You have no idea what shenanigans go on in real estate. Or maybe you do have an idea, which is why real estate salespeople are ranked very low in tables measuring perceptions of respectibility. Yes, you can believe the hype. But then, fortunately, sometimes you can't.
Sliminess in real estate is such a delicate subject that I worry that my manager is reading this. I might get a face at work as I pass his glass-walled office if he does see this blog post. Not because my manager condones slime. He absolutely doesn't.
In fact he is part of the reason why when I feel fed up with an industry that can be on the down-low too much for my taste—I don't quit. My manager is great, and my company is great. In fact, I recently referred to my manager in an email as single-handedly trying to de-scumify real estate in Brooklyn, but his rightful concern would be that, because of the public's suspicion of the industry at large, for the honest people, working in an atmosphere of generalized mistrust adds an extra challenge.
After all, how can an unwitting seller or buyer know the difference between the good guy and the bad guy agents? We all look the same. Suits or prairie skirts, there's no way to tell who's who.
And salespeople are salespeople. Every single one of us knows that a sincere and friendly manner, a firm handshake, some questions about your kids and a warm smile, help grease the wheels of commerce—after all we're not selling icees from a cart, we're selling properties worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, so we all know that the very least we can do for you is be pleasant company.
But just as you're thinking we're all sales hungry tricksters—here's the catch—most of the agents I know are totally trustworthy. Sure they've read sales books and talk smoothly and know a nice folksy smile and remembering your name can go a long way—but they're still honest.
And fighting against the tide of an industry that can be a little slow to adopt the whole "transparency" thing, involves spending a lot of time and energy building trust (or transforming mistrust) with customers and other agents that could be better used just doing business for you.
Customers are smart and they know that even though, ultimately, pricing and the market determine what apartments or townhouses sell for what—the gatekeepers, the agents, actually have a lot of power in terms of who gets in to see a place and which places you get to see if you're buying.
And getting in quickly to see the good places at good prices is more than half the battle in getting a great deal. Or if you're the seller, getting the maximum number of people with the biggest open pocketbooks into the place as soon as possible, is the trick to the highest price.
In New York City real estate anyway—speed and access are crucial to success in either side of the process. And guess who regulates the speed at which you get to see a place or how many people get in to see it? The agent!
And that's where I can offer you two suggestions about how to separate the wheat from the chaff. And both have to do with the issue of co-broking. These are just the two that seem most important to me but feel free to call if you want the rest of my list:
Your Selling Agent: Is your selling agent co-broking? Co-broking means that your selling agent will be willing to share the commission you have agreed upon with agents who are bringing buyers. There is an organization called REBNY and if the agent's company is a member (you should ask whether they are or not) then they are obliged to co-broke your sale. Why do you care if they share? Because if your agent will not be co-broking your home, then no right minded agent who is working with a buyer will want to encourage their buyer to see your property, and frankly, most will be praying that their buyer never finds out about it. Non-REBNY companies are in the minority now in New York City and are widely considered "unfriendly" within the REBNY real estate world and that slight chilly feeling among happily co-broking agents is likely to be shared with customers, which won't help your sale either.
Your Buying Agent: Will your buyer's agent tell you about properties that won't co-broke the listing? I hate even mentioning this because it is such a drag for a buyer's agent when it comes up. Imagine this—you are a buyer’s agent and have been working, sometimes for months, for many, many hours, helping someone find the perfect property, for no money at all while you do it, with the expectation that you will get a share (a quarter usually) of the commission once they do find the right place.
During this time you have steered them away from places that have flaws they may not have noticed themselves, even though you know you will be working potentially many more hours for free for doing it, because you care about them and their future home.
One day as you are researching listings for them, for the millionth time, you discover, much to your chagrin, a place that seems great for them with a company that you know won't share the commission with you, a non-REBNY firm (though some non-REBNY companies do share, but your agent will have to ask). The particular property is ridiculously perfect for your customers. Better than anything else you have seen, and the price is great. What do you do?
If you tell them about it, you are SOL in terms of making any money and will accordingly have less food in your refrigerator (or maybe less gourmet food depending on how you're doing that year).
If you don't tell them, they might never, ever find the place on their own, be none the wiser, and eventually you will go on to find another place that will meet their needs. But you feel like a jerk not telling them about it. So I tell them, maybe even send them the listing. I hate it, but I do it. And everyone is always very grateful which I hope adds to some kind of karma I'm accruing.
Feel free to ask your buyer's agent if this is something they would be willing to do for you. Now, mind you, if they say, "No, you'll have to find those properties yourself." In some ways, good for them, because if they are that sincere about that, then I would wager they are likely to tell you the truth about other things too, which might end up being more valuable to you ultimately than knowing about any one particular property.
But it never hurts to ask, and their answer can be very telling. And if they try to tell you it never happens (in Brooklyn anyway) that just isn't true. It does. Though fortunately only in a tiny percentage of cases.
The people who make up the world of real estate are as varied as the people who make up your subway car (more or less) and of course, as with any group, their personal ethics are varied.
But somehow the process seems to work anyway, people sell and buy places and are content with the results every day and disreputable agents are in the minority but it never hurts to ask some key questions and if you’re instincts are saying “foul” then you have a right to ask for answers.
Thanks for reading,
The Corcoran Group