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Hire the first agent you talk to

Posted by Rona Fischman October 9, 2012 01:55 PM

The business specialists who advise real estate agents consider it a Holy Truth that a consumer will hire the first agent they talk to, who they like. So answering the phone and being likable is an agent’s road to fortune.

If you hired an agent when you bought or sold, did you hire the first one you had a good conversation with? If not, did you hire the first one you talked to, whether you like him or her or not? Did you go straight to a friend’s recommendation? Did you interview multiple agents?

The reason I ask is that I just had a conversation with a fellow agent about a potential referral. She and I started sharing referral stories. I noticed a hole in the theory that people hire the first agent they talk to. She agreed. She said, “I think they hire the last agent they spoke to.” She and I agreed that some people will take all that you are willing to give, but some will forget all about you when they hire their next agent.

A couple of years back, I gave a listing referral to a friend of one of my clients. The owner who was selling had bought a house in Medford seven or so years ago. She was leaving the area and needed to sell. She was asking around for listing agents to interview. My client asked whether I could supply some contacts.


Agency disclosure

Posted by Rona Fischman October 5, 2012 01:56 PM

There has been a sea change in the way traditional real estate offices treat the Massachusetts Mandatory Licensee Consumer Relationship Disclosure. (Generally called "Agency Disclosure Form.") I ran across the change, twice, in the past week.

Here's the change: Larger, designated agency firms have been asking me and my agents to send a copy of the Agency Disclosure Form. I find this a curious practice. Why does the other company care if my agents are doing the right thing? My agents work under my license and I am responsible if they do not provide required disclosures. However, it is no breach of confidential information for us to comply with the listing agent's request, so we have been sending them when we are asked.

Recently, two of my agents did not send the form with the offer, and they were not asked for it during the transaction. It was only when the listing agents reviewed their final file, did the agents notice that the Agency Disclosure form was not there. As the broker -- and the person who was by the phone that day -- I got the calls: "Can you send me the Agency Disclosure Form, your agent didn’t send it with the offer." So, I asked the agent why their company needs proof that my company is doing the right thing. She (she's an agent, not a broker) said it was because the auditors are requiring proof that all parties have the opportunity for representation.


Open house sign-ins

Posted by Rona Fischman October 4, 2012 02:00 PM

At an open house, I expect to find a sign-in page. This sign-in page benefits the agent doing the open house. It gives him or her a way to contact potential buyers about this property, and frequently, some other property. My clients know to sign in as my client. It serves as “agent repellent,” since the listing agent (or whoever is running the open house) should not be contacting my client after the open house to sell him or her some other property.

A sign in sheet does not especially help the seller’s property security. Anyone who is coming into a house for nefarious reasons is not going to leave legitimate information.
When I go into an open house with a client, I expect to see a sign in sheet. Occasionally, there is no sheet because the agent doesn’t seem to care to collect names. But recently, I met an agent who is using his laptop for sign-ins. He had a sheet (probably in Excel) and asked people to sign in. Do you think this could become a trend? Do you think it should?

On the “no” side, I tend to think that people are reluctant to give out their email, generally. I am more reluctant on line, are you? Websites that ask too much information make me surf elsewhere. Do you react the same way? So, when I enter my email into someone else’s computer, it felt like the act was somewhere between on line and on paper. I am not sure this is going to catch on. What do you think?


What was wrong with the house? The agent

Posted by Rona Fischman September 11, 2012 01:56 PM

The worst showing of the millennium, so far:

My clients rejected a property that didn’t have a chance of selling. Not because it is uninhabitable or in a terrible location, or a weird, weird style or something. The biggest handicap to this property was the person paid to show it. The listing agent.
What did he do wrong? He failed to convince the seller to prepare the property for sale. He showed the worst parts first, leaving the buyer unable to imagine living there.

Why am I telling you this?
Because, as a seller, you need to find out how your house will be shown as part of your agent interview. There should be a showing plan, including preparing the house to show at its best and a planned tour to show the house at its best. If there are tenants, a plan to show in a way that keeps cooperation is also important. On interview, if your potential agent hasn’t considered these things, I think he/she is not doing enough for you.

Buyers should be aware of showing plans, too. A good plan will create a positive impression; maybe even one more positive than the house deserves. Buyers need to stay focused on their short list of house feature “want list” items and on the house itself. A well-done showing plan distracts a buyer from features they don’t want (especially in a hurry-up.) A bad showing plan or lack of preparation can turn buyers off a good house. Under-marketed houses will become a bargain when the seller and his/her tenants are sick of all the failing showings.


Guess what? Agents also want your home to sell

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 23, 2012 05:00 AM

There are a lot of misconceptions, and sometimes even outright rage, against real estate agents on the comment board of this blog.

Frankly, it is somewhat notorious for it.

But one false idea is that agents are holding out of the highest price, looking for that big bang.

Maybe some are, but it isn't necessarily all that successful a business strategy in a field that rewards volume. After all, if you want to sell a lot of homes, you had better make sure they priced to move.

All too often, though, agents are stuck with sellers who think they know what's best when it comes to pricing their home, and that, of course, is often a lot more than the recommended listing price.

It can be painful to realize all that money spent on renovations won't get you the big jackpot you had been looking for, or that the location you thought was prime instead was over hyped. But then again, that's life - get with it or be prepared to sit in a house that won't sell.


Among real estate agents, Romney by a landslide

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 17, 2012 07:21 AM

Romney is a favorite among local real estate agents and brokers. A big favorite.

The former governor, our best known prodigal son, gets nearly 70 percent of the real estate vote here in Massachusetts, HomeGain reports.

Not bad for a guy who has spent the last several years trashing our great state as some sort of liberal madhouse.


SJC to hear important agent disclosure case

Posted by Rona Fischman May 9, 2012 02:04 PM

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein alerts us to a case about the quality of information on MLS listing sheets:

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to hear the case of DeWolfe v. Hingham Centre Ltd. which will consider a very important issues for the real estate agent community: the scope of a real estate agent’s duty to disclose and independently verify property information posted on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

The case was originally decided by the Appeals Court, and I wrote a full post about it here. The original opinion can be read here.

In summary, the real estate agent, relying on what turned out to be erroneous information supplied by his client, listed a Norwell property on Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and newspaper advertising as “zoned Business B.” The property was not, in fact, zoned for business use; it was zoned residential, thereby prohibiting the hair salon the buyer wanted to open at the property. Despite the general disclaimer on the MLS system and in the purchase and sale agreement, the Appeals Court held that the agent could be held liable for misrepresentation and Chapter 93A violations due to providing this erroneous information.


Are there liability concerns for accepting back-up Offers?

Posted by Rona Fischman May 2, 2012 01:46 PM

I wrote to Attorney Richard D. Vetstein about something I have been hearing different opinions about. I wrote:

I have been told that a back up offer cannot be presented to a seller because it is inducement to interfere with a contract in place (the accepted offer.) I have also been told that a back up offer must be presented, forthwith, like any other offer. Since I never list property, I don’t know which one is true. Can you give a legal and practical explanation for the blog?

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein answers:

I do not believe that merely soliciting and presenting a back-up offer can give rise to a legal claim for interference with contractual relations as long as the seller does not break the existing contract with the buyer. Moreover, I believe that real estate agents have a legal and ethical obligation to present to their seller clients all offers made on the property, but it is the seller’s preference whether or not to solicit back up offers once he has already accepted an offer.

Unlawful interference with contract?
Rona is worried that accepting back-up offers could expose an agent to liability for interfering with an existing contract. I don’t think she has much to worry about unless the seller tries to cancel the existing deal without legal right.
In the real estate context, the requirements to make out a valid claim for unlawful “interference with contractual relations” are the following:

• There must be an accepted and signed offer to purchase between the buyer and seller which is sufficient to form an enforceable contract under Massachusetts law;
• The competing buyer (making the back-up offer) must have knowledge of the contract;
• The competing buyer must have intentionally induced or persuaded the seller not to perform its contractual obligations, i.e, not proceed with the transaction;
• The interference was improper in motive or means; and
• The plaintiff was legally harmed.

Under this legal definition, there is liability only where the seller unlawfully breaks the existing offer/contract with the first buyer. As a general matter, merely submitting a back-up offer (and not formally accepting it) will not support a legal claim because there has been no breach of the first contract.


The introvert and the extrovert at work

Posted by Rona Fischman April 30, 2012 01:49 PM

The vast majority of real estate agents are extroverts. It is a characteristic that works well in the job. Agents need to be good with strangers, interview well, and be comfortable in a pretty social job. There are some introverts, too. They get the job done, and done well. They just do it more quietly, don’t crow about it, and are generally very nice to work with. They also would never think to make any of the mistakes I am writing about today.

FaceBook is the place where extroverts run amok. Among my FaceBook friends are agents and brokers from all over the country and many from this area. Most have figured out how to behave on FaceBook, but some are sharing a bit too much personal information.

For example:

There is an agent who tells the FaceBook world that he isn’t sleeping well, isn’t eating well and can’t think straight. Now, that inspires confidence.

Another agent went on a rant about how skinny jeans are for skinny people. That may or may not be true, but I don’t particularly want to discuss it with a real estate agent. It tainted my sense of his judgment.


Cell phones and business conversations

Posted by Rona Fischman April 27, 2012 01:51 PM

Last week was school vacation week. Many people were on vacation in warmer climes with their children. Since many agents are using their cell phone as their primary contact, business calls followed them to the sandy beaches.

I don’t use my cell phone for business calls for just that reason. Giving out my cell number means I am never really off work. As someone who regularly works every day, I need some time when I am not expected to be at the phone for business. I also want to use my cell phone on vacation to be available for my friends and family. My solution is to keep my cell private.

Yes, there is caller ID, but that does not name every caller.

Do you use a cell phone for business? How do you get away from work if you do?


I “heart” bad marketing

Posted by Rona Fischman April 13, 2012 01:59 PM

As a buyer’s agent, I thrive on the mistakes of listing agents. This week, while going through listings for my clients, I came upon a listing sheet that hasn’t been updated this year. Within the remarks it read:

1st showings to be December 27th. Get your buyers ready. Won't last.

Since it is now mid-April, I think the rush may be over and that it did last. It doesn’t seem like a bad house, but my clients have been ignoring it because it has been on the market “forever.” In a spring market, what defines “too long” or even “forever.” What do you think?

Most of my clients ignore anything that has been on the market for triple digits. They are also sophisticated enough (or I teach them to be so) that they are aware of which of the houses are relisted. A house that fails to sell in a reasonable amount of time has one of a couple of problems. If the problem is the marketing, I see this as an opportunity.


Can an attorney replace an agent?

Posted by Rona Fischman March 19, 2012 02:08 PM

Today, Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team discusses the role of an attorney vs. an agent’s role in a real estate transaction.

Several weeks ago, someone suggested that buyers hire an experienced real estate attorney instead of using a buyer’s agent.

The roles of an attorney and agent are different. When good agents and attorneys work together, they are more effective at managing a transaction so that the client is well protected and issues get handled before they become big problems. The agent is on the front line. Whenever possible, good agents make a point of understanding issues involved in the entire transaction up front, so that there are no unpleasant surprises later. Unless you are a very experienced buyer or seller or you are selling to or buying from someone you know, bypassing an agent may not be the best move. I have seen even experienced buyers and sellers get in over their heads before they realized what happened.


The commission question

Posted by Rona Fischman March 6, 2012 01:53 PM

Manwithoutastar wrote:

As a buyer's agent, what is your position on which party - the seller or the buyer - actually pays the commission?
You are a member of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer's Agents. What is their position on this subject?
Please elaborate for your readers.

I did not answer the question in the comment section because it is difficult to have a respectful conversation with a number of the commenters. (I think most of you can understand that.) Also, I have been through this with RE Maven in the past. We didn’t agree before and we won’t agree now.

I do not have the authority to speak for the National Association of Exclusive Buyer’s Agents. The question is not answered on their website.

Who pays the commissions is not what bothers people about commissions. It is the amount of money that is really the question. That pay level exists to make up for all the people who use real estate services "for free." Those who pay commissions, therefore, resent commission levels and the brokers who collect them.

The seller feels he/she pays it because the money comes off the seller’s profit (or out of the seller’s pocket, if that seller is under water.) The commission is on the seller’s side of the Settlement Statement.

The buyer can feel he/she pays it because there is no money except the money that the buyer brings to the table. The funds for the commission never touch the hands of the seller. Those funds go directly to the broker(s). A buyer who buys directly from the seller often still pays the same amount as an MLS sale. The buyer pays it and the seller pockets the savings for doing the work instead of hiring an agent. The funds that are usually paid to agents has become a surcharge on almost all real estate. (There are some exceptions, but they are not that common.)


Doing business with friends

Posted by Rona Fischman March 5, 2012 02:06 PM

Today, Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Teamdiscusses the typical real estate business model and doing business with family and friends.

As soon as a new agent gets a real estate license and affiliates with a real estate agency, one of the first things that they are asked to do is compile a list of everyone in their "sphere of influence". That list contains names of family, friends, hairdressers, dog groomers, mechanics and other service providers. Then the new agent sends announcements and calls through the list to announce their new profession and see if they can be of service to anyone on the list.

It's not very difficult to get "hired" by a real estate agency if you pass the relatively easy licensing exam and can fog a mirror. The model that many agencies use is to recruit as many new agents as possible to replace those that leave after a year or two when they find out how challenging it can be make a decent living as a real estate agent.

Meanwhile, agents that leave can work part time or decide to "hang their license" at the old office so that when they find someone interested in buying or selling property, the former agent can earn a referral fee by connecting them to another agent in their office. Using that model, it's easy to see why there can be lots of under-producing, inexperienced agents hustling their friends or kid's classmates’ parents for business.

Like anything else, the more you do something, the better you typically become at it.


Maryland law proposed to redefine agency

Posted by Rona Fischman March 1, 2012 01:57 PM

Have you seen this form? Did you notice that it is more complicated than it needs to be? Have you ever asked yourself why? The legislature in Maryland is taking a look at their agency disclosure law right now.

I could explain agency pretty easily. In Massachusetts, the form reads:

(Check one) ____The real estate agent listed below, the real estate firm or business listed above and all other affiliated agents have the same relationship with the consumer named herein (seller or buyer agency, not designated agency). ____Only the real estate agent listed below represents the consumer named in this form (designated seller or buyer agency). In this situation any firm or business listed above and other agents affiliated with the firm or business do not represent you and may represent another party in your real estate transaction.

The form means:

(check one)
_____No one in the office will be representing the person you may be negotiating against.

_____An agent in this office is allowed to represent the person you may be negotiating against. (This is called designated buyer or designated seller agency. See the definition on the back.)

The flap in Maryland is because the current disclosure does not include “exclusive buyer agency” or “exclusive seller agency” or “single agency” (where the firm can represent buyers and sellers, but will recuse itself if both parties are in the same transaction.)

John Sullivan, Vice President of Buyer’s Edge Co. writes:

If passed, these changes to the Real Estate Brokers Act ... would provide the consumer with all of their agency choices when selling or buying their home...It would be the first of the 50 State agency disclosure statements in the country to provide the consumer with all their agency options including exclusive buyer, exclusive seller and most importantly single agency."

