Why Should “Selling” Help Buyers Choose Which House To Buy?

My perception tells me the public sees the stereotypical real estate agent as primarily a salesperson that used to sell cars, and it doesn’t matter if they are working as a listing agent or buyer’s agent.  They work primarily for their commission and getting a deal done as soon as possible without regard to “details” important to the buyer, some of which may be unknown to the Buyer and can be adverse to their future use, enjoyment, and investment in the property.

The media also seems to perpetuate this idea of a self-serving agent in their “reality” shows – they show and sell the property, determine if the buyer qualifies, and then negotiates an offer on the phone – bang! bang! Commission earned!

My question is, for the buyer, where is the value in that?  Qualification is determined by one’s lender – a buyer should have a lender-letter and qualification before looking at homes.  It’s the buyer that will determine what to buy, not the agent – the agent won’t live in the property  – it must satisfy the buyer’s needs and wants. Opening doors to houses isn’t a value – the listing agent can do that for any property they list and their number is on the yard sign, not to mention there are open houses. The agent wanting to make the deal happen above all else can’t be trusted to work for one’s interest in negotiations. 

Mountain Home For Sale
Mountain Home For Sale

Is there anything wrong with being a salesperson?  Not really, we are all selling something – it could be clean air, being kind to animals, our recipe for chocolate chip cookies, our Facebook posts, but what I’m talking about is how selling can interfere with promoting a balanced understanding of what is being purchased and not every agent is equipped to offer helpful guidance to buyers.

People gravitate to the one listing the house for sale thinking they can have better odds at a sales price reduction by eliminating a buyer’s agent, or because they have lives and haven’t yet discerned the nuances behind “agency” that exist in real-estate.  It’s also easy to call the number on the yard-sign for the listing agent to see the property.

How agents handle their agency obligations is defined by State Law which are spelled out in the State promulgated contracts that agents use when buying and selling; however, beyond this, there is huge potential variability in the service and character of the agency a Buyer will get.  It’s also important to know the listing agent has a legal contract to work for and communicate in a way that promotes the interests of the seller. They can’t legally represent the interests of the buyer while listing a property.

When I work as a listing agent, I see it as a different “hat,” which works off of a different set of skills, talents, and knowledge than working with buyers. I particularly enjoy working with buyers, especially first-time home buyers.  Sometimes, I work with sellers that I’m also helping buy property – that’s when my split personality shines through, and my two hats sit one on top of the other (joking!) For me, it’s more like switching from one profession to another – back and forth. 

There is one thing I do sell when working with buyers, but the selling is to the other side of the transaction.  I sell whatever I know about my buyers that should make them attractive to the seller. The seller has a choice to make, and it’s my job to show them how great my buyers are and the reasons they should trust in them being able to consummate the purchase that goes beyond the lender letter.  It’s no use helping my buyers choose the right property if the seller doesn’t choose their offer over the competition!

Ken-Leo's Tree House - Rear View
Ken and Leo’s Tree House – Rear View

When I purchase my first house, I was a few years into marriage with a young child back in the mid 1980s. I worked in a medical laboratory, and my wife worked as an executive secretary.  At that time I didn’t appreciate many of the potential problems that exist with houses and real estate, nor did I fully understand the buying process.

We found a house that seemed to be just where we wanted and it seemed to be in our price range.

We didn’t have an agent; we bought “for sale by owner.”

The house we purchased had a spring in the crawl space (we learned later), and it had a hill on the south side, reducing direct sunlight for most of the year on the heavily treed lot. The seller did help us put in a drainage-tile before completing the purchase because we were buying using an FHA loan- the lender required the drainage tile be installed for the loan to close to stop water from entering the crawl space – which was noted in the appraiser’s report. I’m sure it helped, but it didn’t do much to solve the problem because the spring came out under the crawl space bypassing the drainage tile. The moisture and limited ventilation in the crawl space created mold under the house which one could detect in the inside of the house. The grade around the home wasn’t directing water well enough away from the foundation walls, which the drainage tile only partially reduced.

Despite the negative issues, we were so happy to own a house for the first time, and it felt like we lived in a vacation home every day standing on the wood floors and admiring the beautiful trees and lushly landscaped yard and the view beyond. We had no more shared walls! It was our own private yard! My son and I even built a tree-house chalet together in the yard where we all hung out to read and play board games together – it was in western Washington State.

Looking back on the purchase, we should have used an agent to represent us, and given the issues present I’m not sure we would have purchased that particular house back then with an agent. Emotions were high, and we needed an agent to “slow us down” to consider the issues thoroughly that appeared to affect the property. It would have been helpful to have a professional assess and solve the water issue rather than trying to do it ourselves. Having a mold inspector come to the house and test the inside, and underside of the house would have been helpful. Having the agent bring to our attention the effects of the hill to the south side of the yard and how that would slow winter snow-melt and increase the dampness of the location; further exacerbating the water and mold issue.

Certainly, it wasn’t all bad. The house appreciated greatly over time, and it was a wonderful place to live and bring up our son. On the other hand, work had to be done to correct the moisture, drainage, and mold issues to the property, and some of that work could have been paid for by the seller. If we had a buyer’s agent, we might have even chosen a different property in the end.

Given that experience, when I’m working as a buyer’s agent, I want to be sure my buyers are informed; they consider the characteristics of the property and location fully, get the testing done where needed, and end up with realizing a dream that contributes greatly to their quality of life. That requires me being frank and being sure the buyer sees the property from all sides – the good and the imperfect. “It’s true the view is breathtaking, but there’s a great view because the lot is steep – do you object to not having a usable yard for playing volleyball or bad-mitten? The driveway is steep, and the evergreens will shade it from the sun during the winter, so you’ll need a plow or to hire someone to clean your driveway to get out reliably. Will that be OK? There is no substitute for being an informed buyer, and a good buyer’s agent can be a valuable partner in solving problems and assisting in a buyer’s decisions, so there is no buyer’s remorse.