Essential Real Estate Service

There are hundreds of things a real estate firm might do, but not all of the activities are for the benefit of their clients or customers. And only a few activities are services that require a real estate license. The majority of tasks done in the process of a consumer’s interaction with a real estate firm are administrative chores. A smooth transaction and satisfactory experience results when all of the work is done timely and with skill. The end result is intended to be more than just good. Because good-enough is not good-enough, the admin work is important. It’s just not essential real estate work.

The duties of the real estate broker and licensed agents are spelled out in the Statutes. Admin work is selective, the duties prescribed by law are not. The consumer participates in the chores. Hourly employees conduct many of the activities such as staging a home, pricing, photography, paper processing, scheduling appointments. Handling admin chores poorly is not acceptable, but they may be hardly of any consequence to whether or not the sale closes.

Handling the essential real estate services poorly carries tremendous consequences. If the job requires a license you can assume there are skills required, and rules of engagement. Failing to exercise skill or play within the rules can be catastrophic to the transaction’s outcome. And if not catastrophic, expensive in loss of time and money is almost certain.

We created Essential Real Estate LLC to be the firm that strives to make better use of the contracts, and negotiating opportunities for home sellers and home buyers. The advantages a consumer can experience when their broker knows the contracts and contingencies are significant. Giving away leverage because you agreed to a condition that your agent didn’t comprehend happens every day, but not with us. We make it our business to help our clients get into a commitment with well qualified, and highly committed people. We work smart to identify the people committed to closing on the terms they agreed to and separate those who aren’t.

The essential real estate work is contract work. It’s negotiations. Confidentiality is a contract and license law responsibility. Our clients should expect a higher level of attention to the work that requires a license. They should also expect to see a more satisfactory profit after the closing.

Inman.com Doesn’t See A Real Estate Bubble…again.

Is history about to repeat?

Inman.com didn’t get it right in ’05: Real Estate Bubbles Bubble May Deflate 1/28/05.
Better luck this time: A Real Estate Bubble Mythical at Best May 2021. 

Inman.com is the go-to source whatever it takes to move real estate. 

There was no bubble in the eyes of Inman in 2005. But even if there were, fear-not, responsible behavior would deflate the excess air—nothing to see here. Keep on buying. Who saw the tragedy coming?

Sixteen years later, we know the bubble was real. It didn’t deflate. It burst. Was it an economic crisis or a humanitarian crisis? It depends; did you lose your job, your home, your family, your dignity? Or, did you experience a temporary inconvenience before being bailed out by the federal government?

There is no doubt that history does indeed repeat itself. Wouldn’t you think there would be a few generations between one disaster and its second coming? Having been around long enough to see how easy it is to forget painful lessons, Inman.com publishing an article saying a housing bubble in 2021 is mythical at best is no surprise.  We humans have short attention spans and shorter memories, or we are the most optimistic creatures on earth.

How different is this? For history to repeat itself, we don’t need the same players. (Afghanistan plays the role of Vietnam in the 1950s and ’60s in the 21st century.) Subprime lending, low interest rates, and too few homes created a surplus of buyers in the first decade of this century. Low rates and a shortage of homes for sale, and high land prices have accelerated the price a person has to pay to own a home again. The players may be different, but is there evidence to expect the outcome will be?  

I don’t know if we are growing a bubble or not. Is it safe to say there are sound financial principles we might be ignoring and might be wise to consider before we rush into the mystic?

Listing Agents: Please Learn The Purchase Agreement.

Real estate licensees do not understand the terms of purchase agreements, and customers are hurt. There are 50% fewer homes for sale. The competition is brutal. People are overpaying by more than 10% and sacrificing all protections. The standard offer to purchase is not sufficient for this market. It is too bad for most consumers because it’s not going to be changed unless licensees learn how to eliminate continencies and soften conditions. I have little hope for most agents but see an excellent opportunity for those who make an effort to learn a skill.

You work in the contract business. If reading comprehension and logical thinking are not your things, give up your license and be an administrator. Your failure to excel at contract interpretation and explanation wipes out the advantage capable agents have for their clients and leaves home sellers represented by incapable agents locked into contracts with high-risk conditions. These things are easy to see…all you have to do is read and comprehend.

Agents who panic if every contract doesn’t look like the contract their trainer showed them are incompetent and dangerous to the consumer.