Signs of seller flexibility?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis February 22, 2012 06:00 AM

Sellers have been dangerously oblivious to the market downturn, no more so in the Boston area, where every home is just so special that no ordinary price will do.

"The market may be down, but not my house" has been the refrain of more than one seller confronted with the reality of a less than stellar market.

But a new Coldwell Banker survey of nearly 700 agents across the country points to signs that sellers may be finally getting with the program.


More consumers using Realtors (TM)

Posted by Rona Fischman January 26, 2012 02:05 PM

Actually, more consumers are using real estate agents or brokers, in general. Not just members of the National Association of Realtors (TM). corrected 1/27

I found a Realty Times article via my Linked-in account. So I took a look... It was a discussion of the results of the NAR (National Association of Realtors(tm)) annual survey.

NAR found that more buyers are using the services of an agent. Their figure is 89 percent, up from 69 percent a decade ago. According to the Realty Times:

"More than ever home buyers are relying on real estate agents and brokers to help them with their home purchase regardless of whether the home they are buying is a foreclosure, short sale, or even a FSBO sale because they need a real estate agent to help them through the process."

NAR says that an agent who can help a buyer discern the best type of housing, the best locations and help simplify the process is both convenient and valuable to consumers. Their research shows that members of the association are working heavily with buyers. This year, the market conditions made it more important to use an agent. Foreclosures and short sales further complicated the process.


The rolling office

Posted by Rona Fischman January 6, 2012 01:57 PM

Sometimes I travel in my client’s car. Parents of young children generally stay in their own cars, so that the safety seats don’t need to get shifted around. Sometimes there is room for me, sometimes not. People without children usually travel in my car. Sometimes it is easier to take separate cars so that we don’t have to go back to another town to pick up the other car. In all cases, it is up to the clients.

My car is a rolling office. I keep everything I need with me. It is neater than my real office because there are no stacks of paper. I get a lot of work done between houses with my clients.

Seeing the neighborhood: I prefer using my car because it leaves the driving to me and the house-hunting to the clients. If my client is driving, the driver doesn’t get as good a look at the neighborhood. If the partner has his or her nose in the GPS, both miss looking at the neighborhood. There is a lot that can be seen as neighborhoods shift from block to block. It is good to pay attention to whether the houses are close together or not, whether the lawns are well kept, whether the houses are well kept, what kinds of trees and plants are there, how wide the road is, whether there are sidewalks. Things could be missed by a driver or navigator. If someone has to multi-task, it should be me.

Talking about the previous house:
The other thing that happens between houses is a discussion of the last house. This can be useful in identifying what to look for in the next house. For example, if house A had one bedroom that was too small, it will help to remember to compare that room with the smallest bedroom of the next house. After a while, we all see, at a glance, where the line is between small and too-small. When I can participate in these house de-briefings, I can get a leg-up on knowing what my clients are really looking for.

General question and answer:
I also use travel time to talk about lending, inspection and other parts of the transaction. It is more fun for me to do this in the car instead of in the office. Would you rather be in the office?


Lay off the Realtors

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 14, 2011 05:47 AM

OK, Realtors are as popular right now as reporters, elected officials and bankers. In post-crash America, scapegoats abound.

But some of the criticism seems increasingly over the top, especially when it comes to Realtors, who are a favorite target of a few regulars in the comments section of this blog.

I guess I am having a hard time fathoming the intense anger held by a few that real estate agents actually make their living by selling homes, earning a commission when they are successful.

Sounds just like the way many people in a capitalist economy make their living, providing an essential and honorable service, whether selling homes or hospital products or widgets.


Buyers are liars

Posted by Rona Fischman December 6, 2011 01:51 PM

One of the best training tools for me, as a buyer’s agent, has been to take classes designed by seller-centered real estate companies to teach agents how to “handle” house buyers. I got most of my early education in a real estate world that expected all agents to be working for the seller. That’s where I first heard “buyers are liars.”

A little history: Until the mid-00s, there was a relationship called “seller’s sub-agency.” A seller’s agent drove buyers around, opened the door and sold the house for the company that was on the sign outside. If the seller’s agent worked for the company on the sign, it was seller’s agency; if the agent worked for another company, it was sub-agency. The sub-agent never met the seller, but had the obligation to work for the best price and terms for that seller. The real estate agents knew the buyers, asked lots of questions about what they wanted, but the negotiation was stacked against the buyer.

When I first started in real estate, residential buyer’s agency was just beginning. I did a handful of transactions as a seller’s subagent, then went to buyer agency only. Although the days of treating buyers like a customer are over, legally, some of the bad attitude that the buyer is just not buying to annoy the agent, lingers. Thus, the old saw “buyers are liars.”


Standards for real estate agents

Posted by Rona Fischman November 28, 2011 01:51 PM

Today, our Monday guy, Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team, continues the conversation he began last week about standards for real estate agents and brokers.

Last week, the responses to my post about real estate reality shows began a lively discussion about standards (or lack of standards) for real estate agents. Today, I want to continue the conversation for those who may have missed it over the holiday weekend.

Some background:
It all began when I questioned whether the “reality shows” that I saw set a poor example for both consumers and agents by over-simplifying some of the home buying process. During the discussion, I mentioned that

“In reality, there are no standards of practice (at least in Massachusetts) other than the Realtor’s ™ "code of ethics" which is full of holes and not even understood or observed by most brokers and agents. Even with that code, there is no standard for what an agent must do in a transaction other than get a buyer or seller to the closing table.”

Jima insisted that there were state standards of practice for real estate agents in MA CMR 254 3.00. I responded,

“that by following the "standards of practice" in MA CMR 254 3.00 an agent or broker will meet the state's minimum standards to protect the public and give proper disclosure about …. dual agency or designated agency, which is also a form of dual agency.”

My point was that there are few standards imposed on agents that require them to live up to the expectations of many consumers and certainly some of our readers.


Realtor liable for providing bad information

Posted by Rona Fischman November 23, 2011 01:54 PM

Richard D. Vetstein tells how incorrect information on in the Multiple Listing Service and in advertising is not covered by that general disclaimer at the bottom on the MLS sheet.

In DeWolfe v. Hingham Centre Ltd, the Massachusetts Appeals Court recently considered a real estate agent’s duty to disclose and independently verify zoning information about a listing property. The agent, relying on what turned out to be erroneous information supplied by his client, listed a Norwell property on Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and newspaper advertising as “zoned Business B.” The property was not in fact zoned for business use; it was zoned residential, thereby prohibiting the hair salon the buyer wanted to open at the property.

Despite the general disclaimer on the MLS system and in the purchase and sale agreement, the Court held that the Realtor could be held liable for misrepresentation and Chapter 93A violations due to providing this erroneous information.


Straight shooters and steering

Posted by Rona Fischman August 9, 2011 01:54 PM

Why are agents reluctant to talk about crime, safety, and schools? That’s easy. Safety and good schools are hard to measure objectively. They are matters of personal choice. One person’s “safe enough” is somebody else’s idea of scary. Weston public schools are considered the best on many lists, but many parents in Weston send their children to private school.

What is an agent’s job in regard to subjective information? Many agents provide objective information about schools and crime. Some provide contacts to former clients who can speak about their experiences in a neighborhood or at a school. But the decision to buy depends on the comfort level of the buyer. Unfortunately, comfort levels can run along race and ethnic lines.

Agents are legally required not to steer their clients. Steering is the practice of coaxing consumers into segregated neighborhoods by choosing to talk up an area to one type of person and insult it to another. The practice was commonplace until fair housing rules came into place and enough agents behaved for fear of being caught...OK, that was blunt. Not all agents behave because they think they will be caught. In fact, if I ran the world, enforcement would be better than it is; most agents don’t much fear being caught because there’s not much testing. But even the most liberal, non-racist agent has had it drummed in that subjective opinion is risky. My insurance company sent me this example of someone in trouble last year.


Living Area

Posted by Rona Fischman August 8, 2011 01:51 PM

Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Greater Boston Home Team has a few things to say about how living area is calculated and advertised.

The secondary mortgage market has clear guidelines about how appraisers are required to calculate and report the "gross living area" of single families. The rules are clear; any finished areas that are "below grade" are not supposed to be included in the gross living area of the house. That means that if the floor of a finished basement or lower level is not level with or above the land outside of it, its "living area" should not be included with the rest of the home's above grade living area.

Below grade living area is still considered when appraising single families, however, it is included and valued as a separate category of living space in the appraisal report. Presumably, that is because below grade living area is valued differently than above grade living area.


REALTORS® sell and buy

Posted by Rona Fischman August 2, 2011 02:10 PM

“The REALTORS® are coming! The REALTORS® are coming!” Well, actually, the REALTORS® are going. They are going to some bigger commercial property because they have outgrown the Waltham location. Where they will land is still undisclosed.

Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® President Laurie Cadigan, broker-owner of Barrett & Company in Concord, took the opportunity to say, “Effectively, we are taking our own advice: Now is a great time to sell and buy.” Time will tell whether the commercial trade-up was a good idea.
I always liked the MAR (Massachusetts Association of REALTORS®) office. Over the years, I have been there for classes. The meeting room was useful. There was plenty of parking. The downside was that there was not enough room, so I can see why they would want to trade up.

The office backs up on a visible part of I-95/ Route 128. There are trees there, so inside it wasn’t all that noisy. The MAR sign was quite visible to southbound traffic. We’ll see what the new owners do with that opportunity.


Twenty percent down has Realtors in fighting mood

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 20, 2011 07:59 AM

OK, most of us already know the National Association of Realtors has been lobbying desperately against the proposal in Washington to require 20 percent down on most mortgages.

But this is clearly more than just a lobbying game - rank and file real estate agents are also seeing red on this key issue.

Just take the results of this recent poll on the 20 percent down issue by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, which found near universal opposition among agents to requiring hefty down payments.


Reviewing online reviews

Posted by Rona Fischman June 20, 2011 02:15 PM

Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Greater Boston Home Team is our Monday guy. Today he discusses online the accuracy of online reviews.

If you read this blog, chances are that you also use online reviews to help you decide what products to buy and who to do business with. I do, but since I started receiving emails like the one below every 3-4 weeks, I approach those reviews a bit more skeptically.

Below is an actual email (complete with missing words and misspellings) that I have received at least 3 times over the past few weeks. I have taken out the link to the company to comply with editorial guidelines:

“Google is now using business reviews to determine business ranking. People are trashing companies with reviews, Complaint sites and Blogs. We can help you defend your company by posting positive Reviews, Blogs and creating Websites to take over Search Results and control what people see about your company. How does posting positive reviews help in your businesses Google ranking? 1. Positive reviews increase your business rank by linking important and relevant websites to your website. 2. A constant stream of positive reviews improves your online reputation. 3. Positive reviews drive traffic to your business. 4. Positive reviews restore a tarnished reputation by pushing down negative reviews and links. 5. Helps protect against competitors or anyone else from attempting to run your ranking.” Tired of review sites? Hire us to knock them off the front page of Google under your search term. Our company has been in the business of taking over the first page of google for our clients for 8 years and knocking off complaint sites. We can do the same for your company and review sites. We will create special websites and blogs and link them to the 15 thousand websites we already have. These websites will knock the review sites away and replace them with content you control.”

The agents are not talking

Posted by Rona Fischman June 17, 2011 01:41 PM

I take questions. Email to Rona Fischman. But sometimes a slightly off-topic comment repeats a question I’ve seen before.

JJ34 asked:

Rona -- are there laws in MA about what agents *can't* tell their clients? When we bought I first house in the Midwest, back when information was nowhere near as readily available online as it is today, one of the things that I really liked about our agent was that she was a very straight shooter. When my husband and I inquired about looking at houses in a certain section of town she nipped that in the bud and told us we wouldn't want to be over there (and she was right). However, when we bought our house in CT our agent seemed to be very "by the book" and I vaguely recalled her saying something to the effect of not being "allowed" to share her opinions about certain schools, etc. Since we were moving across the country and didn't know much about the area, and she lived here her whole life and was an expert on the area, it actually would have been helpful to have some advice and not simply a reiteration of the facts (i.e. "the school is having a lot of budget problems and has been in the news, let me pull some articles for you" as opposed to "yes, there is a school there." )

In general, the reason agents don’t talk about schools or safety is because their managers or brokers tell them they are not allowed to. No law, just policy. What are they afraid of? First, being accused of steering. Second, being held to a subjective opinion on something.

In quality offices, there is information about schools and crime. That information is factual, not subjective. In some offices, like mine, we provide factual data links and also rely on parents in the districts and owners in neighborhoods who can speak to their experiences.

Today, is an encore of a previous entry.

Q: Why would agents not tell you about the great schools?

Answer number one: Unless the agent says the same thing to every customer or client, that agent may be seen as practicing “steering.” Steering violates fair housing laws. It is the attempt to encourage people to buy in areas with people “just like” the buyer. In the past, this practice maintained segregated communities.


CU at 3

Posted by Rona Fischman June 14, 2011 02:22 PM

Communications in the real estate business is a moving target. With both colleagues and clients, I need to be flexible to their preferences. I have been finding this harder over the past two or three years, as texting started to creep in as the preferred communication mode for some people.

I like texting for direct, finite communication. It is a great convenience to be able to text someone that “123 Elm St showing, confirmed for 3 PM” and get a response. “yes CU at 3”

I have a few things against texting:
1. It is considered immediate communication, so the expectation is that I will respond immediately to any text.
2. It is cell phone-dependent. So when I am at home or in my office, I may miss the alarm that a text came in.
3. People speak faster than they write, therefore, conversations take longer.
4. People do not read carefully. Even short text messages.
5. Tone of voice is lost in print communication, especially short conversations that tend to happen with texts. (Email suffers from this, too.)
6. Many people neglect to include a signal that they have left the communication.

To illustrate. Here is a verbatim (except for identifying information) text conversation I had last weekend:


Offer Q & A

Posted by Rona Fischman June 13, 2011 01:42 PM

Our Monday guy Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Greater Boston Home Team answers some common questions about offers.

What are the rules about making offers in Massachusetts?

- There are no official “rules”, although a final deal should contain certain elements that were discussed in my blog post (“What Every Good Offer Needs”) on March 21.

Is there a standard offer form?
- The “standard form” can vary from area to area and from agency to agency. The most common forms used in Greater Boston are from the Greater Boston Real Estate Board or Massachusetts Association of Realtors, however, there are various contingency addenda that are added to basic offers. Those may be on their forms or an agency’s own forms. The degree to which the forms protect buyers or sellers may vary depending on the type of agency that the agent filling out the form works for and/or the agent’s relationship with the buyer (i.e. seller agency, single party agency, exclusive buyer agency, facilitators, dual or designated agent).

How much of a deposit should be included with the offer?
- The offer deposit is typically a formality. It can be as low as $500 or as high as the buyer or buyer’s agent thinks that it should be to get the seller’s attention. The most common amount is $1,000. I have advised buyer-clients to go as high as $10,000 on high end property, custom construction and/or in multiple offer situations. Larger deposits get the seller’s attention and convey that buyers are more serious than smaller deposits might.


