Archive for the ‘real estate agents’ Category
Tuesday, May 17th, 2016
There are too many mistakes made by real estate agents – some come from a true lack of understanding of the legalities that are inherent in buying and selling real estate, and others from ignorance, selfishness or stupidity. But either way the fact is that real estate agents need more training and licensing requirements should be much stricter.
I was contacted last week by a lady who felt she had been taken advantage of by her current agents. They failed to inform her about the process of accepting a particular tricky offer, and the ramifications associated with doing so, in order for her to make an informed decision on whether to accept the offer. They did not explain many other things she had the right to know. She was beyond frustrated.
The reason this home seller called me is that she had been referred to me, and liked my legal background – she wanted to fire her agents and have me list the home. I counseled her on the terms of her listing agreement, and provided options and advice; in the end I told her she should try to resolve issues with her current agents so that she could get her home sold since they had already done so much work, while renegotiating some terms and making clear that she needed to be kept in the loop throughout the process. She said she felt much better after speaking with me, and I was glad to help.
The listing agent team she was working with is seasoned, so I was rather surprised that they did not provide information and explanations on many of the forms and processes that come with selling a home. They also charged a 6% commission fee, and they offered 2.5% commission to the selling agent, so they were planning to make 3.5% on the sale! She tried to negotiate with them but they would not do so. She was told that was standard and she had no idea that commissions are negotiable. But I am more disgruntled with other aspects of the sale that I feel were not handled properly.
It is time our national, state and local associations set up mandatory training programs for every agent, and license renewal programs that touch on much of that training so that agents are reminded of their professional and legal responsibilities every time they have to renew their license. Here are some suggestions:
1. Real estate exam – this needs to be more difficult and more expensive to take – that will keep those out who are only in it because they think they will make a lot of money.
2. Across-the-board mandatory training programs – these need to be implemented for all new agents – every broker must comply. This will ensure that all new agents have the same degree of basic knowledge about real estate and law, and the practicalities of sales (forms, paperwork protocol, transaction management, etc.).
3. Stricter license renewal requirements – these also need to be addressed, because the license renewal requirements could be more challenging.
4. Stricter punishment for ethical violations and breaking of laws – as the current rules stand in my state, an ethical violation may or may not be punished – it all depends on whether the agent on the other side of the violation, or a disgruntled buyer or seller – reports the behavior. Unfortunately many do not, because they do not want to be involved in a situation where they are pointing a finger. Agents especially do not like to get involved in ethical hearings because they feel their reputation may be at stake for calling out a fellow agent – thus many unethical agents continue to slide downhill. Punishment is also not meted out often enough or enough to match the crime. The same is true of agents who break laws, like committing fraud. Reporting and punishment need to change.
The real estate business would benefit immensely from the above changes – real estate agents would be a more educated, professional and savvy group of people, and home buyers and sellers would win in the biggest way.
Friday, February 12th, 2016
If you are a regular reader you know that I have a thing for ethics and those who violate the boundaries of professionalism in any field. We’ve all known of someone who crosses or has crossed the line. The real estate industry is no exception. Here are the most common ethics breaches made by real estate agents:
1. Going after other agents’ clients. Amazing, but yes there are slimy people out there. This actually just happened to me – another agent took advantage of my client in a very sneaky way. When an agent knows that someone is a client of another agent, to go after that person in order to get them to work with you is not just unethical, but it’s nasty. Karma will get all those people one day, but they really should not be in the business if they cannot be professional and respectful. That agent’s reputation will suffer, especially among area agents.
2. Not disclosing relevant information. This happens all too often. Some agents actually advise their sellers to NOT disclose information that could affect a sale – such as problems that have occurred in the home (broken pipes, electrical problems, roof leaks, etc.). Again, not only is this an ethical violation but it is illegal. Many lawsuits are initiated because buyers were not made aware of past problems – it is one of the main reasons for real estate lawsuits. I tell all my sellers that it is better to over-disclose than leave anything out. If you lay it out on the table it is up to the buyer to check out any issues and make informed decisions.