Seriously, if your learning ended with your new agent training or the person you’re learning from is a self-designated mentor, you’re in the way. Put down your lead generator, skip your next networking event, grab the real estate law books and learn something. How many people have to get hurt because you don’t think the contract work is fun.

Imagine getting 40 written offers on your home. Which one do you pick? The chances are you won’t like any of them well enough to accept. Unless the Buyer commits to close, why should the Seller commit themselves to the Buyer? Isn’t the Buyer committing to settle? Typically not.

With contingencies sprinkled throughout the contract, the Buyer has protection from an obligation to close. The standard Offer to purchase is a proposal to move from acceptance of the Offer to closing while the Buyer does due diligence to be satisfied with the property and the terms. An accepted Offer is more restrictive on the Seller than it is on the Buyer.

In a market favoring the Buyer, the purchase agreement works well. With few or no options, the Seller takes what they can get, and the Buyer enjoys all of the opportunities to change their mind or renegotiate. That’s not going to fly in a Seller’s market. As long as agents keep filling in standard forms with standard contingencies, it’s hard to tell one person from another. Every Buyer might have different motivations and commitments, but their Offer to Purchase says something different; it says, “I’m just as reluctant as the next guy. I might show up for closing, but I’m not sure yet.”

A Buyer Agent who knows how to take each section of the Offer and break it down to its fundamental intent gives their client more of what they need to know to make an Offer that better represents their commitment. The agent who thinks critically of the Offer and learns to guide clients to alternative terms is the agent who is likely to get an offer accepted for a buyer client when the competition is heavy.

The most acceptable offer gives the seller a great price, and terms show absolute commitment to close on time with no concessions. Knowing what will be a great price is the hard part.

We protect our clients from the consequences of flawed contract Contingencies

Every firm has a library of prewritten contingencies to include when they draft offers for buyer clients. Sometimes a contingency that starts with one firm gets picked up and repeated in the next drafting of another company’s addenda. A flaw in the initial version infiltrates the contracts of the copy cat firms. The chances of the flaw being corrected are directly related to the probability that someone will read the contingency with a critical eye.

Listing agents see offers from multiple firms. When you have ten offers on one property you can expect to see at least three versions of an inspection contingency, two appraisal contingencies, three radon testing contingencies, a couple of modifications to the financing contingency, and a variety of random contingencies for the buyer to complete due diligence.

Do listing agents read the contingencies of each offer, every time, before they present the offer to their home selling clients? Some do. Rarely have I met a REALTOR who is in the business of real estate because they love contract work. For some reason, this contract dependent field is loaded with contract averse practitioners.

Protect Yourself. Poorly written contingencies put you in a bad spot when the problem they created comes to a head. At Essential Real Estate we make it our business to know the terms of every member firm’s contingencies. Our clients reap the benefits our knowledge and they avoid the headache of being trapped in a flawed contract.

When Interviewing Agents, Ask Better Questions.

When interviewing real estate agents to sell their homes, owners have been asking the same questions forever. Even in modern times where our resources to possible questions go way beyond books with a moldy copyright date, we still get the same dribble. Google the phrase “Questions to Ask a Realtor?”

About twenty-two million hits include top answers like:   How long have you been a realtor? Have you sold homes in my neighborhood? What’s your list price to sale price ratio? Can I see your real estate license?

I could list more, but they get more pathetic. No one wants to read this stuff. There are smart questions to ask a Realtor if you want to find out if and how the agent can help you accomplish your goal. These rarely asked questions will reveal if you are talking to a person who thinks and solves issues. I come prepared to bring these questions into the conversation because making a decision on facts that require thinking and matter to the outcome are more useful. Consider these:

  1. From what you’ve heard today, please tell us your understanding of what’s important to us. 
  2. What problems have you encountered with your clients in a situation like ours, and how did you resolve them?
  3. Considering what we need to accomplish, what should we be aware of in an offer? What are the things that will be risky for us?
  4. Describe what happens once the information goes into the MLS and take me through your plan to the day we look at offers. 
  5. Multiple offers are likely. Please tell us how multiple counters work and your experience using them. 
  6. Please share an example of something you spotted in an offer brought to the seller’s attention, and they avoided it.
  7. What examples do you have of how you cooperated with other brokers, and the results were good for your client?
  8. How did you and or your firm decide your commission rate should be _____?
  9. Will you agree to a lower rate? If the answer is NO, ask, Have you or your firm ever charged a lower commission?
  10. I was hoping you could give me one idea that you know that other agents probably don’t that you know will either increase my final net.
  11. OK. I know you want to show me your company’s marketing plan. I’d like to see it. How much will it cost your firm to run this plan?

