As Real Estate ‘Disruptors’ Abound, Let’s Hear It for the Traditional Brokerage  

Disruption is happening in every industry, spurred on primarily by internet-based technology. Amazon is disrupting brick and mortar retail. Uber and Lyft have disrupted the taxi industry. Tesla disrupted the auto industry’s dealer model. Travel agents have suffered from online ticket sales by airlines, cruise lines and related businesses.

Now companies like Zillow, Open Door, and OfferPad are disrupting the real estate industry with their “iBuyer” model.

But those and other disruptors have not killed off the older business models. They are grabbing market share, but of an increasing market. You can expect to see brick and mortar retail stores, taxi companies, travel agents and, yes, traditional real estate brokerages such as Golden Real Estate thriving for years to come.

We ourselves have not suffered from these disruptors. Indeed, while 2020 and 2021 have seen huge growth by these new real estate enterprises, they have also brought record growth for our brokerage and other traditional brokerages, and it is easy to see why.

Buying and selling a primary residence is typically the biggest financial transaction we all deal with. Yes, buyers increasingly utilize the internet to search for homes, but they end up calling us to see them. Sellers also use the internet to monitor the market — many taking advantage of the MLS alerts that we set up for them — but they want someone they know and trust to bring their real estate savvy to bear in listing and marketing their home when it’s time to sell.

The “full-service” real estate agent is being redefined, and I like to think that my broker associates and I epitomize that evolution. Some of the services we provide can not be obtained from those other companies.

Full service goes beyond providing our free moving truck, moving boxes and packing material, which we’ve been doing since 2004. Here are some other services you can expect from us.

We have an in-house handyman who can help with preparing a home for market, such as repairing drywall damage, washing windows, and doing light plumbing and light electrical tasks such as installing a new toilet, faucet or light fixture. He’s also there to address many of the issues which arise from the buyer’s inspection. And he’s also there if needed to drive our truck for moving, or even for a dump run or for taking a load of possessions to Goodwill or Arc.

We also have a certified home stager who provides our sellers with a free consultation to help their home show its best.

You’re familiar by now with how we create narrated video tours of each listing, including drone videos, but we also serve out-of-state buyers by shooting videos of other agents’ listings that interest them. Last June I did that for a Minnesota couple who felt they had “seen” an Arvada home well enough through my narrated video tour of it to go under contract, not visiting the home in person until they came for the inspection.

Speaking of inspection, experienced agents like us from a traditional brokerage can be counted on to recommend a good inspector who has a track record with them. Other specialists we know and trust — giving our clients the comfort to employ them — include estate sales companies, structural engineers, electricians, plumbers, HVAC companies, and more. The real benefit from these trusted vendors is that they will make sure you’re satisfied with their work, because they want to be referred to future clients.

“Full service” also implies availability and responsiveness. My broker associates and I are available 7 days a week, and we answer our cell phones on evenings and weekends. Although I have associates who can be my “boots on the ground” when I go on vacation, I take my cell phone (and laptop) with me, and I answer it when it rings.

Often we provide service for which we don’t expect or receive any compensation. For example, this past Sunday I got an inquiry from a man who had inherited his mother’s house and wanted an appraisal for tax purposes. I explained that only licensed appraisers can do appraisals but offered to do a free market analysis, which he happily accepted.  He may call me about listing it later on, but that’s not the point. I’m happy to be of service.

I follow a policy that I came to embody many years ago: Concentrate on giving and the getting will take care of itself.

Zillow Shortchanges Both Agents & Buyers on Video

Despite the increased emphasis on virtual tours because of stay-at-home orders, Zillow continues to stymie those of us who want to provide narrated video tours of our listings.

Unlike our MLS — and most other MLSs around the country — Zillow does not let us link a YouTube video to our listings on their platform.  Zillow gets those links from our MLS but does not display them.  Instead it wants agents to become Premier Agents (which costs money) and then makes agents use a Zillow app to shoot a walk-through video using their smartphone.

That walk-through is limited to 2 minutes and does not carry sound, which is ridiculous, since the whole point of a walkthrough is for the agent to point out the features of the home. “Don’t worry about barking dogs,” we are advised, “since your video won’t have any sound.”  Isn’t that comforting?

In my opinion, there is simply no substitute for a narrated long-form video tour of a listing.  We’re told that videos should be short to match the short attention span of online lookie-loos, but I do the videos for people who like what they see in the description and photographs and want to take a deeper dive into the features of a home before seeing it.