3. Telling home inspectors not to notify of problems or directing what should/should not be in a report. It is hard to believe but there are agents who do this. One home inspector told me that a successful area agent once told him not to notify him (the agent) of any problems concerning the roof, and to leave them out of the report! I couldn’t believe that. That is far more than an ethical violation – it is illegal. Things like this apparently go on all the time. Thus the reason you need an excellent home inspector that you trust, and also whom your client can trust. Mine is also a civil engineer and a licensed contractor – a little piece of mind goes a long way in preventing problems and legal action down the road.
4. Taking referral fees from lenders or others specified by law or statute as not allowable. This is a big no-no: unethical and also illegal.
5. Giving a client advice that is not in their best interests in order to secure a sale. Clients need to make their own decisions on whether or not to buy or sell a property. The role of the agent is to make sure the client receives all the pertinent information in order to make an informed decision. I never make decisions for my clients – rather, I offer my expertise in answering their questions and concerns. If there are problems with the property that are inherent and could cause issues down the road, I always point that out and suggest expert advice when needed. The ultimate decision belongs to the client – our role is to facilitate providing information. Encouraging a client to buy or sell when it may not be in their best interests is unethical.
There are many other glaring examples of ethical breaches in the real estate industry, and there is always the agent who invents a new one. But the above 5 examples are perhaps the most dangerous because they are crossing over into breaking laws and could have legal consequences. This is why all agents need strong training programs and continuing education to keep them abreast of new rules and laws.
The real estate industry needs to crack down on agent training and make cross-the-board mandatory programs, as well as stricter licensing requirements. Brokers also need to take responsibility with stricter oversight of their agents (if I was paid $1 for every time I had to call another broker to report something their agent did that jeopardized a contract, I would have a lot of dollars). Until such changes are set in motion we will unfortunately see more ethical/legal violations in the industry.
Thursday, December 4th, 2014
“The average person puts only 25% of his energy and ability into his work. The world takes off its hat to those who put in more than 50% of their capacity, and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100%.” – Andrew Carnegie
There is nothing wrong with being average – in fact, some people are quite content with the moniker – not fighting to break glass ceilings and striving to be “better,” however that may be defined. Societies rely on a mixture of those who are happy with “average” jobs and those who are not and need to achieve “more.”
I find the old adage that 20% of people do 80% of the work to be true in the real estate sales profession. The industry exemplifies the average/exceptional delineation: the average agent sells 4-6 homes a year (personally I think it’s probably more like 2-3), and makes $34,000-45,000. The main reason is most agents are part-timers, which means they have other jobs and consider real estate a second (or third) job, or even a hobby. They do not put in enough hours and dedication to make real estate a profession, for many because it is a tough thing to do and income is never consistent (except for those who are top producing agents).
To excel at any job one needs to put in sweat and time, and real estate is no exception. Those who spend years building relationships with clients will eventually benefit from referral business; those who stick to their own proven way of doing business and work hard at it on a daily basis will see results, which will allow them to climb out of the average category. This is true in any profession. The question becomes”is average good enough for you?”
Many real estate agents and brokers lament over average agents and the problems that can accompany them – mostly issues related to ethics, not working hard enough or not being careful enough from a legal standpoint. After all, there are legal ramifications galore in this business, so one can ever be too careful, stop learning, or fail to stay on top of current laws and rules. I have written many blogs about the need for stricter rules and licensing standards in the industry, so I will not go into that here, but the irony is that if those things existed the profession would be treated more like a profession, and people would have to hold themselves to higher standards (brokers too would have to hold salespeople to higher standards).
So, are you average in your industry and want to get out of that rut? If so, you may want to ask yourself why you feel that way. If you are a person who strives to be above average but are not in that space, you should figure out how to excel. Evaluate your business, make a business plan, educate yourself further, reach out to all your clients and find a mentor. There is no need to be an average agent. On the other hand, if you are happy where you are then stay there, but make sure you do not ignore important issues like learning new rules, laws and forms. Either way, decide where you want to be and be the best you can be in that position.
