Certainly, we are all aware that Real Estate fees are negotiable and that there is no set standard for the services of a REALTOR. Mind you, that does not mean agents are under any obligation to deviate from their stated rates, but it does mean that what Agent X quotes for his services is not to be mistaken for what Agents Y and Z might charge for theirs. That piece of legal housekeeping out of the way, there are means at your disposal for securing the best possible value on professional service from your agent. Follow this simple list of Do’s & Don’ts, compiled over the course of eleven years in the business, and you will give yourself the best chance at securing the lowest commission rate to go along with the level of service you demand.
- Refer me business. This one goes at the top of the list for a reason. In a commission based existence, new sources of business are my lifeblood. While it seems patently obvious, many simply don’t think about sending potential clients to their agent unless prompted. The primary reason that the fees in a Real Estate transaction tend to be high is the risk to the professionals involved. Mitigate some of the risk in an “eat what you kill” profession by helping me find my next paycheck, and I am more likely to reward the added security with a concession of my own.
- Provide me with repeat business. Unlike the wireless companies who are always offering deep discounts to new customers, I am far more likely to offer a lower rate to an existing client than the man off the street. As multiple transactions from a loyal client over the years will eliminate much of the reliance on cold business lead generation, we agents consider the client for life the holy grail of financial security.
- Be pleasant to work with. Touchy-feely as it sounds, no one likes working for a Napoleonic boss. I deal with all types in this business, but I’m more apt to offer a better rate to those I’m eager to assist than the rabid seller in the Hannibal Lecter mask.
- Do your homework. While I will inevitably have to help you unlearn a few things that you’ve gleaned from your internet sleuthing (amateur home evaluation via online calculator, anyone?), an educated client saves me time. That is additional time I can direct to procuring new business or coddling less prepared clients.
- Provide me with an excellent product to sell at my recommended list price. Some listings are simply creampuffs. Beautifully appointed and priced right, I know without a doubt that it is going to sell within 30 days on the market. While I will earn my keep in establishing value and marketing to fetch a top of market sales price, such creampuffs are the closest thing to money in the bank that this profession offers. I’m not adverse to reducing my normal fee if it means planting a sign in the yard of a home that will sell quickly and generate a ton of buyer calls (new potential business).
- Purchase with an eye towards future resale. This is an offshoot of the previous item. When looking for a new home, many buyers focus exclusively on their needs and budget. This is a mistake. Future value potential and desirability of the property across a broad spectrum of buyers is critical to not only your return on investment, but to its appeal to Real Estate agents as a listing sometime down the line. I won’t turn cartwheels when you call me to list a home for sale with a funky, unpermitted addition. A tough property to sell means no discounted rate.
See the pattern here? The idea is to give a little to get a little. Take away some of the financial risk associated with the job, and I can work with you on the reward. On the flip side, there are surefire ways to relegate yourself to the going rate. Avoid the following list of don’ts unless you enjoy talking yourself out of a deal.
- Ask me what I charge in advance of an initial consultation. It is human nature to want to cut to the chase, but lacking context, I have no idea whether your home is a creampuff or a dud. Further, demanding to know what I charge without giving me the opportunity to outline what services I provide for that fee raises a red flag. It sets an adversarial tone and tells me that you are likely going to be a grinder. Until you give me the opportunity to see the property, and/or you present me with a special circumstance that might make me amenable to a discounted offering, you are going to get quoted the standard fare. If anything, I might even quote a slightly higher fee than typical as I have no idea what I’m walking into.
- Haggle with me. There is certainly no harm in asking me about my fees (how could you agree to do business with me without knowing the costs, after all?), or asking if I would be willing to reduce them. Instead of trying to junkyard dog me into a lower rate, however, offer me something of value (see list of DO’s) in return. I don’t respond well to coercion, and I negotiate for a living. Give me a reason to reduce my rate, don’t blindly demand it.
- Own the only million dollar home in a $250k neighborhood. You must purchase and remodel/renovate shrewdly. Making poor initial purchasing decisions, over-improving for the neighborhood, or otherwise rendering your home difficult to sell is the single greatest saboteur of a better deal from me. Signing up for 6 months of marketing on an unsalable property will not put me in a generous mood. You’ll pay full boat, if I opt to take the listing at all.
- Play me off of other agents. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and one I can see coming a mile away. Fear of loss is a powerful motivator, just don’t be so obvious about it. A well-placed mention of the upcoming interview with another agent will work better than a full frontal assault of “Agent B said she’d list my house for ___%.” I know that I am likely competing for your business, and factor that into the rate I quote you. A subtle reminder won’t hurt, but a mugging will make me hold tight to my wallet.
- Approach me on one of my listings directly under the misguided belief that I will reduce my fee if you do not have representation. This bothers me on principle. I may offer a cooperating broker a percentage of my fee to produce a buyer, but under no circumstances does that percentage vanish or adjust if I am the only agent involved. I am actually hesitant to handle both sides of the transaction, as it opens the door to twice the transactional liability, and certainly will not double my workload for free. Regardless, this tactic is akin to cutting your nose off to spite your face. Go get yourself an agent of your own who will negotiate a better deal for you rather than dinking and dunking around with a percent or two of agent compensation. Think big picture.
- Ask me to reduce my fee if I find the buyer without the involvement of another agent. This is the flip side to the previous entry. Yes, I stand to earn a larger fee if there is no other agent involved in the transaction, but this approach is problematic in that you are essentially providing me with a disincentive to find your buyer myself. Why would I bust my behind and open myself up to the greater liability of handling both sides of the transaction for no additional reward? Such a commission arrangement essentially directs your agent to the couch, where he waits with feet up on the ottoman for a buyer’s agent to do his job.
I abhor the phrase “win-win.” So overused and misapplied to a business transaction. We are not Real Estate mediators, after all, but agents tasked with securing the best possible terms for our clients in the sale of real property. When it comes to the relationship between agent and client, however, it is the appropriate cliche. If we are to function as a cohesive unit to satisfy mutual goals, there are different routes to the “win-win” scenario. No need to butt heads when we each have things of value to offer in exchange for that which is most important to us. For consumers, that means making your agent’s job easier and directing future income potential his way. For agents, that means rewarding that consideration with quality, professional service at the lowest possible rate of compensation.
Symbiosis … it’s a beautiful thing.