Last month I sold a $1,250,000 home in the foothills to a couple from Washington, DC, who never saw the home in person. They had a daughter look at it in person, but they only had my 18-minute video tour to go by before signing the contract. They didn’t even come for the inspection or closing.  And that’s not the first such instance of a Golden Real Estate video tour selling a home to an out-of-state buyer who didn’t see it in person until at least the final walk-through.

We can thank Zillow for getting us more comfortable with shooting a two-minute silent walkthrough video, but all agents need to become comfortable with doing a video tour that functions like an actual showing.  Who would show a home in two minutes — and without saying a word?  Not me!

Some agents are simply shy about being on camera or speaking into a recording.  Well, you don’t need to be in front of the camera, so let go of that excuse. And if you simply think of the camera as a buyer that you’re showing the home to, you know exactly what to say as you go through the home. Point out the flooring, the counters, the view out the window.  It will come easily.

Lastly, don’t use your smartphone. Buy an HD video camera such as the Osmo Pocket (shown here), which we use. It has a gimble so that your video does not have the shakiness of a handheld camera. It costs about $350 at Best Buy, where we purchased it.

Learn the True Cost of Selling Your Home off-MLS to an iBuyer Like Zillow

Perhaps you’ve heard the pitch from an iBuyer firm such as Open Door, Zillow Offers, or another firm with the word “Offers” in their name.

These companies are promoting the convenience of selling your home quickly for cash, without putting it on the market or having buyers traipse through your home, or worrying that their financing might fall through.

But what is the cost of that convenience?

My column on Aug. 22nd reported on the “true cost of selling to an iBuyer,” but you can’t know that cost personally until it’s your home. So let’s talk about your home!

The next time you get a solicitation to buy your home direct for cash without putting it on the market, go ahead and ask them for a quote.  Then call us and we’ll analyze the offer for free, with no obligation whatsoever.

Here’s what you need to know about the offer you’ll receive.

1)   They will tell you that you won’t pay a commission, but the contract will deduct a “service fee” which, in the case of the Open Door contract I wrote about in August, is 7%.

2)    There will be an inspection contingency. They’ll tell you that you don’t have to make any repairs, but the company will do an “assess-ment” and come up with a dollar figure they will deduct from the purchase price to cover “necessary” repairs. It could amount to tens of thousands of dollars–$38,563 in the case of the Open Door contract I reviewed in August.

3)   The good news is that you as seller are given the right to terminate the contract at any time prior to closing — at least according to that Open Door contract I reviewed.

Most of all, you need to know that these iBuyer firms are only buying your home because they expect to make a profit when they resell it. They will entice you with an offer that is reasonable, but in the following weeks that offer will be eroded by other provisions such as I’ve mentioned above.

Perhaps the convenience of selling a home for cash to someone who will resell it at a higher price makes sense for some sellers. My point is that you should know how much that convenience is going to cost you.

An “iBuyer” is nothing more or less than an investor who makes money by buying low and selling high, with or without making any improvements. For years I’ve been advising homeowners who receive unsolicited offers for their home to treat such an offer as the “opening bid,” and to talk to me or another Realtor about seeing how much more they can get for their home once it is exposed to the full market. That is only accomplished by putting a home on the MLS.

It’s all about maximizing exposure. The more potential buyers who learn about your home, the more offers you are likely to receive. I’m saddened to see how many homes are sold with zero days on the MLS.  Those homes were sold without entering them on the MLS, and the listing agent only puts the home on the MLS after closing as a courtesy to other agents (for market analysis purposes) and/or to receive credit for the sale in terms of personal sales volume.

Consistently over the past three years, between 60 and 160 homes per month in Denver & Jeffco have been entered on the MLS only after they sold. The majority of them sold at or below the listing price, because the home was not exposed to additional buyers, and a high percentage of them were “double-ended” by the listing agent, meaning that the agent doubled his commission by not giving other agents with willing buyers the opportunity to earn their half of the listing commission. 

Our policy at Golden Real Estate is to avoid selling a home before it has been on the MLS at least 3 or 4 days, during which all potential buyers have had a chance to see the home and consider making an offer. This is consistent with our responsibility under state law to put our sellers’ interest ahead of our own.

This policy is an expression of the value statement that appears on our yard signs — “Hometown service delivered with integrity.”

In my Aug. 22 column, I quoted a report on iBuyer transactions by Collateral Analytics. The final paragraph in their report is worth quoting again:

In all, the typical cost to a seller appears to be in the range of 13% to 15% depending on the iBuyer vendor. For some sellers, needing to move or requiring quick extraction of equity, this is certainly worthwhile, but what percentage of the market will want this service remains to be seen.”

Call me or any of our broker associates at 303-302-3636 before accepting an off-market offer for your home. And remember: even if you are already under contract with an iBuyer, you may have the right to terminate the sales contract.