Thursday, November 6th, 2014
People always say you can’t choose your neighbors, and for the most part this is correct. I suppose if you did want to choose your neighbors you could purchase a new construction home and have friends and family purchase on the same street. But the reality of that happening is of course slim. So when you buy a home you may try to meet as many neighbors as possible prior to signing off on all the paperwork, but of course you never truly know someone from just a meeting, so most of it is left to chance. The same is true of co-workers and bosses, and for real estate agents.
I have worked with many agents since I started in this business, and many of them have been pleasant and professional, kind and cooperative. That obviously makes the entire transaction process a much better experience for all involved, including my clients and myself. It is so wonderful to be able to work with someone who returns calls, stays on top of paperwork and is willing to go the extra mile as a representative for her own clients and also as a professional.
Of course, there are many agents in the real estate business who appear to be professional but are very difficult to work with. I have a collection of names in my head, based on past experiences, whom I hope never to work with again. Of course I can only control that outcome so much – if a client wants to buy a home and the listing agent is someone I dread working with I may be left with no options….So what is an agent to do when the agent on the other side is a pain in the neck?
Here are a few things I have learned over the years that agents can do when they are in those tricky situations, in order to try and ease any difficulties or challenges:
1. Set goals/intentions from the start. If I have to work with a difficult agent I will let the agent know from the start what I expect and how I would like to work together.. I will send an email identifying a time table of all the important dates and responsibilities – including my own – and provide all contact information. I will set my own expectations as to paperwork and the best way to communicate. If the person is not someone who is easy to talk to or hard to get a hold of, I will spell out the best way to communicate. I also find out right away if there is a transaction coordinator or assistant involved, and make sure to cc them on every communication.
2. Involve the agent’s broker and your own broker. If things are challenging I will always involve the agent’s broker. I am not shy and have called many brokers. Most of them are more than willing to step in and assist with deadlines and communication. In the case where the agent IS the broker, I lay it all on the line and tell the agent that s/he needs to cooperate and communicate. Usually this works, but if not then sometimes you have to be prepared to threaten to file a complaint (luckily I’ve not had to do this). If you are an agent working for a broker, it is important to involve YOUR broker right away as well. That is what s/he is there for, so don’t feel like you have to deal with difficult people on your own.
3. Put everything in writing. One of the first things I learned in law school is that you always have to have a paper trail. I ALWAYS put things in writing during a transaction. If I speak to the other agent over the phone or in person, I follow up with an email reviewing the conversation. If things go sour and there is a complaint filed (or even worse, a lawsuit) down the road, that paper trail will be your salvation. Save all emails in a file on your server.
4. Document all communications that are not in writing. Document all phone calls – it is easy to keep a running Word doc and add to it as needed. When the sale closes save everything on a CD or a file in your system.
5. Stay professional throughout, but stick only to the facts and keep things tight. No matter how much you may want to give a nasty agent a piece of your mind, remember that doing so only brings you down to their level. Instead, use your inner strength to remain professional. Keep communications short and to the point, and remember to document everything.
No one wants to work with a unprofessional or difficult person, but we all have to at some point. As I have taught my children, what is important is how we react to challenging situations. Losing our cool and getting upset won’t help our cause at all, nor is it healthy, so keep your chin up and stay professional and positive. You can always get out your frustrations by exercising.
Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
Not long ago someone commented that I have the ideal job, since I am able to take time off whenever I want and live a leisurely lifestyle. Good thing there wasn’t any liquid in my mouth at the time, as it likely would have spewed out all over the commentator (pardon the image). The misperception that real estate agents have “easy” jobs is not uncommon, since we do not have to punch a time card or physically sit behind a desk all day (although there are many days I do that…and nights too). But in reality working in the real estate industry is like riding a roller coaster, with the highs and lows, periods of being excessively busy and then dead, and periods where the paychecks are coming and then stop.