 We are Essential Real Estate. The insight you will get from a conversation with us will change your outcome for the better. We’re also going to increase your final net by at least 2% compared to brokers who charge a commission of 6%. Simply by charging a fee tied to the power of the market.

We will show you our value is in our ability to represent you with smart negotiation strategies. We show you how important it is for you that we keep your business confidential. We show you how the terms of offers unless modified, are dangerous/risky for you. We show you how we will prepare for a smooth transaction by eliminating buyer opportunities to surprise us late in the game. 

You don’t just want your home sold. You want your home equity for your next plan. The more of your equity you keep, the better. We make sure you keep more equity by charging a better rate and protecting you from things that can go wrong at the worst possible times. 

You’re home will be sold regardless of who you hire. What you keep and what you lose are determined by the skill of your agent and the cost of the service.

Escalation Clause Deficiencies

At a young age, we learn to compare apples to apples. Sesame Street taught generations of kids to find one of these things that’s not like the other. Law schools teach students to make oranges appear to be apples and make anything look like something other than what it is. Versions of the real estate escalation clause (sometimes called acceleration clause) are either poorly written or crafted with cunning.  

Pay More Than The Net Purchase Price of a Competing Offer

On page 1 of my Offer, the purchase price compared to the purchase price on page 1 of another offer compares apples to apples. Purchase price on my page 1 to the Purchase price on the competing Offer’s page 1, MINUS credits and concessions, compares apples to anything but apples. 

My Purchase Price Compared to Your Net Purchase Price. Did you think the comparison was purchase price to purchase price or net purchase price to net purchase price? Look again. Here’s how this comparison might play out:

My Offer is $300,000, and I say I will pay $2,000 more than the Net Purchase price of a competing offer, up to $310,000. 

The competing Offer has a purchase price of $308,000 on page 1. Net purchase price is defined as any monetary contributions by the seller outlined in the competing Offer: purchaser closing costs, credits and property prorations.

The first glaring red flag is property prorations. If property proration means property tax prorations, and the tax proration is $10,000, the seller shall credit the buyer $10,000, reducing the competing Offer to $298,000. ($308,000 – $10,000) By comparing e my purchase price to the competing Offer’s NET, my price is not moving from $300,000. (Nothing for the seller to worry about as long as the listing firm’s commission can cover the $10,000 error. )

Define The Terms. Do The Math.

Listing agents who do the math exactly as called for in the story problem escalation clause will protect their clients from stumbling into this mess. Buyer agents who know their clause are comparing anything but apples to apples will protect their clients from paying more than the parties agreed to or getting their Offer rejected because it didn’t do what the agent thought it did. 

One idea—If the escalation clauses are not what they say they are, avoiding them might be prudent.  Consulting an attorney is your first level of protection.

Love Letters to Sellers: Fair Housing Violations Slip in; Knowingly or Otherwise.

*A letter to the seller: We are Brittany and Kristopher Austin. Our daughters are Elizabeth and Michaela. The crowd of people at your open house today is a sure sign you will have more than a few offers to consider today. We just sold our home, and we know it is challenging to know you’re selling to the right family when all you have is an offer to purchase to consider. Our realtor suggested we add a letter and a photo to our proposal to help you see your home will be a perfect fit for our family (Our two girls might be the same age as yours were when you bought the house.) The photo was of our family volunteering at the Save The Lakes day last summer. It was fun to see it’s a cause you’re interested in too. (We also distribute Thanksgiving turkeys to less fortunate families each year.) We would love the opportunity to join the neighborhood of West Elm. I noticed your girls graduated from St. Mary’s Academy, where our girls are in the 3rd and 5th grades. We are St. Paul’s church members, and living just two blocks away will make it easy for Kristopher to continue leading Bible Study for adults. P.S. Like you, we are graduates of UW Madison, where we met 15 years ago. 

*A fictitious letter from a fictitious couple made from actual sentences I’ve seen in letters to sellers.

