Toronto has a problem. For the past several months, or longer, there has been a shortage of freehold listings in the first-time and move-up markets. You will get different answers depending on who you talk to, but the main culprits include; low-interest rates, the Land Transfer Tax, tighter government regulations and higher consumer debt. The real answer is probably E, all of the above. Unfortunately for buyers the old saying rules…Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Recently one of our agents sold a condo for a young couple anxious to get into the housing market. Their goal was simple; parley their extraordinary talent for decorating and renovating. They did it to their condo and now wanted to do it with a house. Start small and slowly increase their net worth the old-fashioned way…buy a home with good bones, renovate and sell, then buy something bigger and do it all over again. It has been done successfully by many talented individuals over the years. But here is the problem. The couple in question have been watching the market for some time. They have heard the countless stories of wild bidding wars and are now convinced that the only way to win is by working with the listing agent. Their thought is that either they will get it at a lower price or at the very least get the inside advantage at offer night. The example given above should highlight a number of key concerns for both buyers and agents.
First lets look at the process from the buyer’s point of view. You go into an open house and see the home of your dreams. Well, lets clarify… the home of a lot of people’s dreams. So you ask the listing agent to represent you in purchasing the home. Now, aside from the obvious pitfall of asking them to represent both sides of a negotiation, you are signing a buyer representation agreement with the selling agent. It is important to understand what this means, otherwise you could find yourself in a situation where you owe two commissions. More to point however is that jumping from agent to agent will do you more harm than good. The simple fact is that you are hiring an agent to walk you through the process, negotiate on your behalf and in your best interests, keep confidential facts about your motivation to themselves, review competitive properties and help you determine an offering price, arrange and oversee things like home inspections and appraisal visits, and hook you up with contractors or movers and finally, provide a great deal of follow-up service. All these things are tough to do when your agent is also representing the seller especially when there are many people competing for the same home.
There are some basic mechanics about offer night that most buyers don’t know about either. First, if the selling agent is representing you, he must tell other buyer’s agents. He must also disclose if he is lowering commission. The point of this disclosure is to level the playing field for all buyers. That being said, some companies take great pains to ensure a fair and equitable process, so contracting the selling agent just doesn’t make sense if your motivation is to save money.
On the surface, contacting a listing agent seems like a no-brainer, but the reality is that a trusting relationship is the key to a successful home purchase in our competitive market.
Mastermind was a lot of fun this week thanks to a surprise drop in from our Commander-In-Chief Tom Bosley who always brings it up a notch or two. So if you couldn’t make it, you missed an interesting discussion on a classic open house misstep, our duty to disclose, and a spirited conversation about a potential multiple offer bribery.
First off, we heard from an agent who was showing her clients around one Saturday afternoon. She had several properties booked to look at and a few that she didn’t book because they were having open houses. Just after 2pm, they arrived at the first open house. A crowd of people was standing out front waiting to get in, but there was no one at the home. A few minutes later a rather frazzled agent comes screaming up the driveway, jumps out of her car, apologizes profusely, opens the front door then announces to the group to have a look around while she goes and puts out her signs. She jumps back in her car and drives away. Hilarious. Do you think her insurance would cover her if the owners were robbed blind? Honestly, when I hear stories like this I shudder.
Next, we talked about our duty to disclose. So here is the question, you know for a fact that a certain house has a serious flooding problem. While you don’t have a client interested in the property do you think you have a duty to tell the listing agent? What about other agents in your office? Do you owe a duty to them or is it a case of buyer beware? Does your answer change if you have a client interested in the property? It seems clear that if a listing agent gets wind of any defect, he must investigate thoroughly, figure out the extent of the defect and determine a cost to remediate.
Finally, we talked about a very interesting scenario. Imagine two buyers sitting in their car while their agents are inside the house taking turns at the negotiation table. One buyer takes off to the bank machine and returns with $10,000 in cash. He knocks on the other buyer’s car window and offers him the money to rescind his offer. Just to be clear, it didn’t actually happen, but it opened a wild debate at our meeting. The idea is interesting. Buyers are scrambling as hard as ever to win bidding wars but is this a winning strategy? So, the question is, could it actually happen? Do buyers have the ability, outside of their relationship with an agent, to influence other buyers? Thankfully part of our job as real estate agents is to keep the process honest and civil. If you have heard of any stories where something along these lines actually happened, please let me know.
Oh and in case you are wondering, that IS Einstien’s face on my body. Have a great week.
I had an interesting conversation with one of the agents in my office yesterday. He is a strong producing agent who is feeling rather frustrated with all the multiple offers going on. Since January he has been in ten such scenarios and lost all ten. If it weren’t for his listings I’m not sure I would be able to talk him off the ledge. Multiple offers seem to be the focus of a lot of discussions around the office (see today’s article in The Star on winning a bidding war, http://bit.ly/HBlh7b ) and while we often talk about Buyer fatigue, the new malady might just be Agent fatigue.
I might just have the answer for winning more offer presentations. It is so simple yet so genius. Sell your clients a FSBO property. Let’s face it, Agents stay away from FSBO’s. They’re not supposed to, but we all know they do. At our company we devote part of our training to dealing with private sellers because, while still a very small segment of the market, agents will come across them from time to time and need to know how to negotiate with a private seller. We should also recognize that, for the most part, FSBO’s aren’t flying off the shelf. Personally, I’ve passed the same three large round blue and green directional FSBO signs for the last 2 months. (Interesting how FSBO’s don’t need to adhere to city bylaws regarding open house signs isn’t it?). It reminded me of an interesting situation one of my agents had a few months ago. She had been working with a buyer for a few weeks and after several failed offers they found the perfect home for sale being offered privately. My agent talked to the sellers and managed to organize the showing with her clients. The house was for sale for $749,000 but her research showed that it was easily worth $850,000 and that under normal conditions (read; massive bidding wars) the house could reach into the $900k range. The sellers said they were trying to get a bidding war going. The instructions clearly stated that all offers were to go to the Seller’s lawyer. My agent’s clients were interested in the house so she called the lawyer to ask if there were any offers registered. His response was “yes, we have an offer on the table for $745,000”. Fabulous. Well it turned out perfectly for one buyer. Sadly it was not ours. That’s a story for another day. The point of this is to illustrate that it is not always in a Seller’s best interest to go it alone.
Let me state unequivocally that I am not against people selling homes themselves. There are lots of situations where involving a Realtor just doesn’t make sense. In a 2010 NAR survey of buyers and sellers, about half of the FSBO sales typically occur when the seller knows the buyer. Here are some other interesting points from the survey;
• Over 60% of all FSBO’s sell for 10% or more below the market than if they had they had sold after obtaining the services of a Realtor®
• Over 65% of FSBO’s end up in some sort of litigation or legal dispute ending up in court or arbitration and costing them more than the expected savings of selling on their own
• Most FSBO’s take longer to sell than if they had listed with a Broker
What’s the take away here? While the NAR report talks specifically about a very difficult U.S. real estate market, there are some interesting things to talk about with potential FSBO sellers and buyers; namely pricing and future litigation. Remember, if you are offering on a FSBO or mere posting listing it is extrememly important that you offer no advise to the seller. To do so puts you in an assumed multiple representation role. If the Seller asks “what should I sign it back at?” your response should simply be ” I am representing my client and as such I cannot offer you any advise”.
Naturally I would love to hear any stories you might have regarding your experiences with dealing with FSBO’s or mere postings.