The career of a real estate agent has been glorified in these last few years by all the “reality” real estate television shows. Shows like Million Dollar Agent portray agents driving expensive cars, wearing high-end suits, spending long business lunches in top restaurants and listing (and quickly selling – with little negotiation I may add) million dollar plus properties. They really look like they are living the life!
Of course, those shows are heavily edited, not to mention scripted. You don’t see the nitty gritty – the money and time the agents spend on marketing the homes, the numerous showings, all the paperwork the agents need to handle, preparation for listing presentations and meetings, inspections and negotiations over things that may come up during escrow. So, if I knew absolutely nothing about the business I can see how it might look like an ideal career based upon the shows.
The truth is that this business is H-A-R-D. If you want to be successful, you have to work your tail off, and I know I work harder than many of my friends who have jobs in other fields. I can’t come home and escape my work, because it never stops. Most people who buy and sell homes expect me to be available after hours, when they are off work…and on weekends. Sure, I could decide not to answer my phone or work when I’m needed, but then I wouldn’t be successful. The key to my success is referral business, which I will only get if my clients feel I did a job that is beyond outstanding. Many of my clients have worked with other agents in the past, and the biggest compliment I get is when they tell me their experience with me, compared to the last agent, was like night and day. (To read more about what real estate agents do, read this article.)
Today I continued to work on a major issue that has arisen in a home sale that is in escrow. The time and energy I have spent on this issue is great, and it has been very stressful for all parties involved but we are finally making progress. This morning my client said to me, “I seriously don’t know how you do this!” Believe me, there are days when I ask myself that question, but ideally there are two things that keep me on the roller coaster:
1. I love my clients. I really do. Buying or selling a home is not only a big decision, but it is also an emotional one and it has legal ramifications. I feel good that I can offer advice and guidance to clients so that they can get through the process and feel great when it’s over. I love seeing them happy in the end, and that is my goal. It means I have to work hard to achieve the end result, but it also means that I end up with new friendships. I have met the most remarkable people working in this business, and it has been a pleasure to help them.
2. I have to keep making a difference in this industry. If you are a regular blog reader you know that I dish out frustration with the real estate industry and the lack of adequate training for agents. Sadly, there are a lot of agents who either don’t really care about their jobs, or do not realize that they need better training and skills to work in this industry. I know that my dedication and skills do make a difference, and if I can help improve this industry and the reputation it has, one client at a time, then I am making a difference. Like I always say, if you don’t like what you do, than do something else, because it shows. [As an aside, I have had other agents tell me they “hate” being agents…I wonder if their clients know that -?]
I think my ride on the real estate roller coaster will last for a while, and I hope that during that time I can make a difference in the lives of those I help, agents with whom I work, and the industry in general. If every other agent, or person working in any field, does the same then together we will make a big difference in the world.
Friday, June 13th, 2014
When the real estate market heats up, so do the number of lawsuits against real estate agents and their brokers. Many buyers and sellers of real estate do not often pause to consider that they are involving themselves in a legal transaction, which can have severe consequences if not handled properly. Many agents, whether intentionally or by mistake, unfortunately do not understand the ramifications of contract law.
Here are the main areas for which agents and their brokers are sued in real estate sales-related cases:
1. Failure to advise on a contract. Real estate agents have a duty to make sure buyers and sellers understand the contacts they are signing. If there are any problematic issues or clauses in the contract the agent needs to make sure her clients understand them before signing. It is important to remember here that there is a fine line for agents – only attorneys can give legal advice (see below). An agent can explain a contract clause but should always defer to her broker and an attorney if further clarification or if advice is needed.
2. Giving legal advice. Only an attorney is licensed to give legal advice. Unfortunately there are many agents who provide legal advice, whether intentionally or not (most just have no clue they are doing so). I have seen it happen. The golden rule for agents is to not provide any advice on the contract that could be considered legal advice…when in doubt tell them you cannot give legal advice and refer the question to a broker (or if an agent is a broker he can refer directly to an attorney).
