Friday, April 27, 2007

The Value of Us. Part 1.

Real life examples often illustrate truths better than any academic argument possibly can. This is such a case, but I'm going to couch specifics so it doesn't look like I'm trying to ridicule; I'm not. But I don't think anything has come this close to illustrating that good agents actually are worth everything they get in commission:

I've done a lot of business in a particular neighborhood. The homes are homogenous, built roughly the same time: Mid to late eighties, a few as late as 2000. The builders vary somewhat in quality, so some developments within the neighborhood demand a higher price than others; and most have been upgraded – new roofs, siding, kitchens, baths, etc. – at some point. Average sold price in the last year is around $720k, the average size 3000 sf, the average $/sf is around $234. It's safe to say I've been in most of those homes, plus those currently active and pending. There was a time during the frenzy a couple years ago that the average days on the market for this neighborhood was less than seven days and selling prices averaged a little over list; now the time is 47 days, and sellers are averaging a five percent reduction in their original list price.

There. That's the background.

A few days ago I was looking through Craigslist and came across an ad for a home I hadn't seen on the MLS. In a very nice area on a terrific lot, both backed and sided by greenways. The ad was nicely written, though included things like "Great investment!" that would never be written by a professional. In it the sellers argue that since the lot is so nice, the $/sf shouldn't count as much. True enough: greenbelts can account for as much as five to seven dollars a square foot, fifteen to twenty thousand dollars for a 3000 sf home.

Unfortunately, that's not what they have in mind. The price they're asking is $63/sf higher than any home that's sold in the last year – including, it should be noted, a number of homes on greenbelts. At the barest minimum the home is $150,000 over priced, likely closer to $180,000. Even if they found a buyer it would have to be a cash buyer; it would never appraise for a loan.

But more: The photos – Craigslist allows four – are of A) an exterior, which emphasized a tree, the garage, a dormer and a lot of hipped roof; B) children playing outside; C) either a den or the living room, emphasizing lots of furniture and knick-knacks (see: DECLUTTER!); and C) a darkened picture of a bath tub. Nothing that would actually help sell the house.

Then, yesterday, the home appeared on the MLS. The sellers had gone to a discount broker - $295 to list!! Why pay more??? – who had earned exactly whatever was charged: The same four pictures, plus four more, including one of a toilet; a half filled out listing; a price exactly $6000 less than the Craigslist price; a buyer's agent commission of 2% when, as noted elsewhere, the norm is 2.5% to 3%; and no provision for a lockbox, making showing much more difficult.

Anything's possible? Nope. No chance in the world this home will sell under these circumstances.

Here's my guess: Armed with the urban legend that brokers only care about themselves, they had several in to give comps, and the agents were at least honest enough to tell them the price the sellers had in mind was out of the question. It's even possible one or more turned down the listing: marketing costs are considerable, especially now; with no chance of a return they walked. And agents are fanatically cognizant of reputation: having their name attached to a listing $150k over market is bad business.

So at the very least, the sellers are out $295 plus their time and angst. If they really want to sell – rather than just play the market – and eventually have to hire and listen to a professional, the home will have the negative taint of its present listing. Chances are very, very good they'll net less than if they'd hired the right person in the beginning.

Please! Be represented. Hire the best, and listen. It's in your interest!

UPDATE: The buyer's agent commission has been raised to 2.5%. All else remains the same!

No comments: