What do you do when you have a really bad experience with a real estate agent? Tell your friends the real estate columnists.
We got a call recently from Joyce, a friend who lives in Austin, Texas. She used to live in North Carolina but sold her home to move to the south when she married. She still owns a rental property in the town where she used to live, and is in the middle of trying to refinance.
Needless to say, it isn't going well.
On a call, Joyce told us about how she was having trouble getting the property to appraise out for the refinance. Too many homes in the neighborhood have gone into foreclosure or were sold as a short sale, and property prices have, in her words, been artificially deflated. (Which, by the way, is how all owners feel about their property value.)
To make matters worse, her tenant is unhappy about having anyone come into the property, which is causing more problems.
When you're trying to refinance a rental property with an unhappy tenant, it's time to get some extra hands on deck. We told Joyce that if she couldn't be at the appraisal in person (always the best idea), then she should have a real estate agent she trusts on location. And, by the way, that agent should provide her with a stack of "comps," which are the sales prices of comparable homes that have sold in the past few months.
So what happened? She emailed the agent who helped her sell her $500,000 home and asked him to help her out. She offered to compensate him for helping to pull comps on the rental property and even coming to the appraisal two days later. He turned her down flat.
"He just said no," Joyce said, somewhat shocked, and asked us what we thought.
The agent she called is a very successful agent with a top firm in town. That's precisely the sort of agent who should be saying yes to these sorts of opportunities. He made a lot of money on the commission from the one house he sold for Joyce, and with a rental property in the mix, should have known there would be more business to come.
Top agents grow their business primarily through referrals. Buying, selling and investing in real estate is a very personal experience for most people, and real estate agents tend to be thought of as family or friends, and not just during the intense period of time when a property is under consideration for purchase or sale.
Very few sellers are going to hand over the listing to an expensive property without having met the agent in person. Ultimately, real estate is a person-to-person business, where helping out someone one day usually means a steady stream of referrals down the line.
Which is why refusing to help a customer is so shocking -- the work wasn't going to be that onerous (perhaps an hour or two searching through listings) and the client was offering to pay for the agent's time. And still the agent turned her down flat.
Even if an agent is too busy to help, there are more helpful ways to treat the situation. The agent might have offered to put Joyce in touch with a less busy though completely trustworthy colleague or had an administrative person in the office pull comps under his direction. Either of those things would have preserved the relationship.
We put the question out to our network of real estate industry observers, top agents and mortgage lenders and got back a unified response, best stated by Bernice Ross, a syndicated columnist, book author, and in-demand real estate coach: "That agent ought to be ashamed -- what a dreadful way to treat a past client."
She suggested that anyone wanting to get a decent set of comps might go to homesnap.com as a place to start.
In the middle of writing this, Joyce called back to tell me that she got another referral to a local agent, and after several tries, this new agent did call her back. He was extremely sorry to be tardy about returning her call, he told her, saying that his office holiday party was going on and it was at his house. So he had been a little distracted.
Joyce thought he was lovely and they are now working together to get those comps pulled. That kind of response is what builds a business, no matter what kind of business you're in.
(Ilyce Glink is the creator of an 18-part webinar and ebook series called "The Intentional Investor: How to be wildly successful in real estate," as well as the author of many books on real estate.)