3. Misrepresentation of property features. This is a leading cause of real estate sales litigation. The key to avoid litigation is to be honest. Exaggerating features of a property or claiming it has features it does not can land agents in the hot seat.
4. Failure to disclose defects. Real estate agents have a duty to disclose any known defects of a property, or any that they see that are obvious (think big wet spot under a sink or in a ceiling, or an HVAC system that does not come on when started, for example). It is important to remember that a real estate agent is not held to the same standard as a home inspector, but here in California most agents complete an Agent Visual Inspection Disclosure, in which they document any known or observed faulty conditions.
When in doubt, always disclose (this is the same thing agents should tell their sellers when they fill out their disclosures – disclose everything). This is especially important if a listing agent has an escrow fall out and has been given a home inspection or other reports from a previous buyer – at that point the agent and homeowner are considered to have knowledge of the issues that were discovered and reported, and must disclose those items and provide the report to any new buyers.
There have been rumblings in past years about allowing only licensed attorneys to obtain broker licenses, but that has never been implemented. It may help reduce lawsuits, but the problem is that mistakes will still be made by agents, and brokers will often not catch them (especially brokers who oversee large numbers of agents).
The best security for buyers and sellers is to work with an agent who is also an attorney. In many states only attorneys can be the closing agents in real estate sales (here in California we have escrow officers instead, but attorneys can handle them as well, although this is rare). Working with an agent or broker who has a legal background offers peace of mind for both buyers and sellers of real estate.
Sunday, May 18th, 2014
Many residents of San Diego County just emerged from a harrowing week, filled with fires, evacuations and lots of fear and sadness. Luckily most people and their possessions survived but it is a lot to process and the effects will linger for a long time. As a past fire victim myself (I lost my home to a fire when I was a child), I know that this is a time to respect those who have lost, those who are suffering or evacuating their homes, so it shocked me to see several new listings pop up during the height of the firestorm.
Like most people across the county who were being evacuated and feeling scared, I would never have known that agents were listing properties during this time but for the fact that I have searches set up for clients, so new listings are emailed to me the moment they pop onto the MLS. In the midst of answering emails from family and friends inquiring about my family’s safety I had new listing emails.
I honestly cannot believe that any agent would have the audacity to place a listing on the market during such a time. Couldn’t they wait a few days until things cooled down and evacuation orders were lifted? Several of the properties listed were in areas close to the fires, so even if they were not evacuated neighborhoods they may not have been easy or even possible to get to (not that any agent in their right mind would consider showing them…I assume).
I believe that in the face of tragedy, especially on such a large scale, we need to ask ourselves whether our actions are empathetic. Holding off on putting a property on the MLS for a few days would have been the smart, professional thing to do. If an agent is bored he or she could have instead volunteered to help by bringing items to shelters or sitting phone shifts for 211.
I hope that if there is ever a large-scale tragedy again in San Diego County people will think first and do the right thing.
Friday, November 8th, 2013
I have heard it for as long as I have been in this business: “real estate agents make too much money.” Ironically enough, in my past career as an attorney I was paid by the hour, and thus my income depended on the amount of work I put into each case. Being a hard worker by nature I have to say I did pretty well, likewise with real estate – I work very hard. When I hear people complain that I make too much money I know they do not understand how much work we real estate agents do..I have actually blogged about it before (click here to read that blog).
Here is a great infographic from Diggsy that sheds light on real estate agent commissions. The tax number is way too low (obviously it depends on one’s tax bracket – I have to put more aside for taxes), and of course some numbers vary (insurance, marketing, and of course many other expenses, especially if you own a brokerage like me), but it is a very good indicator of what we agents really end up putting in our pockets at a closing. Have a look and see what you think.
Thursday, September 12th, 2013
Tuesday, June 18th, 2013