Too much talk?

Posted by Rona Fischman June 6, 2011 02:09 PM

Our Monday guy Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Greater Boston Home Team, is back to discuss how much a seller or seller's agent should talk when showing a house.

When a prospective buyer views a home or condo for sale, how much talk from the seller or listing agent is enough and how much is too little?

Below is a partial list of the things that I have heard listing agents ask or say to buyers. In the parenthesis that follow some of their comments I’ve included the real question that is often hidden behind the agent’s more Innocent question.

- Discuss potential improvements or modifications to the building that the buyer can make to each room in minute detail, often without disclosing that a variance would be required or lack of knowledge that such a modification would never get permitted.

- Discuss ways that the buyer can potentially decorate the home or show off the existing ugly decor.

- Talk about the way the current owners or the previous occupants, used the house for their family.

- Point out the obvious bathroom, master bedroom or walk in closet, etc.


Brand Name Real Estate

Posted by Rona Fischman May 2, 2011 01:55 PM

Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Greater Boston Home Team, discusses the impact of major franchises on agents, consumers and the real estate industry.

For years, real estate was dominated by local agencies that relied on their reputations in the neighborhood for their continued livelihood. While smaller agencies still survive and thrive, today there is no shortage of big “brand name” real estate companies as well.

Franchising real estate brand names is big business. According to their web site, “Realogy is a franchisor of six of the most recognized brands in the real estate industry: Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate, CENTURY 21®, Coldwell Banker®, ERA®, and Sotheby’s International Realty®, Coldwell Banker Commercial® and ONCOR InternationalSM. In 2010, we were involved either through our franchise operations of our franchisees or our company owned brokerages, in approximately 23 percent of all existing home sale transaction volume” for domestic transactions involving a real estate brokerage firm.”


Finding the best agent

Posted by Rona Fischman April 28, 2011 02:04 PM

When I wrote about blind references, we got advice from Boston Charles.

Boston Charles can zing me at times, but he is worth it. Actually some of you appreciate him best when he zings me, right? I don’t agree with all his advice about choosing an agent. However some of it was spot on.

Charles wrote:

I've never got references from an agent from someone I don't know. I have done so within the real estate community. Yes, this is less useful for the average buyer. 2 easy tests are - how much did you sell last year (or buy, depending) - the good real agents do almost all the deals, as sam mentioned. 2d, ask a buyers agent "whats wrong with this house". Its a great weed out - you'll find many agents simply can't say anything negative and "real". Avoid them - they are poisoned by BS.
For selling, simply put, the agents who sell the most sell the most. Find out who they are and list with them.

What I agree with:
1. The best references are from people you know.
Yes! Where I differ from Charles is to stand by my interview questions. Get names from people you know. Trust but verify. Your friends may be nice, but they may not know what to expect from an agent. Good outcomes are not always the result of good agents.

2. To find a good buyer’s agent, ask the agent to find problems in the house.
Yes, again. A good buyer’s agent will find problems and will also show you how the property doesn’t match what you said you wanted. The ones that are cheerleaders are not good buyer's agents.


Some sellers over-prepare – Part 2

Posted by Rona Fischman April 25, 2011 02:20 PM

Last Monday, Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Greater Boston Home Team discussed how he felt that some sellers over prepare their homes. Today he continues the discussion:

Last week I wrote:

"The most common mistake that sellers make is that they do work to their homes that might be better left to negotiate over after a home inspection."

Jima responded:

Sam - I think that this statement needs some explanation as it doesn't make sense.
Today's Home Inspectors are like wolves on a deer. If there is some blood, they tend to rip a house apart. A buyer's estimate might be double or more of the actual cost to fix an issue.

Jima makes some good points. Here is what I think:

Good listing agents know that there is the actual cost of a repair as well as the perceived cost of a repair or upgrade. Good listing agents also work with reliable, reputable, cost effective contractors that can provide quotes on issues that arise or could arise from home inspections. A good listing agent will obtain estimates for the obvious repairs or upgrades that he anticipates that a buyer might notice or request after an inspection. At least I know that I do.


Securing a house during its marketing

Posted by Rona Fischman April 22, 2011 02:04 PM

As a buyer’s agent, I am responsible for respecting and securing a property that I show through the MLS. I am given access to a key, which I am to use and replace in a secure container. I am given instructions like “don’t let the cat out” or “leave the lights on” or “please remove shoes.” I follow those. Then there are the obvious rules that go without saying: “don’t steal… don’t snoop…don’t break anything.”

Lately, I have seen instructions that read, “Don’t give lock box combination to the buyer.” Are they serious? What agent would give out a combination to a buyer? It must happen or there would be no need to mention it.

The worst security breach situation that I know of happened in Cambridge. By the time I showed the house, the sellers were only allowing showings when they were home. They were not speaking to their agent. Why? Because their house was burglarized over what must have taken hours. These sellers went away for a three-day weekend and come back to find odd things missing. Weird things. Like empty boxes in the basement that had contained wedding presents that they hadn’t used yet. A few pieces of missing jewelry. Some liquor gone. Some video tapes gone. They were creeped out. They blamed the combination lock box on their door. What bothered them the most was that they told the agent that they would be away for a long weekend and whoever stole their things knew that.


Why would a seller not want an open house?

Posted by Rona Fischman April 21, 2011 02:02 PM

I have some new clients who have been shopping on their own through open houses. Once we got going, they noticed an MLS listing with no open house. We made an appointment to see it. There was a page on the table with “offers being presented 3 PM on Monday” written on it. They were new enough at the hunt to be confused that there can be a bidding war called without an open house. Yet, I’d seen it before. Open houses are a common way to market a property, but it is not a foregone conclusion that it is the best way.

They couldn’t let it go, “why would a seller not want an open house?” they asked. I told them why.

First and foremost is security. Open houses invite anyone and everyone into the house. This welcomes nosy neighbors, klutzes and -- once in a while -- people of bad intent. Things get broken, things get dirty, and sometimes things go missing. At an open house, there will be one agent to watch people in five or more rooms. Even an agent who is paying attention can’t keep an eye on everything in that situation. Therefore, some sellers demand appointments only. In that case, there will be one agent there with one party of buyers; a much better ratio for keeping house-hunters from intentionally or unintentionally damaging the property.


Let’s help James quit his day job!

Posted by Rona Fischman April 19, 2011 01:26 PM

In March, we discussed hurry-up buying near to death. Sometimes the conversation stopped over the question of who trusts who’s statistics. Do Assessed values correlate to sale prices? Is the MLS right about square footage? Are agent CMAs accurate?

Here’s where the data comes from:
• Municipal records showing assessed value and square footage.
• Deed/title records showing sale price and square footage.
• MLS records showing asking price(s), sale price and square footage.

James wrote:

“Yeah, I was wondering about sources of aggregated data. I suppose I can write my own scraping script, but I'd hoped someone else had already scraped and cleaned the data.”

I answered:

"If you could clean up town real estate data and sell it, you could quit your day job."

To which, James wrote:

“Actually, I've been thinking about doing just that. What data would you like to see?”


Use a blind reference if you really want to see

Posted by Rona Fischman April 8, 2011 02:26 PM

I strongly recommend blind references when interviewing agents. These are references where people will write directly to you. This is much more effective than getting a set of pre-written letters. Anyone -- and I mean anyone -- who has been in the business for two or three years can find two or three people who will say they were a great agent.

When you get to the blind reference, these are the questions I think you should ask.
1. Did the agent know about the town, the area, the market?
2. Do you believe that the agent was working in your interests and not being influenced by other agents?
4. Do you believe that the agent helped you develop a plan and stick to it?
5. Did the agent provide an attractive marketing presentation of the house? Did you like the look of your listing sheet and materials?
6. Did your agent show respect for your time and your property? Was anything stolen or damaged during the showing process?
7. Did the agent provide useful information during the Offer process? Did you get market data to inform your decisions? Did you feel well informed during negotiation?
8. Did you feel pushed into selling something too quickly? Did you think that the agent failed to work for your best deal in order to get the deal done?
9. What adjective would you use to describe this agent when house hunting? When negotiating?


More than bad photos

Posted by Rona Fischman April 7, 2011 02:23 PM

Caramel was serious on April 1st, when we were making fun of bad description comments. Caramel wrote:

Caramel wrote: … my real pet peeve are some of the truly horrible photographs like the ones taken with an old cell phone camera. Do the sellers realize that their agent is doing this kind of low level "marketing"? Why don't they care about this?

My experience says that sellers don’t seem to care enough to look at their MLS listings to see what their house looks like to the public. Once they sign the listing agreement, they check their brains in a locker and let the agent take over. If consumers interviewed and supervised their agents, bad agents would be a thing of the past. However, sloppy agents who continue to make a living will continue to be sloppy agents.


April fool’s day

Posted by Rona Fischman April 1, 2011 02:10 PM

Today, let’s make fun of listing sheets. Easy, right? I hope this is fun for you.

First, I want to share my two personal (seen with my own eyes) favorites:

It is custom to tell an agent that there will be a pet in the house. Example: “Small dog named Fred will be in crate in the office.” “Two cats, don’t let them out.” Sometime in the 90s, I saw a listing sheet that read,

“Friendly dog, named Killer, will be in the house.”

I met Killer. You guessed it; he was a lap dog! But that wasn’t the picture I had in my head at three in the morning the night before the showing. (Confession, I am afraid of strange dogs.)

The other was a Freudian typo.

“An imaginative buyer can burn this one into a beauty.”

The most common type of remarks that draw derision from my clients are the ones that are obvious exaggeration. My colleagues, Kathe Geist and Hilda Silverman and I prepared this list for our clients about ten years ago:


Only fools rush in? Buyers again ensnared by bidding wars

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis April 1, 2011 08:35 AM

It may look the return of the Ice Age this morning, but don't be fooled. The spring real estate market is here - and with it innumerable pitfalls for unprepared and naive buyers.

While things may be slower in the hinterlands, it's the same old story in many of the hotter towns and neighborhoods along and inside the Route 128 corridor.

Once again there are too many buyers battling it out for a limited pool of decent inventory - either new homes or older ones not needing expensive overhauls.

And brokers who have been around the block know all the tricks to stampeding eager buyers and getting them to check their common sense at the door to the open house. (Rona has written extensively on this over the past few weeks. Read and learn.)

My favorite is the broker at the open house who told buyers, all eager to see a house - in Burlington, I think - that sorry, he was now only taking "back up offers."

But how do we know those offers are real? Could this just be another broker ginning up the process with a few "phantom buyers?"

Does it really have to be this way?


Verify what?

Posted by Rona Fischman March 29, 2011 04:04 PM

Caramel wrote:

"I wish someone would come up with an offer verification process that somehow reveals the existence of an offer without compromising the privacy of the party offering."

Carmel, you can verify "offer in hand" claims, but only after the fact. I don’t think there is a way to verify in real time that would not compromise the seller’s confidential position. Can anyone think of a way to do this?
The presence or absence of a competing purchase contract is a material fact. But what is in the offer is confidential until it no longer matters to the seller. There may be a way to verify the fact of an offer, but some will be too weak to be competition.

After the fact, you could get an attorney to write a letter to the broker of the listing agent who said three offers were in on March 27 (and that house is still for sale on April 27th.) Send a copy of the letter, along with your complaint, to the Commonwealth. By involving the boss of the possible liar, you will either get three dead offers, with identifying information whited-out, or you will have uncovered a stinker. I hope some stinkers will get run out of the business. They give people like me a bad name. If every buyer did this, the bluffing behavior would go away.

In my experience, there are few “offer in hand” liars. I have gone through the effort to get offers verified when it was important to my buyers. In every case, the other offer(s) existed. They did, but some were bad offers.

Before offer-in-hand, it is impossible to really verify anything.


The real estate sign game

Posted by Rona Fischman March 28, 2011 02:28 PM

Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Great Boston Home Team is our Monday guy. Today he musing on who benefits from those yard signs springing up on our landscape.

What is the purpose of the real estate sign in front of a property for sale?
The answer probably depends on who you ask.

If you ask the listing agent, she might tell you that signs help sell the property sooner because everybody that passes by will know that it’s for sale. In reality, the national statistic is that only six percent of home buyers in 2009 bought a home because they happened to see the sign. I know agents that have been in business for many years that have never sold a home based on a buyer seeing the sign. Surveys show that around 90 percent of today’s buyers are already searching for their next home online.
Having a sign in front of a property for sale from the day it is listed until the day that it closes is great advertising for the agent and the agency. That sign presence often leads to inquiries from other neighbors that want to discuss selling their home with the agent. (In fact, I once lost a potential listing to an agent that had lots of signs all over a particular neighborhood. She hadn’t actually sold any of the homes in over 4 months, but that didn’t seem to be something that the seller factored into the decision making process.)

Buyers like signs until they get tired of calling the agent or agency only to get hustled for their names, numbers and whatever else before they can get any information at all about the property or they find out that they are talking to an agent that has never seen the property. Agents have treated some buyers rudely once they hear that the buyer has his own buyer’s agent.


Will this work? Frustrated buyer to get real estate license

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis March 24, 2011 08:08 AM

I'm all for thinking outside the box. After all, it takes a little creative thinking to snag a half decent home in this market without breaking the bank.

But I wonder if our buddy "Frank" may be pushing the envelope here a bit.

The last time we checked in with Frank, our friendly IT guy was getting back into the hunt for an affordable home in Boston's perpetually overpriced suburbs, having rebounded from a layoff that sidelined him for a good part of 2010.

But Frank keeps striking out, mainly, at least in his view, because he bases his offers on what a home is truly worth, not the listing price.

Some may call it low balling; Frank and others on this blog would simply call it common sense.

His most recent foray - offering $400,000 for a newly built Woburn colonial originally listed at $480,000. It wound up selling for $450,000. (My apologies to Frank, It was last listed at $449,000 and has been put under agreement - the sale price may be even lower. That should cast his decision to offer $400,000 in a somewhat different light.)

So Frank has decided if you can't beat the real estate industrial sales complex, maybe it's time to join it.

"I'm going to become a Realtor," he told me over the phone yesterday.

I didn't fall out of my chair, but I certainly had some questions.


An MLS thing that bothers people

Posted by Rona Fischman February 4, 2011 01:43 PM

There are a variety of great interfaces for the MLS available to the public. In the 21st century, it was inevitable that agents would not be the only way to see the list of properties for sale. Years ago, the lid blew off the MLS that was only in the hands of the subscription-holders.

Most of my clients “web-around” to other sites to look at images of properties for sale. To answer the question posed last week, it does not create procuring cause problems. Everyone is looking at on-line data if they have half a brain in their head, or more.

However, my clients who are using other sites frequently come back to me with questions about what happened to property that “disappeared.” Pubic interfaces are good with properties that are for sale. Some are good with sold statistics, but few are good with non-active listed properties.

Here is the way it is supposed to work:

Properties that have ACT in red have an Offer accepted, but there are still contingencies. Some sellers want to show their houses right up to closing day, in case something goes wrong.

Properties marked UAG are under agreement and not actively being marketed. In most interfaces, they disappear from view.


