I had something to say when StreetEasy launched Premier Agent six weeks ago on March 1st 2017 (see “Doing Battle With a $600M Gorilla”). As a lead generation advertising product for real estate agents, the program is a major profit center for Zillow, the parent company, and generated more than $604M in revenue last year nationwide. In New York, the platform was justified as a new way for consumers to reach buyers’ agents. In reality, the program has been confusing consumers and misleading them for these last six weeks. When buyers click the CONTACT AGENT box, believing they will be directed to the seller’s agent, they instead wind up in the inbox of an agent who has paid for the lead in a particular zip code.
For me, the quandary is less about the consumer bypassing the property’s Seller’s Agent, and more about the buyer being directed to an unvetted third party of undetermined experience who may have little or no knowledge of the property or neighborhood. Moreover, it’s not apparent at all to the consumer that the Premier Agent has paid for the ambiguous label. As a result of the brouhaha from buyers and brokers since the program began last month, we’ve heard that StreetEasy is considering different iterations of the CONTACT box on property pages so they are more transparent. We certainly hope this will come to pass. In the meantime, the situation gave me a reason to dust off one of my previous columns titled “Buyers Reap Benefits from Agency Representation” from October 2014. There are compelling reasons for buyers to collaborate with a professional agent.
Each year I do as many transactions representing buyers as I do representing sellers. I find the continuing trend of growing numbers of unrepresented buyers perplexing. It’s not smart for buyers to be unrepresented. The financial consequences of purchasing a home are too high. For most, buying a home is a pivotal life event and a significant financial acquisition representing a considerable portion of net worth. The experience is high on life’s stress meter and, more often than not, fraught with emotion and anxiety.
While listing websites provide consumers with an excellent starting point for home searches and visiting Sunday Open Houses makes perfectly good sense for those who are just beginning to explore the market, at the point when the search turns from a weekend shopping pastime to a serious housing hunt, the aid of a professional guide is invaluable.
While data proliferates online, for statistics to have meaning, perspective is required. Experienced brokers serve to evaluate and interpret information and offer insights about choices and resale possibilities. During negotiations, Buyer Agents lend the distance required for the give and take of bargaining. Without the buffer of a third party, ego gets in the way. Experienced agents understand the importance of timing in negotiations and know when to step up or slow down the process and how to prioritize and identify areas for flexibility and compromise. Armed with discretion and diplomacy, they are well-versed in the psychology of buying and can ease stress and provide emotional support.
It takes a seasoned professional to address the complexities presented by a co-op board review. From the initial letter of introduction, the board presentation builds a logical case clearly of the purchaser’s background and financial wherewithal with easy to understand backup documentation and with strategic and well-written reference letters that articulate why the applicant will be a good addition to the cooperative’s shareholder roster.
As the transaction’s point person, the Buyers’ Agent not only brings together but holds together the players to keep a deal on track. Because of strong working relationships with resources such as lenders, attorneys, designers, architects, contractors, and movers, experienced agents are in a position to call in favors expeditiously. Adept at anticipating and overcoming obstacles, they pay close attention to calendar dates noting especially when a mortgage commitment is due to expire, or when a contract might be cancelled because a co-op interview has not occurred 30 days after the contract’s expressed close date.
While buyers surmise they might shave a portion of the commission by going directly to the Seller’s Agent, the truth of the matter is the savings are negligible. Although NY State law permits dual agency, I’m not a fan of dual representation as in my view it’s impossible to represent two masters and provide undivided loyalty and confidentiality to each side simultaneously. When a direct buyer comes to one of my exclusive listings, I make it clear from the outset that I represent the seller in the transaction, but that I’d be happy to assist with the mechanics of preparing the board package because by then once we are in contract, our objectives are aligned. The truth of the matter is that experienced agents prefer to do business with other experienced dealmakers and not directly with unrepresented buyers. When each side has its own representation, the likelihood is greater that the deal will proceed more smoothly and with fewer hiccups towards a successful close.
Like the seller who interviews agents to choose who will best represent his interests, the buyer should be free to do the same and not be assigned willy-nilly to an agent who has paid for the privilege. Without the advocacy of professional agency representation, pressures can mount, negotiations can be compromised, time wasted and opportunities missed. There’s every good reason for a buyer to have agency representation.