, and can make sellers give you pretty much the deal you want, but prices are nonetheless rising rapidly so that you will have a large amount of equity the first time you need or want to refinance, or if you need to relocate.

These two conditions never go together. If buyers have all the leverage, they are certainly not going to opt for increasing prices. Sellers can gripe and moan about it all they want, but when there is too much inventory prices are going to fall until that that excess is gone. Supply and Demand. In 2003 and 2004, there might have been 4000 residential properties on the market locally at any one time. When I originally wrote this, it was over 22,000 and I've seen it up to 25,000. That meant 18,000 additional sellers were competing for no more than the same number of buyers (fewer by my count). If they don't really want to sell, if they just want to sabotage other sellers by adding to apparent inventory, that's no skin off the buyers' noses. If sellers want to actually sell the property, they've got to compete in order to attract those potential buyers. It's not like buyers just go out there and buy the property whose owner's turn it is to sell. They buy the best property for them at the cheapest price. So sellers can either compete by having a cheaper price, or they can compete by having a better property. Most house bling does not recover the money you spend on it, even in a seller's market, but it might give you the wedge you need to attract a buyer in a buyer's market - provided that your property is no more expensive than the comparables. Most sellers are in denial about this. They've got something a little bit better than the comparables, they want to ask $50,000 more, and then they wonder why their property isn't selling.

If you're looking for a time when property prices are increasing by twenty percent per year, by all means wait. Those conditions are called "seller's markets," because people who are willing to sell can get buyers to do pretty much everything they want, including pay more than the last seller got. Most sellers want to hold when prices are going like that, and buyers are desperate to acquire. High demand, low supply.

Trying to time the market so that you buy at exactly the moment when it hits bottom is an exercise in futility. Trying to "Time the market," whether stocks, bonds, or real estate, is a recipe for disaster. It's great if it happens, but it's sheer luck, and anyone who tells you different is lying. By the time people realize that prices are really going up again, buyers will come out of the woodwork and we'll be in a seller's market again.

Buyer's markets, where sellers outnumber buyers, do not last long, in large part due to the fact that once everyone figures out that prices are no longer declining, now everybody suddenly wants to buy. Inventory has usually been shrinking for quite some time before that happens.

Buy while the ratio of sellers to buyers is in the thirties, while you can pick and choose your properties, and if one seller won't play ball, the one down the street who's a little more desperate will. If you need some special consideration, like a seller carryback of part of the purchase price, you can find sellers who will be willing to cooperate because that's the only way they will get the property sold. If you wait until the market heats up and there are only five sellers per buyer, they're a lot more likely to tell you to take a hike with special requests like that. If I want cash, why should I loan it to someone with poor credit money at a below market rate if it's likely that I'll find another buyer in a week?

The time of year may not be optimum. Other things being equal, Christmas season is always the best time of year to shop for a property, because nobody wants to move the Christmas tree. Most people have enough extra stuff going on at Christmas that they don't want to add another major item: buying or selling their home. Those sellers who have their property on the market need to sell. Spring is the best time for sellers, right when things start to warm up (so the very best seller season happens earlier in San Diego than I understand it does in Minneapolis)

Finally, there is one more factor: The Mortgage Loan Market Controls the Real Estate Market. When lenders are being picky about what circumstances they will loan money in, and incredibly picky about the loans they actually fund, the people who can actually qualify under those standards can drive a harder bargain than when the standards are 'fog a mirror slightly' and therefore everyone qualifies. This means that if you're one of those folks whom the lenders will fund, or who doesn't need a loan, you'll be able to pick up wonderful bargains when loan standards are tight.


Caveat Emptor

Original here


People who talk about learning skills tend to discuss a model for learning called the conscious competence learning model.

It starts with unconscious incompetence. You not only don't know how to do something, you don't realize that it is a skill that requires learning. "Anyone can do that", people at this stage of learning will think, despite the fact that they never have. They have, in fact, no basis for comparison. A very few things are as simple as tripping over your own feet, but most aren't.

The next stage is the conscious incompetent. You still don't know how to do whatever it is, but at least you know that you don't know how. Maybe you've tried and fallen flat upon your face, maybe it's something that you instinctively know is beyond your training or ability. Back when I worked for the FAA and people would find out what I did for a living, it's was amusing to see how many people would immediately volunteer that they couldn't have done my job. For some reason, I don't get that now, despite the fact that the skills of being a good real estate agent are at least as difficult to acquire.

