I’d like to relay a story to you…
My name is Sam Lottner. I’m 34 years old, a programmer by education and trade and the time had come for me to buy my first home. Some of my friends have already bought and even sold and bought again, but I live in Southern California and between the high cost of housing and my student loans it’s taken me longer to buy my first home. I am comfortable doing my own research so I chose an online discount brokerage, one that would rebate me some of the commission.
I had a pretty good idea of what and where I wanted to live by the time I contacted an online real estate broker. It all seemed pretty easy really. An agent met me at the property I’d selected and over the course of time I got to see most of the homes on my list. Like anyone, I wasn’t really sure what I liked at first but through research and seeing some homes, I got a pretty good handle on it. There were a couple of homes early on I wanted to see but wasn’t able to get in to and that was frustrating. Apparently, some traditional agents wouldn’t set up showings because my assigned agent wasn’t able to provide them with information about me like my preapproval letter and down payment funds etc. At the time, I wasn’t inclined to give that up since I wasn’t always working with the same agent. It hadn’t occurred to me that not having a single, established local agent who knew about me interfacing with the listing agents meant I wasn’t being taken as seriously as I might have been otherwise. By hiring the rebate broker and doing my own research I planned to save about $5,000 which I thought was a lot of money. In hindsight, what I thought I understood and expected about the home buying process wasn’t entirely accurate.
I finally found a home I liked. It was older, somewhat fixed up and was vacant. I looked at it a couple times with 2 different agents from the firm before finally writing an offer. I had a lot of questions about the property but had trouble getting answers. Turns out that I was asking many of those questions too early, so I was frustrated for no reason. My agents didn’t explain the process and I didn’t know to ask because the people who were showing me the property were always different. The seller always had the same agent interface with me but I was getting different people. I didn’t realize this was what happens with most online brokers. You don’t work with the same person throughout the process. I later found out that this approach is common to online discount brokers. My “main agent,” the one who wrote the offer, recommended an inspector whose reviews were solid and so I went with it. I didn’t actually meet my main agent for the first time until the inspection. Not knowing any different, I was like, “Okay…” During the inspection, my agent said to me on more than one occasion that the “Seller would take care of this or fix that.” Imagine my disappointment when the seller balked at most of my requests for repair. I didn’t expect a “new home,” but I thought surely the seller would fix pretty much everything that I thought was wrong or I was going to have to correct right after I moved in. My agent made it sound like fixing everything I wanted was common place. Maybe if I had a stronger relationship with my Realtor this would have been explained better. News flash: Sellers don’t see the world from the buyer’s perspective. What negotiating repairs comes down to I found out, is how much did I want to buy the home vs. how much did the seller want to sell? It’s from that place that we’d negotiate repairs. Turns out, there is no guarantee the seller was going to do all the repairs I’d like done. It would have been helpful to have known that going in. Maybe had I not had a revolving door of agents I would have had a better relationship with my agent and would have understood this better.
At the final walkthrough I met yet another agent from my broker, the 4th. The seller’s agent who I now knew as well as my own, said that the seller had made the agreed to repairs and even did a couple extra things. I pulled out my list of requests and said “What about these?” The listing agent pulled out the list he said we’d negotiated and said, “This is what the seller agreed to fix and they fixed it. That other stuff wasn’t agreed to.” I looked to my agent but she had no clue as to what I’d asked for, what had been discussed or what the seller had agreed to. She didn’t have the inspection nor the repair request I’d signed. After a few more frustrating exchanges the seller’s agent said that the seller was “reasonable” but that every home is sold “As-is” in California with the exception for repairs agreed to and that some of my expectations and requests weren’t reasonable, like the level of how clean the garage should be for example. What?? I am about ready to lose it. He said it’s a 50 year old house and there’s bound to be cobwebs and dust in the garage. I wasn’t happy. The seller had agreed to clean out the debris from the garage. It was abundantly clear who the seller’s agent was working for. Unfortunately for me, my main agent wasn’t there to help. Finally, my “walkthrough agent” called my main agent and they advised that I should wait to write down anything that wasn’t correct in my mind, until after we spoke later. I wanted to deal with this now at the walk through, but I couldn’t. I had no one I trusted to help me. I was alone and at this point I was pissed. Why was my main agent not there? No one said that if I received a rebate on commission I’d be dealing with some “division of labor” approach and get different agents at each step of the way. I couldn’t help but wonder what if? What if I’d chosen a different type of agent? How different might my experience have been?
My dad used to always say, “The buck stops here” in teaching me about being responsible. I felt like I was in this process on my own and had no one working for me. There was no “Here” for the buck to stop at because I didn’t have “My” agent, I had a bunch of different people, apparently paid an hourly rate or salary or some totally bare bones commission. There was no one person that had an incentive to be there for me. This was not the experience all my years of paying off debt and saving should have been. I deserved better and clearly, I’d made a mistake in choosing the discounted approach. I should have hired a real estate agent I knew or was referred to by someone I knew and trusted. If nothing else, I would have felt more confident and satisfied with my decision and definitely less angry and taken advantage of.
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