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Agency Problem

Michael Flack

MOST PEOPLE THINK that selling real estate is the flip side of buying. But in most cases, selling is a very different enchilada, and that should drive who you hire as a REALTOR®—and, yes, that is the preferred style.

Buyers face an almost infinite list of potential properties to purchase. Initially, almost every house is a possibility. As the buyer and agent review the buyer’s requirements, the list is whittled down until the dream home is found.

The buyer relies on the agent’s knowledge of school districts, neighborhoods, streets, commutes, property taxes and so on. The agent’s knowledge of all the real estate available is vital to the buyer making an informed purchase.

This process requires a certain amount of togetherness, as both buyer and agent review the ever-changing list of requirements, while driving around in a luxury SUV, touring houses, drinking coffee and talking on the phone.

The importance of getting along cannot be overstated. Buying your dream house using an agent you don’t like is at best problematic and at worst the fifth circle of hell. There’s no point in hiring an agent—even one with the negotiating skill of Chester Karrass and the local knowledge of Gladys Kravitz—if you just can’t stand him or her.

Selling real estate is very different. Instead of an almost infinite number of homes under consideration, there’s only one. Sellers only care about the agent’s knowledge of one school district, one neighborhood, one street, one property tax bill. If sellers determine that the best person to sell their home is a little bit of a jerk, who cares? The amount of time they’ll spend together will be limited—especially if the agent is any good.

If the real estate gods were to appear before buyers and vouchsafe that, if they were to pay 10% more, they’d be assured of buying the perfect home, most would accept the offer. But if the gods appeared before sellers to say that, for 10% less, they’d get the most well-mannered agent, one who’d provide the most fabulous gift baskets and remind everybody of their favorite aunt, sellers would reply “no, thank you” or, more likely, “Are you high?”

Viewing a buyer’s agent and a seller’s agent as two different specimens might at first seem to make real estate transactions more complicated. In fact, it can make selling much more straightforward: Interview as many agents as necessary to find the one who will sell your home for as much money as possible. This may take time, so it’s best to start the selection process well before you plan to sell.

What about selling your house using the agent who helped you buy the place? That reminds me of my wife’s choice of a hairdresser. She continues to use him not because he does such a great job, but because they have become friends. What would he think if he found out she went someplace else?

My advice: Former home buyers who are now sellers should send for the sons-of-bitches. Let’s face it, “This is no time to go wobbly.”

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