Real Estate in the Fast Lane

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Do you ever feel like it is all moving a little too fast? Real estate agents certainly do. And if you are buying or selling a home, your agent had better be in the fast lane or you might find yourself and your transaction a wreck.

It’s never been enough to just go with the flow, but when the market was healthier and technology less complicated, agents could get away with setting the cruise control. The true depth and breadth of an agent’s experience, knowledge, and professionalism got lost in the gridlock. These things have always mattered to the consumer, yet in “simpler” times when listing information was a closely guarded secret and demand for real estate far exceeded supply, an agent’s qualifications were relegated to the back seat. Too many agents stopped believing that they needed to demonstrate value or adopted the false notion that their value lied only in the taxi service, the free list of homes, and the access to the MLS they provided. Consumers began to buy into the roles we defined for ourselves. We have all suffered as a consequence. Stuck in traffic.

I started thinking about these things this week when Marc Davison of 1000 Watt Consulting called me regarding a series of articles he is writing on what I will call “the difference.” When times were good, times of double-digit home price appreciation and record levels of buying and selling, there were two express lanes to riches: Buying property and getting a real estate license. As a result, there are now nearly 540,000 licensed real estate agents and brokers in California alone, representing roughly 1 in 50 adults. As a result, there are $362 billion worth of adjustable rate subprime loans projected to reset in 2008 (according to Bank of America Corp.) nationally. Too many drivers with no place to go.

Among both agents and home buyers and sellers, the pervasive attitude is that there is nowhere to turn. This is because too many are focused on the rear-view mirror – have always been – and not on the road ahead. The reality is that, for both, it is a market of opportunity and not Armageddon.

Never were all real estate agents created equal; it just appeared that way when things were simpler. Now is the time for the agents who were always better, and for the agents who continue to pursue betterment and embrace change, to shine. Suddenly, value must be a part of the equation. If an agent is unwillingly or unable to demonstrate this value, the “difference,” to distinguish himself from every other agent on the street, then tough times they are indeed.

Shifting to the consumer, let’s take the home seller. The number of sales is admittedly down, but homes are still selling. Is your agent making a distinction on your behalf? Your property descriptions need to be better written, your brochures more attractive, your advertising presence further reaching, and your representation throughout the transaction more aggressive and professional. Your staging needs to be superior, your pricing more thoughtful, your exposure more progressive. Your home needs its own web domain, its own virtual tour and video, and its own vast and impressive online presence. Your agent needs to communicate with you frequently and effectively, needs to return your emails and phone calls and text messages, as well as those from your potential buyers, immediately, and needs to be accessible whether they are in their office or away. PDAs and Smart Phones, Instant Messaging and Online Transaction Management, electronic signatures and eFax are not fancy geek gizmos. They are basic tools in our new value-added world, essentials for doing business how and where the consumers do business.

When selling, the commute has gotten longer. When buying, the curves have gotten more frequent. And, when representing buyers and sellers, the driving instructions have gotten more complex. There is a lot of traffic out there. Choose who you carpool with carefully, put yourself in the driver’s seat, and you will get where you need to go.

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