The next stage up the ladder is the conscious competent. Some preparation, supervision, a few botched tries, and then you do it right without anyone having to step in. But you've got to think - really pay attention, take your time and be careful about what you're doing.

The final stage is unconscious competence, where the skill becomes second nature. You're good at whatever it is. Most people over the age of two are at this stage as far as the skill of walking is concerned. They do it without considering how to move the muscles that make the legs and hips move. They walk whatever distance they need to without even paying attention. And here's an important point: Sometimes by not paying attention, people step on something or trip over something and get seriously hurt. They walk in front of a semi, or trip over the coffee table and fall through a window or just step on an oily patch that causes their feet to go out from under them and hit the back of their skull on the pavement.

It is my contention that nobody is up to unconscious competence when it comes to real estate.

In fact, if you think you've achieved unconscious competence at most of the core skills of real estate, you're almost certainly stuck on the first level - somebody who doesn't know what they don't know.

First off, real estate isn't one skill. It's at least half a dozen. The average client doesn't care about how good we are at attracting other clients. They care if we interact with them incorrectly, but I have yet to hear of a prospective client saying, "I want to sign up with someone who's great at prospecting for leads." They'll say things that amount to the same thing, like "I want to work with a top producer," or "I want to work with (insert heavily advertised brand here)" but there's a real difference of intent on the part of the consumer. They really don't care about lead prospecting competence per se. Yet this is probably the most discussed skill set on real estate websites. I don't understand why other agents think this is fascinating to clients, but by how often they talk about it, they evidently do. Maybe because it's one of the big focal points for every office - if you don't attract enough business, you're not going to be in the business. Nonetheless, clients don't really care about this one. You could be the worst prospector in the business, but somehow get enough clients to stay in business, and as long as you're good at everything else, the clients are going to be happy.

Then there are the interpersonal skills that most people have in fact developed by the time they're adults. Hello, how are you? Nice day, and so on from there until we get to the pinnacle of those skills, handling people so well that they never realize they've been handled. People care about this, and they know they care. Don't believe me? Whatever you do for a living, try calling your next prospect something nasty. You can't do real estate without these skills, but not only are they not the central job function for real estate licensees, but clients actually do not want somebody who is obviously too good at this. Why? They like the basic skills, but they don't like being played by sales persons, something that's happened to basically everyone by the time they're ready to buy real estate or get a loan. Nonetheless, many people choose agents and loan officers based upon feeling "a connection." *Buzz*. Wrong answer, thank you for playing. If a prospective agent isn't competent at the interpersonal dance, that's one thing. But 95% of all agents are quite good at it, and it doesn't mean a darned thing about their competence at real estate. Anybody with any competence at interpersonal skills can talk a good game in the office. They could be ready to crack that license prep course any day - not actually know a thing about real estate yet - and still manage to generate "a connection."

Then there's the paperwork and legal CYA stuff. I could name names of nationwide real estate firms that take months to cover these skills with new licensees, and brag about their training based upon that. The obvious snark that occurs to me every time I see one of their advertisements is, "How is being able to avoid legal judgments when you've hosed your client a virtue in the client's eyes?" In other words, it blows my mind that they actually brag about it to clients - and it also blows my mind that some people will actually choose them based upon advertising that essentially says, "We're good at the paperwork that allows us to not get sued for hosing our clients".

To be fair, paperwork is a real and necessary part of the career skills, but I'd like to see more emphasis upon actually doing a good job for the client, not disclosing everything in small print, hidden among 500 other sheets of paper at final document signing. There is stuff here that you're going to see on every transaction, or almost every transaction, but pretty much every real estate transaction is going to have something going on that is different from some hypothetical "typical" transaction, and if you aren't thinking about what you're doing, it's very likely you'll miss something important. Even if you are thinking carefully, you might miss something. People successfully sue agents every day, and the defendants are not all incompetent. Paperwork isn't a skill that gets clients a better bargain very often, and perfect paperwork doesn't mean the client didn't buy a vampire property or money pit, that they got a good bargain even if they didn't buy a vampire, that they sold for a good price in a timely fashion, or anything else except that the paperwork is perfect. The paperwork will usually tell them if they are careful enough and understand enough to read between the lines, but "careful enough" can be "reading documents for forty-six hours straight at final signing," and even then, it's pointless unless they've got the willpower to say "no" to the transaction at the last moment like that. Nonetheless, bad paperwork is what the attorneys of former clients find easiest to pin on real estate agents, and almost every judgment against an agent has "bad paperwork" behind it as the evidence. Paperwork is a necessary skill for agents, but it it's only evidence of a good or bad job - it isn't the good job or bad job itself.

