Is Everyone an Expert?
We live in the Age of Expertise; today everyone seems to know everything about everything! I met today with a stone mason, Russell, who is estimating some work we need done on our property in Connecticut, and he was telling me about all the clients he deals with who give him pointers on how to do his job better. I confess I was surprised. How much, I asked him, could these people know about being a mason? Nothing, he assured me with a shrug. That’s just the way people are these days.
Russell’s observation resonated deeply for me. In the New York real estate market, we agents run into a lot of experts: buyers and sellers who assure us they know all about our business. There seems also to be a high level of misunderstanding of what we do. I was speaking at a Warburg event last week to the client of one of our agents. In the course of the conversation I made some reference to the fact that we prided ourselves on our expertise in the field. This man, a securities analyst, replied quizzically that he didn’t really understand what I was saying. Where, he wanted to know, did expertise come into it? You find some apartments, you show them to people, sooner or later they find one they like, and they sign a lease. Case closed. (I did not say, so it’s just like picking stocks, right?)
I believe that the perception of our client actually leads to the feeling, often expressed to me by consumers, that they know “a lot” about real estate transactions. (It is not so dissimilar to the aspiring new agent licensee who tells me she has a lot of experience in the business because she has bought and sold a couple of properties.) If we really were merely people who sent out listings and then received nice checks, I suppose it would be reasonable to think that anyone could do what we do. But it’s actually a lot more complicated than that. So here’s a little primer on what a good real estate agent does for the consumer, which the consumer more often than not cannot do, or can do far less well, than we can:
- We do search for properties, but often not in the obvious way that people think. Since all listings are available to be viewed online by anyone, there is no value to add in finding the homes that fit the buyer’s description. Our job requires going well beyond that. We need to find the homes which will work in every way to create the home environment the buyers hope for. Sometimes this is directly as they describe it, but often we need to stretch their parameters to get them what we intuitively sense they desire. It may be in a slightly different neighborhood. It may be a little bigger or a little smaller than they at first believed. It may cost a little more or a little less. But if we are really doing our jobs we need insight into our buyers’ process, and sometimes their unarticulated goals, to really make a good match.
- We try to tell our sellers the truth about pricing, with analysis to back up our recommendations. That analysis includes both past sales and properties which have gone into contract but are not closed yet. In our marketplace, when the period between a contract signing and a closing can can encompass a real change in market sentiment or velocity, we have more up-to-date price information than any other source, gleaned because we are out in the marketplace every day interacting with colleagues.
- We must understand our buyers’ financial circumstances so we can advocate most effectively on their behalf. Money goes farther in Building A than it does in Building B, because of financing limits, or Board expectations, or tax issues. Few buyers know which of those buildings is which, but we do. We know where the maintenance goes up a lot from year to year, or where the tax abatement is about to expire. We know where having a friend or relative in the building will help you and where it won’t. We understand when to shoot for the moon and when to play it safe, based on all the little clues we assimilate during the course of our showings.
- We can help buyers and sellers move past roadblocks to get a deal done. We advise on how most effectively to bid, how most effectively to respond. We develop strategies to bridge the gap in price which almost always appears when a deal is impending. We earn the trust we need in order to say, don’t lose this deal over $5,000. You won’t remember it after you move in.
- We take the raw material of a buyer’s life and craft a Board package which tells the story a building wants to hear. At Warburg we are particularly proud of our Board packages. We strategize, we rearrange, sometimes we rewrite, until the information is organized and presented in the way most likely to win over the gatekeepers of the building in question. Sometimes, when we feel it is appropriate, we make phone calls and write e-mails to obtain back channel support for a candidate. We coach them and have even been known to dress them for their interview. We troubleshoot after a Board turndown to see if we can address the issues and have the rejection reversed. And we often succeed.
What we do is not simple, and it’s not for everyone. Years of experience are required to develop the finesse the best agents possess, just as years of experience are required to become a good securities analyst, or a good stone mason. That’s why we are so proud of what we do.