Snow and the phantom offer

Posted by Rona Fischman January 28, 2011 01:28 PM

Winter house hunting is when the improbable happens. Wednesday night into Thursday, this week, is a case in point.

5:15 PM: It was snowing lightly. A suburban agent who called to inform me a co-broke Offer was coming in on a house my clients saw last weekend.
(a “co-broke Offer” is agent-speak for an Offer from outside the listing company.)

My clients saw this house last weekend as part of a left-overs tour. It was their favorite of the bunch. Suddenly, during a snowstorm, it was do-or-die on a house that was on the market two-and-a-half months and had been at the same price through January. Did my clients want to bite? By 6:03 PM, we established a 10 AM appointment for the following day. The luxury of seeing it Sunday was gone.

As you know, there was a fresh foot or so of snow on the ground and the sun was shining by 8 AM. Being an urban person, I was out shoveling with my fellow car-dependents. We waved cheerfully to our MBTA commuter-neighbors as they walked to the T.

10 AM: The driveway and walk were cleared when we arrived for the showing.

During the showing, I called the agent with some questions. While on the phone, I confirmed that the other Offer was, in fact, in. The agent said, “of course, that’s why I was pressuring you to show it fast…I don’t do ‘that stuff’” I said that I knew she was a good agent, but I had to ask.


For sale by owner gang, where have you gone?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis January 28, 2011 11:09 AM

Heads up real estate market conspiracy theorists. You are going to just love my take on this one.

Back during the bubble years, for sale by owner acolytes were on a mission to convert the rest of us. Why pay a Realtor a commission? Get off your lazy duff and sell your house. It’s just so easy, the FSBO crowd would croon.

Well, maybe not. The number of home sales by owners flying solo has dropped precipitously, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors and the National Association of Realtors report.

MAR contends just 6 percent of 2010 sales were FSBO transactions, with nearly 60 percent of these owners having known the buyer beforehand. NAR is crowing that the FSBO share of the market has fallen to 9 percent from 13 percent during the bubble years.

I am hardly ready to take these numbers as gospel – it is a bit like asking the Herald how the Globe is doing, or for that matter, getting the Globe's take on the Herald.

Yet I am not among those very vocal few who seem to believe that industry trade groups like NAR and MAR simply pull their numbers out of the wide blue sky.


Sam on the Seller’s Disclosure Form

Posted by Rona Fischman January 17, 2011 02:03 PM

Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Great Boston Home Team discusses the pros and cons of seller’s written disclosures, like this one.

A seller’s statement is a signed statement from the seller that answers pre-printed questions regarding the property.

Some states mandate seller’s disclosure statements. Massachusetts does not. That is why during some, but not all, transactions, a “seller’s statement” or “seller’s disclosure” is given to the buyer and/or the buyer’s agent. Buyers are asked to sign a copy of the seller’s disclosure to confirm that they received it.

Sometimes the form is provided at the first viewing of the property. Other times it appears later, but almost always before the purchase and sale agreement is signed.


Listing Broker Hit With Triple Damages For Breaching Escrow Duties

Posted by Rona Fischman December 29, 2010 02:36 PM

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein is back with the second entry about the recent case involving brokers and deposits.

This post is a continuation of my discussion about the recent Massachusetts Appeals Court case of NRT New England, Inc. v. Moncure (click for link).

Last week I talked about why the decision was very important in upholding the standard liquidated damages clause in the typical purchase and sale agreement.

This week I’ll talk about the court’s ruling that the listing broker violated its fiduciary duties when it messed around with the escrow deposit.

Dispute Between Listing Broker and Buyer
The facts of this case are a bit unusual. Listing Broker represented the seller in a purchase of residential property in Wayland, MA. Under the standard purchase and sale agreement, the buyer posted a $92,500 escrow deposit which Listing Broker held as an escrow agent. The same buyer apparently used Listing Broker on another transaction and owed it nearly $35,000 in fees.

The buyer lost its financing and defaulted on the contract, thereby forfeiting the $92,500 deposit. (I covered that in my prior post). Listing Broker took an assignment of the buyer’s right to the escrow funds, but didn’t tell its client that right away. Then Listing Broker tried to strong-arm its client by threatening litigation if he didn’t accept $2,500 and release the escrow deposit to Listing Broker.

Breach of Fiduciary Duty and Chapter 93A Violation

The court was none too happy with Listing Broker’s course of action here. The court reaffirmed that Listing Broker had a fiduciary duty — one of the highest duties under law — to hold the funds for the benefit of the seller and not to engage in any self-dealing. The court found that Listing Broker’s collection of a debt against the escrow deposit while it was acting as escrow agent was a clear breach of fiduciary duty.

The kicker was that the court imposed triple damages and an award of attorneys’ fees under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, Chapter 93A. So Listing Broker is now on the hook for $277,500 plus thousands in legal fees. Ouch!

Should agents use their photos?

Posted by Rona Fischman December 27, 2010 02:27 PM

Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Great Boston Home Team (our Monday guy) takes a look at agent's business cards.

Some people have indicated that they think that it's unprofessional for real estate agents to put their pictures on business cards. I've asked agents that do it, and they say that having their picture on their card makes it easier for buyers that have seen property with them or met them at an open house to recall them later when that buyer gets serious about selecting an agent to work with months after their initial meeting.

Some agents put pictures of themselves and their pets on their cards. Those that I’ve asked have told me that their approach has attracted real estate clients who are also pet lovers.

Some have included their family in their photos, while others have used caricatures of themselves that include a reference to their favorite sport, all in an effort to make themselves stand out and/or to have potential clients connect with them in some way.


How many stars does your agent deserve?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 15, 2010 06:53 AM

Real estate agents and brokers, welcome to the not-so-new world of online consumer reviews. is taking a page from all those ubiquitous online restaurant and business reviews, letting buyers and sellers award stars to brokers and agents the same way they would with Joe's Diner or the local fleabag hotel, Banker & Tradesman reports.

And the move is raising hackles in the real estate industry, according to B&T, conjuring fears among brokers they will be targeted by disgruntled customers intent on posting spiteful reviews.

Really? I am somewhat less than sympathetic.


At the party, who is celebrating?

Posted by Rona Fischman December 9, 2010 02:16 PM

Most real estate agents are people-people more than thing-people. Were they not, the amount of chit-chat necessary to do this job would drive them batty. (Well, maybe that explains some of them, but that is beside the point.) You get my point; agents tend to be social-types.
There’s the rub.

First, agents work during what is social time for most people. I work after 5 PM during the week, when daylight permits, and I work daylight hours on the weekends. For me, and most working agents, going out on Saturday night is like going out on Tuesday night for 9-5ers. Yet our friends have “normal” schedules and are nice and relaxed on a Saturday night.

The second problem is shared by a lot of professionals. People at parties think it is friendly to ask for free advice or they think a social situation is an appropriate place and time to damn your whole profession and challenge you to agree. I hear the same complaint from psychologists, doctors, and carpenters.

The agent version goes like this:
1. Oh, you are a real estate agent! My brother’s house in East Armpit on Crescent Street is for sale. Have you seen it?... No?...Anyway, what do you think it’s worth?
2. Oh, you are a real estate agent. You people make too much money and don’t do any work! What do you think of that?

Since the recession started, I get a new response:
3. Oh, you are a real estate agent! Poor thing! The market is so-o-o tough…

When I say that I am doing OK, thank you, people go back to choice #1 or #2.

The party I most recently attended was not typical. It was in a client’s house and two other client-households were also in attendance. (Some of my clients were friends before they bought. A few become friends in the process. These people were the former.) At a party like that, comment 1 is allowed and usually answered with, “I’ll get the full info to you when I get back to my desk tomorrow.” Comment 2 did not come up.


Virtual paperwork

Posted by Rona Fischman December 8, 2010 02:14 PM

Readers who bought a house in Massachusetts know that residential buyers and sellers use two contracts, the Offer to Purchase and the Purchase and Sales Agreement. For many years in my area, the Offer to Purchase has been accepted and signed by fax -- and later scanned -- copies. But the requirement for four copies of a fully signed Purchase and Sales Agreement has died a slow and painful death.

The standard process has been to make four (and sometimes five!) copies of this 4-10 page Purchase and Sales Agreement and have the buyers sign all of them. (Usually there are three signature places, the main signature, and another signature on each of the attorney riders.) Then the whole pile was hand-delivered to the seller’s agent or attorney along with the binder check by the buyer’s agent (me). The seller’s agent would then get the pile signed: one for the seller, one for the seller’s attorney, one for the buyer, one for the buyer’s attorney. (That fifth one that I was sometimes asked to get went to the seller’s broker.) As a buyer’s agent, I got a fax or scanned copy. My job included picking up the originals and making sure the buyer and the buyer’s attorney got one for their records.

Once upon a time, documents (read: contracts) were handwritten by some clerk, reviewed by some lawyer, then signed. Those days of gas lights and fountain pens remind me of Bob Cratchit and Ebenezer Scrooge. With electricity, eventually, came copy machines. Next came templates. Then fax machines. Now, every office has a scanner. Copying and scanning technology is so good that it is hard to distinguish an original signature in black ink from a black and white copy. It’s only a little easier to tell a colored copy from an original blue signature.

It was only a matter of time before scanned copies became acceptable. Programs like Docusign have made their way to the mainstream. How do I know that the end of multiple originals is near? This week an electronic signature was initiated by an attorney. The only running around was to deliver the binder check.

Agents, have you seen this yet? Buyers and sellers, have you seen it? Do you feel secure enough with a virtual paper-trail? As a real estate agent, I have thought the paperless office would never come. Maybe I will live to see the day. Do you have hopes for that day?

Is the media too negative on real estate?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis December 6, 2010 07:00 AM

That sentiment is likely to come as a surprise to many of the regulars who comment on this blog.

The complaint I often hear is that reporter X or newspaper Y is somehow in bed with the local real estate industry and desperately trying to put a happy spin on otherwise bad news.

Sure, that can happen, but my view is that this critique, in its extreme, is off base.

But on the other side of the fence are the real estate brokers. And, from a read of this "roundtable" discussion on "Standing up to Negativity: How to Counter Media Reports," many of them see things much differently.

The roundtable features two brokerage owners, one in Las Vegas, the other from New Jersey, carping about what they see as media "negativity" and doling out some questionable advice on how to deal with it.

This line from the intro gives a nice taste of things to come.

"From rising foreclosure rates to dismal post-tax credit reports, media headlines continue to be centered around the negativity in today's market. Real estate leaders, however, know that this is only one part of the story - that there are plenty of positive stories to share as well."

OK, sure, even in a train wreck, you can find some faux silver lining if you look hard enough. Whether anyone will believe you, though, is another matter.


Whose advice should you take?

Posted by Rona Fischman November 29, 2010 01:40 PM

Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Great Boston Home Team (our Monday guy) asks questions about how a consumer can sort through advice and choose the best course of action.

There are lots of opinions and expectations about what an agent should know or be responsible for, but realistically, an agent can not be as knowledgeable and up to the minute on the specialties of an attorney, inspector, radon tester, financial consultant, etc.

The spirited discussions over my last two posts highlight important questions for consumers, agents, inspectors, attorneys, lenders and others involved in the process of helping buyers and sellers achieve their goals in a real estate transaction. They are:

Whose advice should buyers or sellers take?
Everyone from relatives and friends to the pros that are hired in a real estate transaction will have some advice to lend. The question is whose advice to take. Mine, our readers, some website, your agent’s, inspectors or attorneys?


Follow-up on an agency question

Posted by Rona Fischman November 10, 2010 02:11 PM

I reviewed the Mandatory Licensee-Consumer Disclosure, AKA “Agency Disclosure” after being baited by REMaven last month. One question, from Bob02657, stumped me, a little. After checking with the MAR legal hotline, here is his question and my answer:

Bob02657 wrote: Rona on the Mandatory Agency Disclosure form front page there are check spaces for: __ Buyer's Agent; __Seller's Agent, but no __ Dual Agent? On page two all types of agency are described

In short, a licensee cannot start a professional relationship in dual agency. The licensee starts out as an agent to one party, or not an agent at all (facilitator.) There is a second form that licensees must get signed when dual agency arises.

Now some detail:
1. The disclosure is intended to explain to the consumer who the agent represents and what the representation requires of the agent. The disclosure is signed by the licensee, who can be a buyer’s or seller’s agent or facilitator (non-agent.)
2. If the licensee intends to become a designated buyer’s or seller’s agent, “buyer’s agent” or “seller’s agent” gets checked off. At the time of signature, the licensee has no transaction with a conflict, since you are just getting started. Later, the company can go into dual agency by having two designated agents who are on opposite sides of a transaction. At that point, there is another required disclosure.


Real estate politics: Question 2

Posted by Rona Fischman November 2, 2010 01:42 PM

The National Association of REALTORS® sent out a message to its members reminding them to vote today. As a member, I was asked to vote REALTOR® Party. I am a member of NAR and its local branches, but not the REALTOR® Party. I disagree with the owner-centered bias of NAR and have been on the other side of most of their political stands.

This year, I find myself in unusual agreement with the Greater Boston Association of REALTORS®. GBAR says vote No on Question 2. The GBAR website says:

… Ballot Question 2 poses a serious risk to our economy and the future of our Commonwealth. The question is designed to repeal the law that is responsible for producing the majority of Massachusetts’ housing outside our major cities over the last 10 plus years. That is why, as an organization, the Greater Boston Real Estate Board has taken a position and urges all its members to vote No on Question 2.

Repealing the Affordable House Law (40B) is not only bad community planning, it is bad business. Therefore I find a bedfellow with the REALTORS®. Since all three major candidates for Governor also agree to No on 2, there are some strange bedfellows, indeed, on this one. (For both sides of Question 2, read this.)


Conflict of interest question

Posted by Rona Fischman October 19, 2010 02:07 PM

Ethan wrote:

We're first-time condo buyers trying to determine whether we need to hire an attorney to oversee the P&S/Closing of the condo we are interested in. Our great broker is dually qualified as a real estate attorney. This initially seemed like an asset but as things have begun to get complicated following the inspection, some missing information, and our dawning awareness that most agent's are loyal to the deal and are paid through the seller - we are wondering whether it would be safer to hire an attorney whose sole duty is to protect our interests…

My first reaction was to tell Ethan that he doesn’t need a separate attorney unless he has lost faith in his agent’s diligence. However, if he is unimpressed with the service, then paying for another set of eyes could be well worth it.

Ethan answered with some more detail:

… Our agent is wonderful, I would hate to offend him. That said, we are concerned about the potential for conflict of interest built into the nature of the dynamics at play. We also have read a great deal about the process and advice tends to be quite ominous in the current climate leaving first-timers a bit paranoid about being taken advantage of. Our relationship has been generally positive but sometimes mixed, at turns protecting the seller's interest and at sometimes designed to protect ours.

There are a few incentive issues:

First, your agent gets paid when you close. If you sense that the agent is pushing you to close and giving away your rights, then you need a separate attorney.

