To be a door mat you have to lay down.

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Photo courtesy Gregg OConnell

I was accused yesterday, albeit in a light-hearted, “fun” sort of way, of writing in stream of consciousness style too often on this blog. For the sake of argument, we will define “too often” as “every time I dare to post.” Guilty as charged, but I am far too busy to make today the day my writing becomes organized. I’m shooting for Friday. Instead, I will take this first step and actually summarize my point ahead of my convoluted thought bubble, just so you know what’s coming.

For Home buyers: You are not powerless. When embarking on a home purchase, you are not a casual observer who must relegate absolute control of your outcome to a third-party player. There are specific, definable things you can and should do on your own behalf to, if not ensure total success (as you might define it), then to at least minimize the risk of having a very bad day once the Fat Lady closes escrow. After all, it’s your move! (That last one is trademarked, by the way, so watch it.)

Now, for the backstory.

In the transfer of real estate property, it takes both a buyer and seller to make it happen. This, of course, applies to the transfer of any products or services.

“Wow!” you say. “Kris really has her deep-thinking hat on this morning!” Let me assure you that this is a concept I see getting lost too often today. When something is offered for sale and subsequently purchased, and when that transaction ultimately involves two participants satisfied with the outcome, all is right with the world. If, however, the outcome is less than ideal, it is far too tempting to find a scapegoat.

One of my salad-days cohabitants recently purchased a shirt at the mall off of the mark-down table. “All sales are final!” read the sign. This was acceptable to her, because she loved the now $8.95 trendy tee. However, when she got it home and tried it on, she found an enormous hole in the back. Sure, we tried to return it, but we were not surprised with the answer (something about pigs being airborn), nor were we militant when the news was delivered. I could have asked for the manager, I could have written a letter to the editor, and I could have appeared on Good Morning America to expose the enormous injustice, just another example of The Man sticking it to the hard-working, common folk. Instead, I considered it a valuable lesson for my daughter. There is the issue of standing behind one’s product, but there is the arguably larger issue of standing behind one’s purchase. She really should have done a physical inspection during the contingency phase. Time to suck it up and call a handyman, one who knows how to use a Singer.

Here in San Diego, we are continuing to get the local news updates of the Carlsbad couple now suing their agent for having allowed them to overpay for the home they purchased in 2005. Jury selection began yesterday.

Now, not knowing all the facts, the couple could be simply looking for someone to blame for a purchase which, in hindsight and after several years of declining property values, they now regret. Or, the agent could have in fact not fulfilled his duties to disclose, advise and counsel on market trends and comparable home sales data. Either way, the buyers could have influenced the outcome.

You can only be a door mat when you lay down.

So, back to the it-takes-two argument. For the home buyer, you will in fact be dealing with two sellers. One is obvious; he has a home he would like you to purchase. The other “seller” is your real estate agent. He is selling his services to you, and once you have agreed to allow this agent you represent you, you have bought what he is selling. You inspect your other purchases before you make them – the home and even the shirt off the mark-down table at the cool surf shop. Inspect your agent before you buy!

Sellers routinely put us through interview processes which have us feeling like participants in the Iditarod and the Science Olympiad all at once. Many selling clients come to us through referrals and many require us to compete and earn their business. Why, then, have buyers come to assume that their representation needs no introduction or screening, that the first perky, warm body they find at an open house or street corner will do?

Conclusion (and note how I am summarizing in a very organized fashion):

  • Buyers, you are not second-class citizens. You deserve representation.
  • You have many, many choices, and do not need to select your representation with a sloppily hung dart board. This is particularly true if the pub is poorly lit and you have been drinking.
  • You have a vast and wonderful wealth of information at your disposal about all things related to the home buying process, including price dynamics of your market. Your agent should be providing you with all of this data in order for you to make an informed decision, but a little independent research is good insurance. Call it checks and balances. Please take at least some control over the process and some responsibility for your decisions. Your agent is your employee, but your choices are ultimately your own.
  • If at any point during the home buying process, you feel confused, isolated, overwhelmed or just simply like you are skydiving without a parachute, ask questions. Get answers. Demand true representation. If that fails, fire your agent. You have choices.

(Note: I am quite pleased with the relative direct and concise nature of the introduction and closing. Now, if only I could do something about all the stuff in the middle.)

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