It’s no secret that Mike and I aren’t big fans of real estate agents. A couple times when we’ve gotten together, it’s been clear that the value of agents is a running debate in the Pillars household, and I was delighted to throw my support behind Mike (at least when his wife was out of earshot).
Our general view is that while agents provide value (advertising and showing the house, providing referrals to mortgage brokers and lawyers, and helping explain some of the relevant laws on the seller side) it’s not worth 5% of the sale price. What we REALLY take exception to, if Mike will let me speak for both of us, is that they get a percentage of the sale price, which gives them an incentive to sell as quickly as possible, rather than to get the highest price.
Larry MacDonald wrote about the agent monopoly, and recently sold his house himself (without an agent).
As with many things though, there is another story. Part of the reason agents get paid so well on the sales that go through is that MANY of them don’t. Much as volatile stocks have a greater return, jobs with uncertainty of compensation (such as commission work), often pay better. An agent can easily have a run of bad luck, not make any sales (and therefore not make any money). Additionally, they have to put a brave face on it and not complain (since who would want to work with an agent who was struggling? We all want the best!).
The buyer’s agreement is another double edges sword. It’s an agreement that you’ll only buy from the agent you sign with (if you buy a property on your own or with another agent, they can sue you for part of the commission). Some agents try to sell this as a benefit to the buyer, which is insulting. HOWEVER, some buyers pull a dirty trick where they get an agent to help them find a house, then buy it themselves (or with a friend who is an agent), and cheat the original agent out of their commission. A rant on a real estate agents blog I found recently details her… passionate… reaction when she saw this happen on HGTV’s “Property Virgins”.
Speaking of which, my ex and I were ALMOST on “Property Virgins”. We wrote them a nice little e-mail (attached a picture) and they called us back. Unfortunately my ex spilled the beans about my rental condo, and they said I wasn’t a virgin (which kind of hurt) and we therefore weren’t eligible. In retrospect it might be a good thing, as the show probably would have been about us breaking up rather than buying a property :-).