Second, is your agent-attorney getting an attorney fee in a “package rate” or getting paid by the hour? There is room for rip-off either way. If your attorney is getting a fixed fee, the attorney has an incentive to do as little as possible. That opens the door for sloppy, incomplete work, or giving away your rights to get the deal done. An attorney who charges hourly has an incentive to make problems to pad his/her bill. That attorney could be a “problem solver” and get hero status as well as a big paycheck for solving problems that didn't need to exist.

Third, if your attorney is also representing the lender at closing, your attorney makes another chunk of change to get you to closing. If it doesn’t close, there is no lender’s attorney check nor any title insurance commission.


Googling for dollars

Posted by Rona Fischman October 12, 2010 02:16 PM

hossmaster wrote:

What is most striking to me is the lack of information typically provided by buyers' agents. Very few if any buyers' agents do any homework on sellers. For example, when I am interested in a home I have looked at, I always do some basic intel on the seller, usually by plugging in the address in the registry of deeds (all of which are online and free, and easy to use). There I obtain the seller's name and, perhaps more importantly for negotiation purposes, the amount of seller's outstanding mortgages on the property, as well as any tax liens or other "interesting" information that bear on the seller's motivations. I also Google the seller's name to see if anything useful comes up in local news or other online publications (e.g., criminal convictions or lawsuits, or other incidents that might influence the terms of sale)… Hell, it's even kinda fun.

Yep. Hossmaster has a great point here. There is little privacy in America. A little time on the computer will yield lots of information about the seller. Finding information about a seller’s motivations is not new. In the pre-internet days, we had to do it by speaking to the neighbors. Back in the 1990s, Ron Rothenberg, showed me how to find data on the ASCII computers at the Registry of Deeds. We’ve come light years since then.

Knowing this information can gain you a small negotiating edge. Look for anything that points to the seller having a compelling need to sell, a psychological or true economic price limit, or a need to close on a specific date.


It's agency day

Posted by Rona Fischman October 7, 2010 02:27 PM

REMaven went after me about dual agency. She quoted me:

Rona wrote: “I step lightly on issues of dual and designated agency because I practice exclusive buyer agency and don’t want to oversell my model?” [Question mark by REMaven]
Then continued:
Excuse me, but why would you not step hard on the practice of dual agency, when it affects the bottom line of both the buyer and seller? It has nothing to do with which type of sales model you utilize. It has everything to do with educating the public and calling out industry and any agent who practices this.

If you feel that you have to step lightly on issues of dual and designated agency as you may be blackballed by other agents and your offers might not be accepted, then I suggest that another blogger tackle this issue.

For those who are tired of me bringing this topic up or think that it isn’t important, the next time you go to court, please allow the Lawyer representing your opponent to represent you and your best interests. Maybe you’ll roar with laughter when it isn’t allowed or if it were (in a kangaroo court) with the results

I respond, in detail:
REMaven, you mistake tact and fairness for lack of commitment. It is easy for you to say anything you’d like, under your cloak of pen-name. I, however, use my real name. If I constantly wrote on agency -- which is a big part of my company's marketing -- I would be shouted down, rightfully, for self-interest. I will not accept that I am acting in my self-interest if I write about it and if I don’t write about it.

You are dead wrong to claim that I don’t take on these issues -- I do, just not every day. I follow this topic in a way that educates the readers about agency issues. I have a track record. You just weren’t reading:
I wrote about the Agency Disclosure. I included designated and dual agency on my list of what’s wrong with real estate in my recap of 2008. I explained what to look out for in dual agency. I also mentioned the poor rate of compliance to the regulations. I gave an example of where agents claimed they were buyer agents in a questionable situation, and why consumers need to beware. I explained the nuts and bolts of maintaining a fiduciary model as recently as last July.

Sam also posted on what consumers need to understand about dual and designated agency. Not once, but twice.


It's a free country

Posted by Rona Fischman October 5, 2010 01:55 PM

When we were discussing sellers without agents LanceStapleton recommended that buyers contact sellers directly. He commented:

… this is a free country and despite the Realtor's(TM!) "contract with the seller" you as a buyer are free to contact the seller directly at any time and for any reason. Do you just tell the Realtor(TM!) to "stick it" (which I have done on several occasions)... Or have you found a more socially graceful way of handling this?

As a consumer, you are free to contact anyone you want. It is a free country. As a buyer’s agent, I must not contact with the seller. The seller is someone else’s client. The seller’s agent should not be calling my buyer, either. It would be like your ex’s attorney calling you about the custody agreement.

My opinion about whether the buyer should approach the seller depends on a number of factors. First, the buyer needs to understand what information may influence the negotiation (as Sam discussed just yesterday.) If the buyer is personable and has a good feeling about the seller, it can help to circumvent the agents. But, some of the time, it backfires big. I have seen both happen. Some sellers hire an agent to buffer them from the buyers of their house. Some sellers welcome the buyer. It frequently comes down to the seller’s attachment to the house and their neighbors. I try to find out as much as I can about the seller, then let my clients decide whether they want to contact the sellers.


Whatever you say may be held against you

Posted by Rona Fischman October 4, 2010 02:33 PM

It's Monday. Today Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Greater Boston Home Team, explains why you should think ahead before you open your mouth.

It's easy to say things that you'll regret later in a real estate transaction. The problem is that most buyers and sellers don't know when a transaction begins.

Negotiations begin as soon as either party begins talking about buying or selling. Whatever either party says, no matter how seemingly innocent, will probably will be used against them later if the buyer, seller or other agent in the transaction learns about it. Uninformed buyers (even second time buyers) often walk into my open houses and volunteer information about themselves that they really should keep to themselves and FSBOs say too much to my buyers.

Buyers have come to me to represent them after they think they found a home to buy and sellers sometimes come to me thinking that they have a buyer. When that happens, they usually tell me that they barely spoke to the other parties involved and now they want me to step in and evaluate the property, write an offer and negotiate the best deal for them. When I have conversations with the buyer, seller or agent on the other side, I'm often surprised by how much they know about my new clients. Often, its enough to take away some of my negotiating clout.


Should I call it BSG’s maneuver?

Posted by Rona Fischman September 28, 2010 02:37 PM

Sometimes agents do things that work against their goal. Bsg143 put his or her finger on one of my pet peeves. During the day, the lights should not have to be on! When listing agents and sellers put every light on, it distracts from the natural light coming in from the window. The only exception is in the basements, where there are frequently not enough lights.

bsg143 wrote:

I think it's funny how at open houses in the middle of a sunny day EVERY SINGLE LIGHT is on in the entire condo or house. The first thing I do is go around and turn off the lights so I can see what the natural light would be like in the daytime. This seems to be the case in every single open house I go to. I don't quite understand this practice - supposedly it makes the unit or hours more appealing? But really, who has ALL the lights on the middle of the day???

When I show a house by myself, I never turn on unnecessary lights. When another agent is there and has all the lights on, I turn them off, one room at a time. Once their pupils are back to normal, I ask about the natural light. Then I turn the light back on.

This annoys some of my peers… So be it.


It was so civilized

Posted by Rona Fischman September 23, 2010 01:46 PM

The weekend weather this September has been great! One Saturday, I showed property in West Somerville and North Cambridge. I was working with my new agent, Sandy Resnick. As we arranged to meet up, we realized that our showings were all within a half mile or so from one another. Normally we rendezvous and travel in one car. Instead, she drove to the first place and I walked there. Then we walked with the clients to the second place. (If the showing ran late, Sandy’s car was there for our last-minute use.) Then we showed a property to another client. Then we went our separate ways, on foot.

My clients are MBTA users, so the exercise was helpful for them. We got to talk about some of the quirks of the neighborhood as we walked between showings. We got to test-out foot paths to the Red line that didn’t include walking on Mass Ave with them. It was so civilized! No climbing in and out of cars, no parking hassles. I got home feeling refreshed and much less tense than after a normal half-day of house hunting.


Can I take pictures?

Posted by Rona Fischman September 16, 2010 01:50 PM

grackleflint asked:

… is it considered rude, to ask to take your own pictures?

This is a question that I get asked by more than half of my buyer-clients. It is a natural question to ask. And the answer is “maybe.”

There are a number of reasons that I have heard for why sellers don’t want you to take pictures:

1. You are photographing their possessions. These things are private.
2. You are photographing their possessions. How are the photos going to be used? Will they be published on the web without permission?
3. You are photographing their possessions. Are you casing their house for robbery?

I have compassion for sellers on this. It is very hard to open your doors to anyone who wants to show up. Open houses are frequently populated by nosey neighbors. The web is full of sites that make fun of houses (particularly listing pictures.) People who hold open houses are targeted by burglars. In short, it is not paranoid, IMHO, to restrict pictures. Yet few sellers will say “no,” if asked. I have seen sellers be offended if they were not asked.


Agents: don’t mess with a buyer’s deposit

Posted by Rona Fischman September 15, 2010 01:47 PM

It's Wednesday, so here's Attorney Richard D. Vetstein, who wrote about something that he thought would make my day. Today, he has advice for listing agents based on a court case about handling client's escrow when there is a commission dispute.

Yesterday an interesting case came down involving a nasty tug-of-war between listing brokers and a buyer’s agent, with the buyer’s six figure deposit caught in the middle. The case is Zang v. NRT New England.

In the case, the seller signed the standard exclusive listing agreement with the listing brokerage which provided for a 5% commission, and cooperation with buyers’ brokers, with an equal split of the commission. Mr. Zang, a potential buyer, showed up at an open house for the condominium, unaccompanied by a broker. The buyer made an offer through a listing agent at that brokerage, but an agreement couldn’t be reached. The buyer then hired an exclusive buyer’s agent who submitted a second offer. The offer was ultimately accepted by the seller, and the parties proceeded to sign a purchase and sale agreement.

That listing brokerage, however, was none too pleased that the buyer’s broker had entered the picture at the final hour looking for a commission. One of the listing brokerage agents even left a few amusing voicemail messages for the buyer, asking him whether "you think that it's really fair that [the buyer's agent] should come in at this late date and capture half of the commission… and what does Alan [one of the listing brokerage agents] get for all of his work? Nothing. But, you know, I guess that's money in your pocket."


Missing the big picture

Posted by Rona Fischman September 14, 2010 02:19 PM

During a showing this weekend, my client said to me, “I thought we’d need to redo the bathrooms because there weren’t any pictures.” My immediate reaction was that the agent did the right thing. The bathrooms were modern, but skinny. They would photograph badly. Better no pictures than bad pictures.

My client wondered if that’s so.

There were attractive pictures of the living room, dining room, kitchen, yard, deck and front hall. The front hall picture even looked like a front hall, not like a photo of a small piece of furniture. However, no bedroom or bathroom shots. There were floor plans available, too, but not on line.

I wonder if the lack of pictures discouraged buyers from seeing this property? Would you think the way my client did? Do you automatically assume a bathroom or kitchen is old and needs to be redone if there is no picture of that room? Is no picture better than a bad picture? Or would a bad picture be better, so you’d know the bathrooms were modern?

Experienced agent, good agent?

Posted by Rona Fischman August 19, 2010 02:31 PM

No one wants to work with the rookie. But, IMHO, the rookie with good supervision is better than the veteran who hasn’t changed a thing in 20 years.

When I hire agents, I look for curious people who are interested in picking up new things. Each of my agents has a different strength, based on his or her personal interests and skills. Therefore, each is deep in a different place beyond the “must know” training that happens in the first year in real estate.

People who think they can “know it all” in real estate are apt to get stuck in time. An agent with 15 years of experience can have 15 years of constantly growing and changing information or 6 months of information that has been recycling for the last 14.5 years. I sometimes get into a tussle with those in the latter category.


Hey, where did all the mortgage brokers go?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis August 3, 2010 07:00 AM

The number of real estate agents has held fairly steady, despite the downturn.

The same can't be said by about mortgage brokers, caught between an industry that imploded and a belated government crackdown on shady lending practices.

The numbers are pretty startling - we are talking about a bloodbath of the size that has cleared out newsrooms over the past few years.


Stepping aside

Posted by Rona Fischman July 27, 2010 02:10 PM

This is the third time in eighteen years that I have needed to step aside to avoid a conflict of interest, as I define it in my business model. Most brokers don’t even consider this a conflict of interest, but I do. Do you?

The sellers: The owners of this house were clients of mine who traded up. The house for sale is one that they bought on my advice nearly a decade ago. He was a second-time client of mine, trading up from a condo that I helped him buy, when he was single. I know personal and financial matters involving the owners, since they are have been my clients. I went to a home inspection at this house ten years ago. I have discussed improvements and repairs there over the years. I did a market study of the house when they were making their trade-up decision. I just know too much. The sellers of this house were no longer my clients. However, I do not feel willing or able to “forget” what I know about this house and these people.

The house had been on and off the market during the spring. It was listed with a Realtor. I kept an eye on it, since I think it’s a nice house.


The IPhone doesn’t change everything

Posted by Rona Fischman July 6, 2010 02:45 PM

Sometime this spring, I made a basic mistake and another agent called me on it. I can blame technology changes in communication, but in reality, the fault is mine.

Here's what happened:
My cell phone interrupted me while I was concentrating on something that was critical to a client. The call was from an agent with whom I was in the middle of a different negotiation. Our clients were about $20,000 apart. This was round three or four of the discussion. He was arguing a price based on “highest and best use” and I was arguing value based on comparables and on the utility of the property for any prospective buyer...Truth be told, my attention lagged when he started to give me a list of houses that sold and were developed and resold.

My mistake: I interrupted.


Real estate agent, secret agent

Posted by Rona Fischman July 1, 2010 02:34 PM

I have shown properties listed by Ann Foley, the suspected Russian Spy, but I did not know her.

Ann Foley’s arrest as a suspected Russian spy made me think about the spying a real estate agent could do for some foreign government. Is being a mild mannered real estate agent a good cover for being an international spy? Well, maybe. There are some opportunities to spy that go along with the job:


Try to bribe me

Posted by Rona Fischman June 29, 2010 01:47 PM

JamesinCambridge, who I have met and I respect, wrote this:
“…I'd definitely be more comfortable with agents if their incentives were more aligned with mine.”

How can these interests be aligned? Here are some proposals from would-be clients:

1. I will pay you a bonus for negotiating more than $10,000 off an asking price.
I would love to make more money, but that incentive is not in your interests, perspective buyers. You know that asking prices are made up by the seller and the seller’s agents. They can be way off what the property is really worth. I have seen them come down in excess of $100,000 in price ranges from $300,000 and up. Do you want to pay me more to find houses that are overpriced to begin with?

2. I will pay you an additional $100 for every house over 50 that you show me.
Why on earth do you want to see over 50 houses? If I am doing my job properly, you will be seeing property that works for you. You won’t need to see that many before finding something to buy. I’ll be out showing houses on the weekend – to you or someone else-- but aren’t you tired of it? Do you want to pay me extra to waste your time?


Getting out of a purchase agreement

Posted by Rona Fischman June 28, 2010 01:46 PM

Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team talks about what happens when buyer and seller give up on a transaction.

Sometimes it's necessary to get out of a real estate transaction.