Negotiation is a critical skill for agents, and many do actually study it. But for every agent I encounter who understands principles of negotiation, another is completely clueless and a third thinks negotiation is where you tell the other side everything about how the transaction is going to be. You should see some of the contracts my buyer clients were told to sign - take it or leave it - in the middle of the strongest buyer's market of the last generation. And these folks wonder why the property didn't sell. Actually, I'll bet that if you work with buyers, you wouldn't be surprised. I just randomly pulled up twenty listings in the zip code my office is in - and all but two had violations of RESPA right in the listing. Bare, baldfaced violations of RESPA - steering is illegal, no matter the form it takes. It's not only setting you up for a lawsuit, it's setting your client up for a lawsuit. If DRE wanted to put at least half the agents and brokerages in California out of business over steering, I think it would be pretty trivial. But I digress - I'm trying to talk about negotiation.

Everything about the transaction is negotiable, and refusing to negotiate anything can be grounds for losing an excellent offer. Price is not an independent variable, and it's not the most important of a series of completely independent points. It may be the central issue of a negotiation, but it influences everything else about the negotiation, and is in turn influenced by all those other factors. What does each side need, what do they want, what would they settle for, and what are they willing to give up in order to get it? If the answer to this last question is "nothing," then they must not want it very badly! There are many factors other than money, but they all inter-relate, and the person who can figure out something the other side wants that isn't money can use that to make both sides happier. Negotiation isn't just faxing offers back and forth, and in the context of real estate, it's a skill that takes a significant amount of practice as well as study to maintain. Furthermore, more than any other skill involved in real estate, negotiation never gets to be so strong a skill that you can do a good job without thinking about it. For one thing, on the other side of that negotiation is another agent who does the same thing. I always presume the other side is better at it than I am to start with. Evidence quite often proves this presumption to be nonsense, but you don't hose your client in negotiations by paying attention and being careful. Nor is there any metric for negotiation skills except how good the deal you get one particular client is, and since every property is unique, often the client has no real idea whether you should be nominated for negotiator of the year or pilloried for incompetence. I haven't heard of anybody being sued for poor or non-existent negotiation skills. I have heard of buyer's agents getting beat up by their brokers for doing too good of a job - lowering the commission.

The next skill is property evaluation. This is more important to buyer's agents than listing agents, but listing agents can benefit by knowing it as well. It breaks into several skill facets, each of which is a skill that requires instruction and practice. The most important facet of this is the ability to spot defects that are going to cost the client money - actual structural problems. Ask yourself: Is the fact that the agent tells you they're not an inspector going to make you feel better about buying a property where the roof caves in three weeks later? Is that going to absolve the agent of blame in your mind? Don't expect your agent to note everything that a contractor or inspector or engineer will - but they should tell you about everything they see, and they should see most of it, and it should come as part of a full service package, so you don't have to spend $300 getting an inspector out, or $600 for an engineer, not to mention put a deposit into escrow where you may not get it back for quite some time if the seller wants to be obstinate. This is a critical job skill - but you would be amazed at the number of highly agents whose advertising tells the world about how much real estate they sell who might as well be wearing a blindfold. Telling clients about defects makes it harder to really churn those numbers!

Furthermore, without a good agent who will tell you this stuff, you might have to do this multiple times. Instead, with a good agent you know about the problem before you consider putting an offer in - and instead of a costly drama that eats your life, you walk away unscathed and find another property that actually suits you. On the day I originally wrote this, I had persuaded a client to cross four properties off their list, all of which would have sent him through that cycle. Decorator's eye is another facet of this - helping the client stage a property - or helping buyers see the potential of a property despite poor staging. Poor staging wouldn't make nearly the difference it does if most agents weren't lacking in this truly important skill.

