Friday, February 19, 2010

Competition vs. MLS -- Part 2-ish

The real estate section of today's Globe has an article headlined "Under the Gun" It starts off with an example of a couple in court because they got badly screwed around by unscrupulous-sounding agents. Then to the lady in the main photo who has burned through 4 agents who "failed" to sell it. We get a little dose of an agent defending their services, then into a Queen's professor who pretty much slags the current MLS setup. Ouch. Allow me to pull a couple of things out of the article that you may have missed in the whole "agents are useless crooks who are about to get their comeuppance" flavour of the thing.

First of all, the court case. Sounds like the agents failed to disclose "multiple representation" or "dual agency" and failed to disclose a family relationship between an agent and a buyer/seller. If true, nail them.

Or maybe they disclosed but did a poor job (accidentally or on purpose) of explaining and/or the sellers didn't read or pay attention to what they were signing. If true, nail both sides.

In any case, what the hell does a single anecdote of unethical behaviour have to do with the state of the industry? That was rhetorical; the answer is "It doesn't". Every profession has its baddies ... the occasional accountant steals, the occasional lawyer steals or screws up, the occasional financial analyst runs a massive Ponzi scheme. Shouldn't happen but it does.

Next up, the lady who burned through four agents who couldn't sell her house. Sounds like every time she went with one who said he "had clients who were interested" or "had contacts". Four times? We all have contacts and clients. That's not how you pick an agent. At least not four times.

So she decided to sell it herself, thereby supporting the "real estate is messed up and needs to change so that people have more options" theory. Well, she did have an option and she tried it (selling it herself). That didn't work either. Her bottom line: "She is now planning to list with [another] agent" but apparently using different selection criteria.

If you burn through four agents, plus yourself, and are working on number five, this is NOT an indication of systemic flaws in the industry. Even if you are cosmicly incompetent in selecting professional advisors, your house will eventually sell on MLS ... unless ... Unless your market truly stinks (not true here ... this was Calgary, not Detroit) or the house is seriously overpriced (I'm putting my money on this one).

And at the risk of being repetitive, she's about to hire an agent!

Finally, the prof. He says a rival database to MLS could give better information, the industry is protectionist, the consumer should have do-it-yourself choices, etc. But what would he do if selling his house? "I would probably pay full commission for the full service ... I know I would be able to find somebody really really good".

I am not saying our system is perfect. I am not saying that all agents are expert and professional. But here's a summary of this article from one perspective:

A certain number of agents behave badly. A lady in Calgary is learning that selling a home involves more than putting a sign on the lawn, and requires some care in selecting an appropriate representative. And an expert observer who seems to think big changes are needed would use a good traditional approach to selling his own home. Hmm.

P.S. Why is this called "Part 2"? Check it out.

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