I’ve seen buyers try to get out of a deal they've made because they:
- are unhappy about the inspections or the resolution of issues that arise from inspections
- can't get financing
- realize that they offered too much
- get cold feet and decide to back out
- become unemployed or get a job transfer
- find a better opportunity at another house

I’ve seen sellers try to get out because they:
- can’t agree with the buyer's request(s) after inspections
- can't afford to do the repairs or adjust the price to address home inspection issues
- decide not to move
- get a better offer
- decide they don't want to sell their homes to the current buyers

Only the first two circumstances for each party are covered by the average offer or purchase and sale agreement and only under certain circumstances.

To get out of a real estate deal, you need to understand how much of a commitment you made in the first place.


About page 33

Posted by Rona Fischman June 25, 2010 01:51 PM

Charles Wheelan declares war on page 33, but I still like his book.

He writes:

“Take real estate agents, a particular breed of scoundrel who purports to have your best interest at stake but may not, regardless of whether you are buying or selling a property. Let’s look at the buy side first. The agent graciously shows you lots of houses and eventually you find the one that is just right. So far, so good. Now it is time to bargain with the seller over the purchase price, often with your agent as your chief adviser. Yet your real estate agent will be paid a percentage of the eventual purchase price. The more you are willing to pay, the more your agent makes and the less time the whole process will take.”

Mr. Wheelan understands and explains financial markets well; he even uses real estate as an example. It should be clear to him that negotiation in real estate is within a small range that could be acceptable to both parties. It’s where both parties feel they are getting maximum utility. That range, in my experience, is about $30,000 tops. The skill a good agent brings to the table is knowing where that $30,000 range lies and how it relates to the asking price. For Mr. Wheelan not to recognize that is, in his terms, sloppy thinking.


Suburban price cuts, FHA woes and other odds and ends

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 17, 2010 10:22 AM

OK, time to clean house and clear out some odds and ends. Let's kick things off with some extra info on price reductions in the suburbs.

As I blogged last week, is reporting a surge this May in homes with price reductions across Greater Boston, with the total rising to 31 percent of the market, up from 26 percent in April.

Apparently we are a nationwide leader in the race to cut prices since the April 30th expiration of the home buyer tax credit, which, of course, took out a whole bunch of buyers.

Well some suburban towns are managing to top even that number.

At least 41 percent of Wayland homes on the market have at least one price reduction, while Medfield is not far behind at 40 percent. Concord and Newton both weigh in at 37 percent, while Sudbury, Waltham and Natick are in the 35 percent range. Rounding out the list, Franklin comes in at 34 percent, and Lexington at 32 percent.

When it comes to the size of the reductions, Sudbury is tops with an average cut of 9 percent, down to $846,421, followed by Concord, where an 8 percent cut has brought the average price down to $721,228.


Is it time to raise the bar for Bay State real estate agents?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 11, 2010 11:15 AM

We may have some of the highest home prices around. But when it comes to licensing aspiring real estate agents, Massachusetts has some of the lowest standards.

Want to start selling real estate? Just sit through a weekend of classes - 24 hours - and then take a relatively easy test and you are in.

Maybe it is old news, but it certainly took me by surprise when I learned Massachusetts has the third lowest real estate licensing standards of any state in the country. Only Alaska and Rhode Island require fewer classroom hours.

I just teed off on this in my weekly column for Banker & Tradesman. (Here's the link, but fair warning the article is behind a pay wall.)

The Legislature is now weighing a proposal, backed by the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, which would require aspiring real estate agents and brokers to log in 40 hours of classroom. That is up from 24 hours now for agents and 30 hours for brokers.


Why not crack down on bidding wars?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis May 6, 2010 08:59 AM

OK, the headline sounds a bit ominous here.

But really, why should we just accept as unchangeable all the shenanigans real estate agents use to drive up the price of a home?

Bidding wars were a real problem during the boom years, one crucial part of a whole series of factors that sent housing prices spiraling out of control.

And, after a breather during the downturn, we started to see bidding wars all over again for modestly priced homes during the run-up to April 30th, when the home buyer tax credit finally breathed its last.

BrokerMike, in a great comment yesterday, raised excellent questions on whether it is really practical or possible for the government to get involved with policing this kind of activity.

But he also offered a fascinating insight into how brokers can use "phantom buyer(s)" to keep the price of a home headed north.


Book for June 21 and a suggestion box

Posted by Rona Fischman May 4, 2010 02:00 PM

The book discussion:
After reviewing a handful of the candidates for the next book to discuss here at Real Estate Now, I have chosen Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan. Although Mr. Wheelan calls real estate agents “scoundrels” on page 33, I’ll be leading discussions on his book starting June 21, 2010. So get reading… The reason I chose this book is that it covers some of the topics that were attractive in the other choices. It is quite readable; I got as far as page 42 in one sitting.

The Conference:
I hope to see you at the first Real Estate Now conference tonight at 6:30. I’ll be the one that looks like a Realtor. (If you don’t know the stereotype of what a Realtor looks like, you haven’t gone to enough open houses.) Bring spare real estate books, if you want to get rid of any. Bring ideas for future topics. I’m bringing a suggestion box.

For those of you who aren’t coming to Cambridge, consider this entry a suggestion box. How am I doing? What can I add to my repertoire? What regular topics should I dump?

Lack of planning on your part?

Posted by Rona Fischman April 15, 2010 02:02 PM

When I worked in human services, this was on the wall of many an office:

“Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”
The problem is that lack of planning on someone else’s part frequently causes an emergency on my part. In human service and in real estate.

gcbma wrote:

Rona- Any insight on how the "National Open House Weekend" faired [sic] from the MAR and selling agents' points of view?

I will never ever ever ever speak for MAR.

The seller’s agents that I’ve been talking to are pretty darn happy, financially. The part they don’t like is the rush-rush and the stress of it all. I’ve been hearing “I can’t wait until April 30th” since the middle of March. Lack of planning on seller’s part was already creating emergencies on listing agent’s part.


Non-answer answers

Posted by Rona Fischman April 6, 2010 02:39 PM

Last week, I had occasion to be in New York. As I approached an EZ Pass lane to get off the Whitestone Bridge, I had this encounter with a man in uniform. He held my car at the toll and asked:

HE: Are you from Massachusetts?

ME: Yes, sir.

HE: Do you know that the Yankees are playing your team on Sunday night? Do you know what’s going to happen?

ME: I know what will happen, sir. (warm smile)

HE: Go Yankees! As long as you have that straight, you can go, too.

After so many years of getting and giving non-answer answers in real estate, they have become second nature to me. Since I thought I was about the get a ticket for something, I surprised myself in my ability to instantly say something that means nothing and get away with it.

Non-answer answers have their place. They go with questions that are none of the other agent’s business. They are questions about motivation, preference, or anything else that could have a bearing on the negotiation. Non-answer answers are not acceptable in matters of material concern, like whether there is something wrong with the house or something wrong with the buyer’s finances. In regards to material concerns, I don’t give non-answer answers and I make an effort not to accept a non-answer answer as my answer.


A real estate attorney’s guide to choosing a Realtor

Posted by Rona Fischman March 17, 2010 02:35 PM

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein. was going to write about Acts of God, but he was too busy bailing out his basement. Instead, he gives advice on finding an agent:

Step 1: Search, Create A List, Do Your Due Diligence. You’ll want to obtain as many as 3-7 names. • Word of Mouth. Ask people you trust for recommendations. Ask your friends, family, financial planner, attorney, or local politician. Call local agencies and ask who their top producers are. • Ask Around Town. Good Realtors are actively involved in their communities, serving on town boards, school communities, new family networks, and chambers of commerce. Find them. • Use the Internet. The Internet is an incredibly powerful tool to find potential Realtors and vet recommendations. Understand that all savvy, sales oriented Realtors have a web presence and they know how to leverage internet marketing and social media. Google the town/city and “homes realtors” and see what comes up. Read their articles on ActiveRain, a Realtor blog site. Check their Facebook or Twitter pages. • Use MLS. Virtually every Realtor website enables you to access Multiple Listing Service (MLS) information. With MLS access, you should be able to get a sense of which Realtor has a high number of listings and sales in the town or neighborhood you desire.

Skeletons in the closet: who’s at the open house?

Posted by Rona Fischman March 5, 2010 02:01 PM

I walked into an open house a couple of weeks back, my clipboard in hand. It was a quiet one, so the agent noticed me. When she finished talking to a customer, I came in to introduce myself. She said something like, “with that clipboard, you look like some kind of spy.”

That got me thinking. What could I be spying on? Oh, yeah... Agents at open houses must have an agency disclosure card. What’s that? It is prominently displayed card required as a substitute for the Licensee-Consumer Relationship Disclosure. In a couple of paragraphs, the card explains what the relationship between the seller and this agent is.
It can say:
1. the agent and everyone in the office works for the seller (single agency)
2. that the agent there works for the seller, but other agents in the office can work for buyers (designated agency)
3. or the agent there represents no one; he or she is acting as a facilitator at this house today (non-agent, facilitator.)

I haven’t been looking for these signs, until now!. Have you seen them?


Due diligence in a hurry

Posted by Rona Fischman February 19, 2010 02:25 PM

Markus wrote:

Rona, I think your advice to buyers on due diligence is always good, but frankly, reading it now is kind of a surreal experience. Homes that are selling now go off-market in days or hours. Buyers at most see a house once, sometimes not at all. No one has any idea what setback restrictions are, whether school buses go down the street, whether an addition is legal, or if the town's school system is running out of cash (Arlington). They know nothing about the house they are buying at all, and they don't care.

Many items on Markus's lists are things that a buyer can figure out before making an Offer to Purchase. Even if they are in a hurry-up Sunday afternoon craze.

I encourage buyers to choose a town based on services, density, commuter routes and schools before stepping foot inside any open house. Once a buyer has chosen towns, school districts, and neighborhoods, it is time to start going into houses.
Once in houses, there is a lot of due diligence possible in a fairly short time, even on a Sunday. Walking the neighborhood after an open house should reveal that school bus route Markus would hate so much. Take a walk, you’ll find some of the barking dogs, sloppy neighbors, rutted streets, and changes in neighborhood character (are the houses much bigger or smaller two blocks away?) Talking to a neighbor will help, too, to find out if street cleaning and plowing is efficient in the area, if there is cut-through traffic (there’s that school bus again!) or other lurking noisy problem that won’t show up on a Sunday afternoon.


Due diligence and “do-or-die” features

Posted by Rona Fischman February 16, 2010 01:53 PM

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein. covered the legal issues of the second-hand smoking case.
Today, I want to look at the agent issues. The crux of the matter, to me as an agent, is the question of due diligence. What’s that: simple, it’s watching out for things that can make a material impact on the buyer’s enjoyment of the property. How to do it isn’t so simple…

As an agent, I am responsible for figuring that out what is important for my client. That’s part of the art of a good agent. Instead of studying mind reading, I figured out how to ask the right questions.

The more restrictions someone puts on a search, the fewer choices he/she will have. So, I ask for the “do-or-die” requirements first. Most “do-or-die” requirements are pretty obvious, and buyers will tell them to me right away. How many bedrooms, baths, storage in the kitchen, yard big enough for a dog and children’s things…It is after that initial list where things can get too vague if I don’t ask the right questions.


What's the new symbol? Sam explains.

Posted by Rona Fischman February 15, 2010 02:19 PM

Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team discusses the fairly recently added “kick-out” emblems that now shows up in MLS. What's is that clock symbol and what does it mean?

A “kick-out clause” (a/k/a “bump-out clause”) is a clause in an offer or Purchase and Sale agreement stating that a seller can effectively kick the buyer out of the deal if another buyer comes along with a more appealing offer. That could mean an offer with a higher price and/or better terms, or any other criteria that the parties agree to in writing.

Our local MLS service (MLS-PIN) recently added a “kick-out” emblem that looks like a little clock next to the ACT. It appears that not all agents and buyers understand what it means yet. Unlike the red “active” indicating that a seller is looking for backup offers in the event that the current buyer does not satisfy some contingency in the future, a kick-out notation indicates that a seller is ready to bump the current buyer out of the deal now in order to do business with a buyer that makes a more appealing offer. (Note that the offer does not always have to be better in price. Sometimes timing or other terms can create a more appealing offer. Sometimes, it’s just about price.)


Buyer agent-eye view: hearing the hysteria

Posted by Rona Fischman February 12, 2010 02:36 PM

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to answer the phone:
ME: "4 Buyers Real Estate!"
HE: “I’d like to speak to an agent.”
ME: “You are.” [Not a question. A statement]
HE: “Charming… I called you, why should I tell you my name first? ... HELLO!”
ME: [a little dead air] “You are speaking to an agent. This is Rona Fischman, how can I help you?”
HE: “I’m [undecipherable] and I have made 12 offers and I don’t want to get stuck with a real estate agent"
...Then I heard his tale of woe in the current market. He has been jumping at bidding wars, making offers, inspecting bad properties, and having transactions fall through. (He was involved with the sellers who backed out after accepting his offer.) He wants an agent to find him unlisted properties (“you know wink-wink-nudge-nudge” says he.) He wants to pay me for the properties I find for him, but he also wants to find places on his own with no obligation to me. Can I do this?


Lawsuit over second hand smoke raises ire

Posted by Rona Fischman February 10, 2010 02:32 PM

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein. takes a legal look at that facts of a recent lawsuit against a local broker.

Yesterday The Globe reported on a controversial lawsuit by a Alyssa Burrage, a condominium buyer, against a realtor over the disclosure of second hand smoke emitting from downstairs neighbors. Click for the story: Suit Over Second Hand Smoke Targets Real Estate Broker. As the hundreds of comments to the story indicates, this lawsuit raises a host of legal and public policy issues. I’ll focus on the legal issues.

Under consumer protection regulations governing real estate brokers, a broker must disclose to a buyer “any fact, the disclosure of which may have influenced the buyer or prospective buyer not to enter into the transaction.” This is somewhat of a subjective standard; what may matter to one buyer may not matter to another. If a broker is asked a direct question about the property, she must answer truthfully, accurately, and completely to the best of her knowledge. Further, a broker cannot actively avoid discovering the details of a suspected problem or tell half-truths.

With that legal backdrop, let’s review the facts of this case. Ms. Burrage, who suffers from asthma, claimed that her broker failed to disclose the existence of the heavy smokers downstairs—despite the fact that she admittedly smelled “the unmistakable stench” of cigarette smoke at several visits to the unit. The broker – who worked for the same company as the listing broker (which may raise some thorny conflict of interest/agency issues) – assured her that the smell would dissipate once she painted and renovated the unit, the suit claims. Ms. Burrage claims that she wouldn’t have purchased the unit in the first place if she had known about the smoke problem.


Sam asks: agent, agency or franchise?

Posted by Rona Fischman February 8, 2010 02:27 PM

Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team discusses the evolution from neighborhood brokerages to franchise businesses.

When I began in real estate in 1984, Greater Boston real estate agencies were mostly single neighborhood offices, often family run businesses that were fixtures in their neighborhoods. Those family businesses were built on personal relationships with individuals and families that often spanned several generations of brokers and their client’s families. MLS books and press advertising took time to get the word out about new property listings. The new “listing computer” was only in Realtor™ offices. That made the Realtor™ the source of all real estate information.