Rehabber's eye is related, yet a distinct sub-skill - helping the client see the property with a few changes, usually not very expensive ones. Location evaluation: How does the location of the property fit with the client's agenda? Schools, traffic, shopping, environmental noise and other factors. Sometimes, the client doesn't know their own agenda, as I have discovered upon many occasions. All of these are part of the core job function, all are skills that must be developed and practiced if you want them. They are also critical to how happy a client is going to be with an agent's work - particularly if you're working as a buyer's agent, as I usually am. But it seems that this whole group of critical skills gets neglected in favor of "Which property has one feature that makes Mrs. Client swoon with delight?" This approach is conceptually similar to "throw enough mud at the wall and eventually some will stick." Out of sheer frustration if nothing else. But I have yet to see a single brokerage train their clients for any of this entire group of skills. Indeed, most of the major chains seem to be doing their best to pretend these are not part of an agent's function. Here's the thing: I can get people to buy and sell properties without these skills, and never get sued successfully over them. But then it's completely hit or miss as to whether the client will really be happy with the property - and who do you think is going to get the blame if they're not? I had some clients insist upon buying property on the corner of two moderately busy streets last year - and I made certain to remind them of the traffic and noise throughout the transaction - giving them encouragement to change their mind if they weren't certain they were going to be happy with it. But I'll bet you a nickel they call me when it's time to sell it because these opportunities to change their mind also generated a real buy-in to the situation for them.

Marketing skill is more critical for listing agents, but buyer's agents need to know marketing as well. How do you get the attention of someone who will want to buy this property? How do you persuade them it's worth making an offer on? What are the available venues, and what actually works? Theory says that there is one buyer out there who will pay more for the property than anyone else - how do you get their attention or that of someone close to them? Get them to come look, get them to see value, get them to make an offer you're happy to accept, get them to carry through on the purchase? On the buyer's side, you've got to be able to counter the fecal matter - and I can count on the fingers of one hand all the properties I've been in the last year where I didn't find some obvious fecal matter in the way it was represented, or the things that the listing agent said in order to get it sold. (FYI: This fecal matter has an ugly habit of biting the disseminators later on.)

Did you think I was leaving market knowledge out? Here it is. How does the property compare to everything else around it? What's the general market for real estate like in the area? What else has sold lately, for how much, and what was it really like? It's too late now to get a viewing of all the comparables that sold within the last few months - the lock box is gone, the new owners have moved in, they're done with all that transactional nonsense, and the vast majority sure as heck aren't going to let random strangers poke around their new house. How many agents get off their backside, get into their car, go out and look, take notes, and remember? Most of the agents I've done business with never leave the office except for an actual showing generated by clients driving around, or surfing the internet, or even reading the "for sale" ads.

Showing clients only those properties they have asked to see is so backwards I have difficulty articulating precisely how messed up it is. A good agent knows the market, knows the comparables for sale, and knows how a given property compares. They might not have been in every single one, but they've been in enough for a good comparison. Patronizing an agent who hasn't done this, who doesn't make a habit of this, is like having half an agent - at most. How in the nine billion names of god are you going to help a client price a listing properly if you haven't looked at the competition? How in the name of ultimate evil are you going to know a property is or isn't worth making an offer on, and for how much? Yet people will do put up with this nonsense because they don't know any better. This is probably the agent skill that needs the most practice of all, and decays the most quickly if not practiced. There's this one neighborhood about three miles from my office that I haven't been into for almost three months, and I'm terrified I'm going to get a call for it before I can remedy the situation. There's nothing wrong with clients suggesting properties, and I firmly believe that no matter how messed up the property is, they should be given the opportunity to see any property that catches their eye - but doing that and only that takes zero advantage of the one thing good agents have that bad agents and 99.999% of the general public don't - precisely this expertise. It is this expertise that makes more difference than any other skill set in results for clients - whether selling or buying. You can't recognize either a bargain or the opposite without the context to put it in. You can't price a property right without knowing the competing properties and their relative strengths and weaknesses. But all too many people, both agents and general public, discount this difficult to acquire skill, thinking, "Anybody can do that!" Question: Which of the learning categories above does this place them into?

I don't know how many people I've met that seem proud to be stuck in unconscious incompetence. But just because you don't recognize the skill doesn't mean it doesn't exist, it doesn't mean that its lack won't bite you, and it most assuredly does not mean that its presence in others won't hurt you. For real estate transactions, to the tune of thousands of dollars at a minimum. Knowledge springs, not from the mental impenetrability of "Anyone can do that!", but rather from the admission that perhaps you might have something to learn.

Caveat Emptor

Original article here

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