Consumers are always looking for ways to save money, and paying real estate commissions can amount to tens of thousands these days. Not an insignificant sum to most people. Is it worth it to hire a full-service real estate brokerage over a discount service? Reasonable question. It's one I hear often. And the answer is it depends.
Type of Marketplace
- If you're in a seller's market right now, homes are probably selling the minute they hit the multiple listing service. A one-eyed sheep with two paws tied behind her back could plop a home into MLS and get an offer. Will it be the highest price you could get?
- Buyer's markets exist when inventory exceeds the supply of buyers. In these markets, some homes aren't selling at all. This is where expertise and extra work pays off. Listings that sell at top price are typically those exposed to the most buyers, which are priced well, marketed well and show well.
MLS and the Internet
I cringe when I see new listings hit MLS without a photograph because I know that agents and buyers are passing them over without a second thought. Many multiple listing services accept 8 to 12 photographs nowadays. For that reason, many full-service agents hire professional photographers and shoot double the photos required.
- The pros spend considerable time sorting through photos to select those with the most light, the best angles, sharpest contrast & color.
- Photos are cropped and resized to accentuate positive attributes.
- Each photograph is entered into MLS with a full-length enticing description.
When I see a photograph taken by the multiple listing service instead of a pro or the agent, I also see a lazy real estate agent who doesn't care enough or isn't getting paid enough to properly market her client's property.
Lots of mom 'n' pop operations and discount brokerages don't spend money on professional signs because they don't believe in it or they can't afford it. Good signage is free advertising. Many full-service firms will advertise:
- Main office phone number
- Agent's personal cell phone or voice mail number
- Web site for more information
- Virtual tour links
- Specific information that makes this home different from others in the area
Full-service companies tend to project quality, and that means four-color flyers and four-color direct mail pieces. The days of hiring neighborhood kids to toss photocopies on neighbors' front steps are gone. Full-service marketing is first class.
Not all homes are right for an open house, but those that are require finesse. This means working the buyers who come through by pointing out impressive features of the home without making the buyer feel oppressed or hounded, and that in itself is an art. It requires the service of an experienced sales person. Many discount brokers refuse to hold homes open.
Full-service agents counsel sellers. They find out what made the seller decide to buy the home and how that moment happened. Then, they employ that knowledge at open houses. For example, suppose a seller said that moment came when she first stood gazing out at the pool. When she turned to her husband and gasped, "I can't believe we can afford to buy this home." Good sales people at an Open would ask buyers to stand in that same spot by the pool. Then, they'd share the seller's first experience verbatim.
Real estate is an extremely competitive business, and there are many agents fighting for the same listings. A full-service agent who wins the listing is probably a good negotiator, a person you want on your side during offer negotiations. Think about it. Agents who can persuade you to pay what they feel is reasonable, will probably persuade a buyer to pay your price. Ultimately, that means more money for you.
Final Sales Price
Sometimes full-service agents lose listings because the seller was promised a higher price based on hot air and a lower commission. It's these listings that often show up in MLS a month later with reduced prices. The amount of the price reductions, not surprisingly, tend to exceed the difference in commissions between the dualing agencies! In these scenarios, sellers received fewer services and ended up losing money on the sale as well.
If you can't decide between an agent who charges 1 or 2 percent less than another, think about how you would feel if you had to reduce your sales price, say five percent, to get the house sold. Ask the agents to show you their last 24 months of price reductions and compare them.
How Much Do Agents Make?
Agents are paid by brokers. Brokers retain a portion, sometimes 50%, and pay the balance to the agent. From that, the agent pays her overhead and taxes, which can easily amount to 50% of the net. A listing agent's true salary ranges from 20% to 30% of one-half the commission. Full-service agents typically spend more on overhead than their competitors; by refusing to compromise service, they tend to charge more.
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