Century 21 was the big franchise and they were converting small offices to their brand, promising a proven growth model with their business and agent recruitment systems. For a percentage of their commissions brokers bought in, allowing them to attach their name to a national brand and referral network. That, and lots of advertising created instant credibility with consumers, even though an office might have been staffed with rookies like like I was in the beginning. Franchise ads teach consumers to focus the on the office’s and franchise’s experience instead of the rookie agent's lack of experience.

Today most Greater Boston neighborhood real estate offices sport franchise brand names; some locally owned and some owned by huge international corporations. (Five major real estate “brands” are all owned by one corporation.) The little offices have grown into large offices housing dozens (sometimes hundreds) of Realtors™ with various experience levels, all working under the rented brand name of the tried and true franchise.


Procuring cause, a legal look

Posted by Rona Fischman February 4, 2010 02:19 PM

As part of the "Broker skeletons in the closet" series, I asked Rich Rosa to write about procuring cause because he is not only one of the few exclusive buyer’s agents in Massachusetts, he is also an attorney.

There are two kinds of procuring cause disputes. One occurs between listing brokers and sellers. These disputes can end up in court because the seller and their agent have a listing agreement, or contract.

The other kind arises between real estate professionals. A procuring cause claim is derived from the offer of the listing broker to pay a commission to a cooperating broker for procuring the sale. The offer of a cooperating commission is primarily facilitated through a multiple listing service (MLS). This postis about these disputes. (It should be noted that listing brokers and cooperating real estate brokers have agreed to be bound by arbitration when such disputes arise.)

Procuring cause disputes between listing brokers and cooperating brokers generally are governed by local multiple listing services. They typically follow the National Association of Realtor's Arbitration Guidelines. The code of ethics and arbitration manual defines procuring cause as

"the uninterrupted series of casual events which results in the successful transaction."

Black's Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition, defines procuring cause as

"The proximate cause; the cause originating a series of events, which, without break in their continuity, result in the accomplishment of the prime object. The inducing cause; the direct or proximate cause. Substantially synonymous with 'efficient cause.'"

I, as a lawyer, think the phrase "without break in their continuity" is an important part of the definition.

A common misconception among real estate agents is that being the first to show the property or having a buyer's representation agreement with the home buyer automatically demonstrates procuring cause. It does not, and the opposite also is true. Not being the first to show the property and not having a buyer agent agreement does not preclude one from ultimately being the procuring cause.


Groundhog’s Day marks mid-winter

Posted by Rona Fischman February 1, 2010 01:51 PM

Business mailings are a tricky business. Too many waste paper, money, and are a nuisance to the receivers. Too few and they’ll forget me. I landed on doing one annually. Then the question was when to do the mailing. I did Christmas/Chanukah/New Year/Kwanzaa/Solstice for a couple of years, but felt overwhelmed by the number of social faux pas possible during that religious and ethnic holiday season. I also noticed that I barely noticed the cards I got from business acquaintances in the pile I got every December. So, I needed another holiday.

Looking through the calendar… I needed a winter holiday. Super Bowl Sunday – no, not everyone cares. Valentine’s Day – no, too personal. Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day – no, no. Ah! Groundhog’s Day! There are some who have traditional holidays then – people from western Pennsylvania and pagans; but those are only a few of my clients.

I say that the winter in real estate ends when the snow goes away. However, this winter has not been very sleepy. Those who are braving the cold and ice to go house hunting are either picking through leftovers or house-hunting in a mob. There’s not a lot of new inventory, but there does seem to be a healthy demand. Have you been out in it? What are you seeing?


Has Facebook gotten old? Gotten evil?

Posted by Rona Fischman January 28, 2010 02:27 PM

For the past year or two, I have been bombarded with advice that I should be on Facebook and that I should have a business persona there. Before that, I joined Linked-In, where the grown-ups are, and left Facebook for the children.

My husband started looking into Facebook when he learned that it could benefit the non-profit he works for. That made sense to me. There are good arguments about using Facebook in the non-profit world. Yes, it has been good for his organization. It also helped him find old friends and acquaintances and find new ways to waste time in front of the computer.

But Facebook has a dark side.


Sam on procuring cause

Posted by Rona Fischman January 25, 2010 01:57 PM
Friday, Rona blogged about what happens when buyers start viewing property before they decide if they want to use a buyer’s agent. Just looking? I’m not sure there’s any such thing as “just looking”. Almost any agent can tell a story about someone who was “just looking” and fell in love with a property before they figured out what should happen next.

When buyers find property through a listing agent and then decide that they want a buyer’s agent to advocate for them, the listing agent might not be happy that he spent his time with the buyers and now has to pay part of his commission to the buyers agent for writing an offer. Most agents believe that a buyer’s agent should show the property to the buyer in order to be entitled to a commission. Hard to argue with that, but stuff happens.

Rona introduced the concept of “procuring cause”, which is the claim that an agent needs to be able to prove in order to get paid a commission on the buyer’s side of a transaction. Is writing an offer all that’s required to become the procuring cause? Did the agent really “procure” the buyer and offer? Does an agent “own” a buyer that walks into a public open house?

Non-Realtor™ readers should understand that commission disputes between MLS members are not brought to court. They are decided by a panel of agents. In addition to the offer, the panel will look for a chain of events that led to the buyer making the offer with an agent to determine if that agent is the procuring cause.


They call it procuring cause

Posted by Rona Fischman January 22, 2010 02:31 PM

Here’s a wrinkle caused by the commission system that buyers and sellers rarely know about:

A reader of this blog approached me to be her buyer agent. We had an email correspondence and planned to meet on the next Tuesday night.

Saturday, before the meeting, she and her husband went into a condo and fell in love. The listing agent is someone who knows the ropes. The reader doesn’t. The listing agent asked whether the would-be buyer was under contract with another agent. Answer = no. She told him that she was meeting with me Tuesday.

I got an email asking for help in buying this condo. I had to write back that my hands are tied. I won’t be paid for this transaction because I am not the “procuring cause.” I declined to work with them until the issue was resolved.


2009: year in review, an buyer agent-eye view

Posted by Rona Fischman December 29, 2009 02:37 PM

Since 2007, I have done a year in review here at Real Estate Now. In 2007, I wrote the best and the worst. In 2008, I wrote on what had changed
and what didn’t change.

This year, I am reviewing the year in terms of my immediate experience as an agent (today) and my experience as a blogger here with you on Thursday. Tomorrow, Attorney Vetstein will review the year, from a real estate lawyer's point of view.

Now, about my year: I went into the MLS to look at my closings in 2009. I worked with buyers in price ranges from $200,000 to $1,200,000. Some were empty-nesters, trading down. Some were growing families, trading up. Some young couples, some singles. So, basically, I worked with everyone!


Countdown to new RESPA rules: HUD issues guide booklet

Posted by Rona Fischman December 23, 2009 02:09 PM

Attorney Richard D. Vetstein.highlights the changes in RESPA that will greet us in 2010.

The New Year brings the long awaited Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA) reform to the residential real estate industry. Under the new rules, all lenders and closing attorneys must adhere to the new Good Faith Estimate (GFE) and HUD-1 Settlement Statement which is intended to simplify the disclosure of loan fees and closing costs and allow consumers to shop around for the best deal.

In anticipation of the new rules, HUD has released a very helpful guide: Shopping For Your Home Loan: HUD's Settlement Cost Booklet. Loan originators are required to provide consumers with the booklet within three days of a loan application. The booklet provides a basic overview of the home buying and mortgage lending process. It also explains in detail each part of the new Good Faith Estimate and the new HUD-1 Settlement Statement.


Advisors: the real estate agent. Part 3

Posted by Rona Fischman December 21, 2009 02:01 PM

Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team brings you the third in his series “Whose advice can you trust?”

Today’s question is “what services should you expect from a real estate agent?”

As we discussed in the first two parts of this series, what you are entitled to from a real estate agent depends on what your relationship is with that agent. On the surface, it appears that all agents do the same job. Agents and brokers are all expected to help their clients buy or sell property, but in reality, the way that each agent goes about it, and the amount of time that each one contributes towards getting the job done, can vary dramatically from agent to agent. Since there are no minimum standards for the service that Massachusetts agents must provide, it is possible for two people to have very different experiences with agents that are supposedly doing the same job. The devil is in the details.


Advisors: the real estate agent. Part 2

Posted by Rona Fischman December 14, 2009 02:27 PM

Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team continues his Monday series.

This is the second in a follow-up series to “Whose advice can you trust?” The series defines and discusses the roles of Massachusetts professionals that are available as advisors to home buyers and sellers.

If you read last week’s blog, I hope that you read the unadulterated version of the disclosure that agents are required to give buyers or sellers at the first personal meeting with them to discuss a specific property.

There is also a “consumer fact sheet” worth reading although it doesn’t address “designated agency” which occurs when the agents for the buyer and seller within the same agency are designated by the manager or another agent (i.e. an agent that was holding an open house). Those agents represent their individual clients and the agency (typically represented by the broker or manager) acts as a dual agent.

On their disclosure forms, agencies that practice dual and designated agency indicate; “only the real estate agent listed below represents the consumer named in this form (designated seller or buyer agency). In this situation any firm or business listed above and other agents affiliated with the firm or business do not represent you and may represent another party in your real estate transaction.”

Less than one percent of Massachusetts’ agencies practice either “exclusive agency” or “single agency”. “Exclusive buyer agencies” represent only buyers or only sellers ALL of the time. “Single party agencies” represent only one party (either the buyer(s) or seller(s) but never both in the same transaction. Their disclosures indicate “the real estate agent listed below, the real estate firm or business listed above and all other affiliated agents have the same relationship with the consumer named herein (seller or buyer agency, not designated agency).”


At the broker party

Posted by Rona Fischman December 8, 2009 01:57 PM

“Hi, I’m Rona from 4 Buyers Real Estate, are you shaking hands this season?” I said by way of self-introduction. I thought that was a perfectly reasonable way to approach a fellow Realtor at a social event last week. What I got in response was a face-full of tirade about how one cannot do business if one does not shake hands. “If they are afraid to shake your hand, how can they ever trust you? What is wrong with you…” She was loud; she was annoying; we didn’t talk for more than another sentence before I found an excuse to move on. And I didn’t shake her hand.

As with most things I run across in the world of real estate, there is something to learn from most unpleasant moments…

Personally, I have never been fond of handshakes. But as a business woman, I understand that it is convention. I don’t offer my hand, but I generally take one that is hanging out in space. This year, I hear people request not to shake. Some politely say, “I’d rather not shake hands.” Some just don’t respond to the proffered hand (which I find cold.) In our current social climate of virus-phobia, is the response justified?


Advisors: the real estate agent (Part 1)

Posted by Rona Fischman December 7, 2009 02:34 PM

Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team explains the relationships between agents and consumers that are being practiced in Massachusetts.

I recently posted a blog entitled “Whose advice should you trust?” This is the first of a follow-up series that will define and discuss the roles of each of the professionals that are available as advisors during the buying or selling process. Today, we define what an agent is and discuss the types of relationships that buyers and seller can have with them.

If you are thinking of buying or selling real estate, one of the first people that you will interact with is a real estate agent, whether you choose to employ one to represent you or not. Even if you don’t interact in person, you will probably be looking at properties online on an agent’s site.


Whose advice should you trust?

Posted by Rona Fischman November 23, 2009 02:00 PM

Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team reminds you that all advice is not created equal.

If you’re thinking of buying or selling real estate, there is no shortage of advice on the subject.

When friends, family members or co-workers hear that you are buying or selling, they come to the rescue with plenty of well-meaning, free advice. In addition, there are late night infomercials, home study courses, adult education classes, books, CDs and blogs like this one. With all of that information it seems like it should be easy to become a real estate expert.

In my case, I went so far as to take a two-day real estate investor’s course (complete with a two inch workbook and reference manual). Then I enrolled in a real estate licensing course, took the exam and earned a salesperson’s license. I still owned a condo that I bought from a developer and renovated a few years earlier, so I figured that made me an expert. Boy, was I wrong. While trying to buy my next home, I committed avoidable mistakes twice, risked my deposit once and passed on a great third property and regret it to this day.

Over the years, I’ve learned that, first, to be a true expert one needs knowledge and skill, which only comes from doing something regularly. (i.e. imagine a pilot that hasn’t flown in a storm.) Second, trying to represent yourself is not always the best idea, even for a seasoned expert. (i.e. “an attorney that tries to represent himself has a fool for a client”.) Third, executing a real estate transaction well requires an entire team of experts working together to assure that all of the bases are properly covered. Otherwise, if someone drops the ball somewhere, there may be no one to catch it. (i.e. contingency dates that require proper notice or leave deposits at risk.)


Selling by the “list it and hope” method

Posted by Rona Fischman November 19, 2009 01:50 PM

Friday was a lousy day for me. It ended with the flooded house I'll tell you about someday. It started with yet another house that is on the market, but not really.

This one is not a foreclosure or a short sale. It is merely a house where the absentee landlord is sick of being a landlord. It’s fully occupied. The agent gave me the lockbox code and confirmed the showing. She told me to knock on the doors. She didn’t call the tenants.

My client and I met some lovely tenants. They were polite and the apartments were clean. They spoke only Spanish. They didn’t laugh at my accent, but then again, I am not sure they understood what I was saying, either.


Cloudy times at NAR

Posted by Rona Fischman November 17, 2009 01:54 PM

Scott’s bear-baiting entry based on the NAR’s economist’s market predictions was published the same day I got my Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GBREB) and NAR membership renewal bill. These are not sunny times for NAR, even though Dr. Yun saw better times ahead for the market. NAR and its State and local chapters are membership organizations; they depend on dues income to survive. During down times, the number of Realtors* drops along with the number of people in the business of real estate. (Not everyone with a license is a Realtor!) According to a report by Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University,** the number of people in the business of real estate in Massachusetts has dropped 7.5 percent (absolute change) and 17.4 percent (relative change) between December 2007 and September 2009. This is overall drop in membership, not the constant flow of newbies and drop-outs that we are used to. That’s a lot of $660 checks that GBREB and NAR are not going to get.


How to avoid that haunting feeling when buying or selling property

Posted by Rona Fischman October 26, 2009 02:20 PM

Sam Schneiderman, Broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team continues his Monday series.

The first time it happened, I was in a home with a couple and their child. The wife seemed nervous about something. When she was able to distance herself from her husband and son, she turned to me and nervously asked; “Is their any way that we can find out if this house is haunted”?

Maybe there are supernatural spirits, and maybe there aren’t, but that really isn’t relevant when a buyer-client wants to know. As far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as a silly question from a client. After all, I wouldn’t want them to be haunted by their decision even if the supernatural did not manifest itself.

What do you do with a concern like that?
Buyers should discuss any concerns with their buyer’s agent. If you are not represented, ask the seller. In Massachusetts, you have the legal right to know about any material facts that would affect your decision to purchase property. You can ask other questions, but the seller or agent may not necessarily be obligated to answer. If the seller does not answer your questions, you might rethink whether the property and seller are a good fit for you,

Buyers and their agents may consider investigating further and perhaps having a special clause to address concerns. For instance, “this offer is subject to the buyer’s satisfactory inspection for the presence of supernatural spirits.” (Consult with an attorney for exact language.)