National Association Of Realtors on Love Letter Liability

Since 2017, I’ve written about this practice as trampling on Fair Housing Laws. The messages contained in letters like this, intentional or not, take the conversation of the transaction into Fair Housing Violation territory. REALTOR members who disagree with me tell me “Love Letters” help their clients get their offer accepted in competition. I see what the members are saying. And that’s why the practice has no place in real estate transactions.

Six Percent of What?

Your home has a market value of $400,000. The traditional method of pricing the real estate broker’s fee to sell your property is multiplying your sale price by a percentage factor.  Redfin reports the factor is typically 5% to 6%. In Wisconsin and Virginia, according to List With Clever is 5.85% and 5.3%, respectively. The two states straddle the National Average of 5.45%. 

Even at 6.0%, the factor appears relatively small compared to the sale price. Losing six cents of a dollar isn’t going to change a person’s lifestyle. Here is the formula used: $400,000 X 6.0% = $24,000      

You pay selling fees from your equity, not your sale price. We sell our homes to release our home equity for use on our next life plan. When we apply the product of 6.0% of the sale price to available home equity, we see how the lack of choice in fees might be crippling on some home sellers. A typical American might have $100,000 of net equity after paying off the mortgage(s) and closing costs on a $400,000 home. Twenty-four thousand dollars is 24% of the cash available to use for their next life plan. Spending 24% of your savings on one service could easily be life-altering. 

Do consumers have a choice in service and fees?  Is it a choice when your pool of options is 3,000 practitioners who charge the same price? Today’s consumer of real estate service is more informed when they enter the market than any consumer in the country’s history. They demand a higher level of essential real estate service and are right to expect more at competitive prices. So, where are the alternative real estate models?  

The emerging models. Essential Real Estate, LLC emerged in the Madison, WI market late last year to solve the problem of spending excessive amounts of home equity on real estate service. Home owners who sell for $300,000 with Essential are spending a lot less on commissions and keeping more of their home equity for their next move. The average Essential Real Estate clients pays about 3.4% in total commission. (1.0% plus $499 to Essential, and about 2.0% to buyer agents.) Our service isn’t for everyone. But it is for anyone who prefers to keep an extra $10,000* or so of their home equity and spend less on broker fees.

*$300,000 sale price at 6.0% commission compared to the same price at 3.0% commission plus $499.

Interview Before Hiring a Buyer Agent

It’s Monday in America, and that means thousands of people are learning they came in second on the house they tried to buy over the weekend. Rejection sucks. When the market favors the seller, as this one does, more people will feel the sting of rejection, and very few will feel the thrill of acceptance. For most of those who lost today, their next offer will meet the same fate because they don’t know why their purchase proposals are unacceptable. I believe the solution remains unknown because the person drafting the offer doesn’t give the buyer choices to enhance the terms in the seller’s eyes. 

Two in Ten Offers Are Attractive

I believe there are two assertions about Sundays that are indisputable. One, the first team to 35 points, is significantly more likely to win an NFL game. Second, regardless of the number of offers a seller has in hand on Sunday night, only one and maybe two are good enough to accept as-is. Eight or nine out of ten people are not committed to owning the house. Their offer is a hope, not a promise.

Before you commit to an agent, know their ability

Few licensees understand (well enough to suggest alternatives) the consequences of prewritten contingencies. I heard this true statement from an experienced agent:  I would never write an offer without an inspection contingency. I have to protect my buyer. REALLY? Who decides the protections that go into an offer? Who decides which contingencies are protections and which hinder the opportunity? The buyer who understands the meaning of the contingencies they have to choose from should decide. To know the purpose, the buyer is dependent on the agent’s desire to learn and teach. If you can’t count on a professional to explain the good and bad of the contingencies and offer alternatives, your offer will look a lot like the other rejected offers. 

Plan For Spring Now

The difference between an agent who will be an asset in negotiations and the anchor tied to your ankle is knowledge and ideas. Agents who have trouble explaining contingencies found in an offer are not likely to have opinions on making your offer more appealing without just increasing the price. If you are on the sidelines until spring and are not committed to a broker as your buyer agent, take time to meet with agents. Review the offer and their company addenda. Learn what the agent knows. Find out what ideas they used to give their clients an edge in competition. Find out if they say ‘never’ to options that should be yours to make. If an agent won’t give you the courtesy of respecting your ability to make wise decisions based on information, keep interviewing.