Go to jail

Posted by Rona Fischman October 22, 2009 01:53 PM

Mary wrote:

Like JGC, I wish regulators would look more closely at short sales. My suspicion is that not only are some brokers not submitting all offers, they are in collusion with the seller to sell the property to a relative or friend (a not "at arm's length" buyer). I have buyers putting in very good offers on short sales who are not getting the properties, and watching the properties sell for less than their bid. Where are the regulators?

There are a lot of accusations in what Mary wrote above. She’s not the only one. I also got this email from another commenter and blog-buddy of mine:

Rona, I’ve heard tales of people taking out cash loans on credit cards and cars in order to appear in dire straits and qualify for a short sale. If a savvy person knows the rules, I could see it working in this business/banking climate.
They'd be short selling it to someone they know as cheaply as possible, then renting it back. The idea is also to buy back after some time. Works well with tight knit ethnic groups. I think this is happening more where similar, although arms length, deals are common. Say, CA, FL, NV, AZ.

So, here’s the scam:
1. Get behind in your bills, so you can prove that you can’t keep the house that has depreciated below to loan amount.
2. Make a case for a short sale with your lender.
3. Go through the motions of selling on the open market with a crooked agent. Have the agent send only the low Offer of your confederate to the lender.
4. Once you sell to your not-arm’s-length partner, rent it back from him/her or buy it back at a later date.
(I have, in the past, run into agents who don’t present Offers. But, I can’t prove it is happening now, or for this reason, based on my experience in the marketplace. I am experiencing the inability to see properties, which may be a symptom of the same disease.)

Readers, I don’t recommend that you try this for a number of practical reasons that go beyond the obvious moral reason: it is stealing and bank fraud. You go to jail if you are caught; it’s a nice jail (Devons or Danbury), but it is still jail.


The Long And Short Of It: A Short Sale Legal Primer

Posted by Rona Fischman October 21, 2009 02:07 PM

Welcome back to Attorney Richard D. Vetstein. Today, he looks at the wild world of short sales to tell buyers what they can expect...

A short sale is special type of real estate transaction between a homeowner, his mortgage holder, and a third party buyer. In a short sale, the homeowner’s mortgage company agrees to take less than what is owed on the outstanding mortgage, thereby being left “short.” In some but not all cases, the lender will agree to wipe out the entire debt. Many people believe that short sales offer bargain basement prices, but lenders will do their best to get as close to fair market value as possible so as to minimize their loss.

Short sales are a unique type of transaction and far different from the typical transaction between parties of equal bargaining power. Likewise, the legal aspects of a short sale are unique.


Why are consumers bad?

Posted by Rona Fischman October 9, 2009 02:42 PM

Well, melontherightcoast nailed it that sellers would hire more productive listing agents if they had to pay them by the hour. The real estate commission system pays agents for results. That gives consumers no motivation to get results, since the agent’s time is “free” until there is success. That, mel thinks, leads to hopeless listings that are there to “test the market.” Problem one: unmotivated sellers.

The next question was how can consumers avoid self-serving agents – the ones who get results at the expense of the consumer? The commission system rewards agents who treat ‘em and street ‘em -- in other words, push consumers into selling low or buying high. Problem two: self-serving agents.

I can help you with problem two. Consumers do themselves no favor by hiring the first agent who is “nice” at an open house. As Sam put it “…most people put more effort into finding a hairdresser or mechanic than they invest in finding their real estate agent.” That, dear readers, is why consumers are bad.

Now to make consumers better:


Why are brokers bad?

Posted by Rona Fischman October 7, 2009 03:01 PM

Melontherightcoast is this week’s “stray question” commenter. When discussing why agents do a poor job, mel asked about commissions. Yesterday, I wrote on agent commissions; mel mentioned broker office commission splits.

Another thought is that maybe what needs to be done away with is the real estate companies that take such a large cut of an agent's commission.

Here is a quick summary of broker-agent business practice:
An agent is the person you work with. That agent can either have a salesperson’s license or a broker’s license. The person running the office is the broker.

Brokers take a cut on everything an agent does. In exchange, the broker keeps the office going, provides leads and advertising, does ongoing supervision and is the legally responsible party to the seller or buyer client. Offices that have franchise advertising and support may be individually owned and operated, or can have corporate ownership with a managing broker. In those cases, the office also pays for the franchise services; this comes out of the agent’s commissions, one way or the other.

The broker-agent split varies from office to office and frequently is different from agents to agent within an office. Beginning agents pay a huge split to the broker who is supervising and training them. More experienced agents pay less. Some agents pay a desk fee, plus a lower commission.


Why are there bad agents?

Posted by Rona Fischman October 6, 2009 02:41 PM

Sometimes, I will give the off-topic comment some room to breathe here. Here’s one that needed some oxygen.
This one was inspired by my entry about how poor communication can leave a property sitting on the market. I wrote:

"If the property isn’t being shown, it isn’t going to sell. Period."

Melonrightcoast commented:

Do you think that this would change if the pricing system for agents changed? I am curious what your opinion is about this. It seems to me that the current system tends to foster "bad" agents. I think if more agents refused listings that are priced too high and more sellers did their homework about the agent's competence, it would help get rid of the sellers that are not really interested in selling their home and the agents that are not doing a good job at marketing/selling their listings.
So instead of a %commission, sellers would pay a flat-fee to agents to list the property and then a flat-rate "bonus" once the place is sold. Ditto for the buyers agents, paid for by the buyer. As a buyer, I think that would go a long way to helping eliminate MY distrust of buyer's and seller's agents because it is in the agents' benefit to get the highest price, to the detriment of the buyer. And as a seller, I would have to be very serious about selling and I would be sure to check on my agent to make sure they have a very good sale history, etc before I paid them any money.


The standoff

Posted by Rona Fischman August 25, 2009 02:06 PM

I have clients who are in the middle of a standoff. The sellers of a place they want to buy are under water. They will be bringing cash to closing to cover equity, plus fees. Needless to say, they bought a few years ago, had low equity to begin with, and don’t have piles in the bank to help them get out of this place. One of them has a great job offer on the West Coast. It is a really nice place. I wish they had gotten more enjoyment out of it before being tempted across the country.

This kind of problem makes my buyer-broker heart heavy. I have no joy in seeing someone so stuck in their real estate. But I also don’t want my clients paying top-dollar to mitigate their mistake. Thus, the standoff.


Land of the brokers: communication evolution

Posted by Rona Fischman August 18, 2009 02:19 PM

As most of you know, I am a person of sound self-esteem. That’s why I don’t take it personally when I don’t get calls back from other agents.

I remember when everyone in real estate had an answering machine. Yes, I am a dinosaur. The days of busy signals evolved into the age of voicemail and call interrupt – I mean -- call waiting. By the early 1990s, most agents had cell phones, but still used an office land line for business calls.

In the days of yore, the norm was that some offices had paid staff that did all the scheduling; some had agents doing required hours on the phone scheduling for everyone. Sometime in the past few years, a majority of agents began to either use MA PASS or do their own scheduling. A few offices still do their scheduling from their front desk. They are few and far between.

With a large number of agents who schedule for themselves comes a new set of protocols. Since agents use cell phones as the place to call, my scheduling calls interrupt business as well as social time. This gave rise, initially, to comments like “I’m driving, can you call back and leave a voice mail with your contact information and the time?” The next generation of this is “please email me your contact information and the time.”

Now, some appointments are wholly made by email. That works fine unless my initial email lands in their junk folder… (It happens.)


Buyer Agent-Eye View

Posted by Rona Fischman April 16, 2009 02:58 PM

At the end of March, I asked my colleagues in the Massachusetts Association of Buyer’s Agents about what they are seeing with their buyer clients at the start of the spring market. I call these the “buyer agent eye view” of the market.

I am curious if buyers out shopping are running into what we see, too.
First, what I’m seeing:

My clients are frustrated. One told me: “I am so sick of having people at my office tell me that I should be able to buy anything I want at $20,000 below asking price. I can’t find anything decent to buy at any price!”
I have clients who are not abnormally picky who cannot find good properties to buy. On the other side of the coin, I am seeing prices dropping on less desirable properties, with compromised locations, in need of updating, or smaller houses and condos.

Because asking prices have a tenuous relationship with value, I don’t judge how well my buyers do based on asking price. I have clients who have been outbid. I have clients who are paying full price, and I have buyers who are negotiating well below asking price. It depends on the property. My recent experience is that some properties are winners and the rest are truly losers.


Economist Bill doesn't get it

Posted by Rona Fischman March 26, 2009 03:12 PM

Economist Bill wrote:

One could argue that it should be a violation of the Realtors Code of Ethics for any Realtor to take on an overpriced listing, knowing full well that it will not sell unless the price substantially lowered.

I have seen a number of homes where the Listing Agent sold the home to the Buyer and acted as a dual agent. No one can ethically represent both sides of a transaction of this magnitude, having inside knowledge of both parties. Lawyers can’t represent both parties in a law suit, so why should Realtors be able to do it? Any comments?

Thank you Bill. You bring up two important points. However, we’re not talking ethics here, we’re talking law. There are thousands of licensed agents out there that are not Realtors. All licensees are all bound by the law.

The seller’s agent’s job is clearly defined on the back of the Massachusetts Mandatory Licensee-Consumer Relationship Disclosure.

The agent must put the seller's interests first and negotiate for the best price and terms for their client, the seller.

I agree with Economist Bill. Agents who take an intentionally overpriced listing are not looking to get the best price for their client. I will remind you that the sellers have free will, which cuts both ways. Some sellers are flattered by such agents and accept the inflated price. Some sellers are told a real price, but insist on marketing their home for an inflated price in order to “test the market.”

The second issue, that of dual agency, is commonly misunderstood. Economist Bill doesn’t get it. Dual agency equals no agency. A dual agent is supposed to be a neutral party. The disclosure reads:

A dual agent shall be neutral with regard to any conflicting interest of the seller and buyer. Consequently a dual agent cannot satisfy fully the duties of loyalty, full disclosure, obedience to lawful instructions which is required of an exclusive seller or buyer agent. A dual agent does, however, still owe a duty of confidentiality of material information and accounting for funds.


Sam says, "It's about choosing well."

Posted by Rona Fischman March 16, 2009 03:00 PM

Last Monday, Sam Schneiderman discussed what it was like to be a rookie Realtor in the 1980s. Back then they were all salespeople that worked for sellers. Real estate agency has come a long way since. If you look hard enough and ask the right questions, today you can find a new breed of experienced agent/advocates that practice with integrity. Sam continues his Monday series by taking a break from his personal story to offer some advice:

Last Monday’s blog responses indicated that many consumers don’t get what they expect from agents and that agents are frustrated, too. We aren’t going to change consumer or real estate practices overnight, but if you are a buyer or seller committed to finding an agent that will add value to your transaction, here’s some advice to help you connect with an agent that should live up to your expectations.

First, make a list of what you want from an agent. With list in hand, do your own research and also ask for referrals to find the right agent

Then, email chosen agents asking about their experience as a buyer or seller’s agent. See if they respond with useful information in a straightforward, non-pushy manner.

Next, call the ones that show promise and ask:
-do you work in real estate full time or part-time?
-how long have you have been practicing real estate full-time and how long part-time?
-how many transactions have you (not your company) closed in your career? How many transactions did you close last year? (Can you document that? An MLS printout is most reliable.)
-what should I expect from you if we work together. (Will that be in writing?)
-when will you will be available to work with me?
-what happens on your days off, vacations and other times that you are not available and I may need you?
-where does your business come from? (Confirm with references. The longer they’ve been in business and the more consumer oriented they are, the higher the percentage of referral business they should do.)
-can you explain how is real estate agency is practiced in your office?
-how and when will you advocate for me? Are there circumstances when you cannot advocate for me? (Will that be in writing?)
-do you require a written agreement to work with me? If so, for how long?
-how can I can get out of the agreement if I am unhappy?
-can you provide references so that I can talk with others about their experience with you?
-any other questions that are relevant to your particular circumstances.


Educating a Real Estate Dummy

Posted by Rona Fischman March 9, 2009 02:59 PM

Today, Sam Schneiderman continues his Monday series about his journey from real estate dummy to real estate maven. By the time I met Sam, he was a “real estate maven”. A maven is an expert with subject knowledge, experience, common sense and compassion. (Don’t get confused here -- he’s not the commenter on this blog by that goes by the name “RE maven” and Sam doesn’t work for Somerville’s Maven Realty.) Sam is the broker-owner of Greater Boston Home Team.
Here's Sam:

For the first year of my real estate career, I lived the old joke:

Q: What do you get when you educate a dummy?
A: An educated dummy.

Within a few years of renovating my small condo, I was searching for a larger home with my fiancé.

I decided that a real estate license would probably make me a better buyer, so I completed a simple 24-hour class, memorized definitions of terms like riparian and mineral rights, the square footage of an acre and other basics. I learned about listing agents and sub-agents that brought the buyer and shared commissions. I learned that sellers were the only clients entitled to an agent’s loyalty.

The only franchise in town offered advanced sales training. They taught me how to qualify buyers, get a phone number when someone called in and build urgency so people would buy and sell. I was amazed to learn that the predominant philosophy at the time seemed to be “buyers are liars and sellers are worse”, and that it was a sub-agent’s job to be in control of his buyers. (I found all of that that offensive and untrue.) I answered phones, got numbers and started to show homes. Aside from getting into homes and keeping a transaction on track, I was pretty useless- partly because of restrictive agency laws back then (seller agency only) but mostly due to lack of experience and supervision.

I was an educated dummy. After about 6 sales (more than most Realtors do in a year) I learned that real estate has less to do with property than people, but no one was talking about that yet. It was all about the seller and salesmanship. Buyers were customers who needed to behave properly or “their” so-called agents dropped them. That was real estate until the 21st Century.


What Listing Agents Should Do for Sellers

Posted by Rona Fischman January 8, 2008 09:02 AM

Listing agents market your property. That means advertising and cooperating with other brokers, doing everything that will give the maximum number of serious buyers access to your house.


The worst of 2007: a buyer's agent's view

Posted by Rona Fischman December 10, 2007 05:36 PM

As a buyer's agent, what was the worst part of 2007?

The ongoing spin from my trade association, NAR.

The exploding number of "buyer's agents" out there who don't get it about conflicts of interest.

Staging and over-staging of homes for sale.

But the worst of the worst was the flip-side of what was best:


Agent Mis-Match

Posted by Rona Fischman September 6, 2007 05:23 PM

I got an email from a reader recently. She thought her agent was giving her bad service. I would rather not slam an agent that I don't know. However, my reader expressed a series of complaints that are common to what I call an "agent mis-match."

The agent in question didn't seem to know the neighborhood, she was not calling other brokers to get answers to questions for the reader. She was asking other brokers questions to help a million-dollar buyer, while with my reader. The reader wondered if she was getting "economy service" and not equal service to the high-end buyer. Sounds like mis-match to me.

About boston real estate now
Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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