Andrew Wetzel's Musings

August 8, 2021

My Buyer’s Offer Did Not Get Accepted: What Can They Do? Part 4 of 4: The MLS, Seller and Listing Agent.

Whether you are starting the process of buying your first or “next” home, engaged in the process of house-hunting or you have already been denied a house you really wanted to own, I want to share some time-tested advice.  I am going to address the main question in three parts.  This is not intended as legal advice and not intended to interfere if you have an existing business relationship.

Let’s start with the premise that you have made an offer and it was rejected.  You may have had no response or you may have been given an opportunity to negotiate that did result in a signed contract.  If a buyer makes what they think is a reasonable offer and the seller did not accept it, they should have no regrets.   Easy for me to say.  However, did the buyer have the right expectations and understanding about the process?  Could or should their agent or the listing agent or the seller have done anything differently?

If the seller was given the opportunity to review all offers and was properly informed of any possible interest that could generate additional offers and they accepted what they thought was the best offer, who has any reason to complain about the process?  Every executed agreement will not close so it may be best to remain on good terms with everyone involved.  You may get another chance to get a house you want to own, if you want one, but do not assume you will.

I provide my buyer-clients with a few pearls of wisdom I have gained through experience, training and education.  The process of buying or selling Real Estate is typically an emotional decision justified with logic.  It should be treated as “business” and not taken personally.  It is also not retail.  Looking for a house can be a full-time job but it is worth the investment of time and effort.  Your life will get back to normal after you succeed.  Bad decisions are costly and their effects can last a long time.  Real Estate is typically our biggest asset and requires our largest ongoing investment so buying or selling it deserves a lot of attention.

I have already discussed how a buyer might manage their search and making their offer in a previous post.  Those are both important but there is more work required to get the house you like under contract.  Respectfully, you may have had the best planning and preparation and made your best offer but there are still two potential obstacles to having a signed contract:  they are the listing agent and the seller.

As a buyer agent, it can be very frustrating just trying to show properties to our clients.  Add to that possibly waiting for a buyer to decide if they want to make an offer, their trying to assess how to do that and then trying to ensure that your buyer’s offer is properly presented to the seller.  My intent is not to criticize acceptable business models but I do question some business practices.  Article 1 of our REALTOR Code of Ethics requires that we protect and promote the interest of our clients and that we be honest with others.  Not all Real Estate agents are REALTORS.

The MLS has rules and regulations which member agents are required and expected to follow.  Listing statuses and their definitions are a major part of them.  For example, Bright MLS requires that properties are listed in the MLS within three business days of having an executed listing contract and within one business day once it is advertised if not already uploaded to the MLS.  There is status called “Coming Soon” which offers agents an opportunity to advertise properties before any showings are allowed.  There is a publicized date when showings will start.  Those dates change so buyer agents need to monitor them as they should when a listing agent specifies when offers are due and going to be presented to sellers.  There is no rule that you cannot submit an offer sooner than required or that you can’t have it “expire” before they intend to present it.  Obviously your buyer must agree with what you do.

The “Coming Soon” status can be effective with generating interest but frustrates some waiting for showings to start.  Listing agents and sellers tend to like this status as it can reduce the actual marketing time while maximizing competition and the selling price.  Buyer agents and buyers are less enthusiastic.  Should a buyer wait to make an offer on another house, especially if the listing agent of a “Coming Soon” property has not shared pictures or provided a decent write-up?  Is this property better than what they have already seen?  Competition and a lack of knowledge can create anxiety.  However, a major concern is that some listing agents may be allowing some people to  see inside, against the rules, while others are left out.  Some buyers are willing to make offers “sight unseen”.  However anyone views that, it is perfectly fine even if some refuse to do so.  Some think it “unfair” and risky.

Some agents have suggested eliminating this status saying that a property is either “active” and available for showings or it isn’t.  I can see their point but I do not agree.  Even now, some houses are listed as active and immediately placed “under contract”, suggesting that it never got full market exposure.  I think the issue is how the status is handled and that is a “people problem”.  There is no perfect system.  What guarantee is there that every interested buyer would be able to see every “active” and available house?

If you were going to design a perfect, “neutral” system, meaning it levels the playing field rather than favoring or potentially harming buyers or sellers, several things would have to be in place.  I will suggest a few although many will see the folly:

  1. Perhaps no showings should be allowed until a property is “active” in the MLS.  PERIOD.  This makes sense but how do you implement it or prove it was violated?
  2. Once “active”, a property should be kept available for showings and offers for some “reasonable” amount of time to allow any interested buyer and their agent an opportunity to visit and make an offer.  In theory, this should maximize the selling price but some sellers are more interested in a quick sale.  Only a seller gets to decide what is in their best interest and which offer to accept.  Either way, there is no way to force this on a seller.  What about buyers unable to see a house for whatever reason?  Even then, how do you know that your offer was properly presented to the seller for their consideration?
  3. All listing agents should be required to use a third-party showing service to schedule appointments.  I have had to call listing agents to schedule showings on numerous occasions.  That tends to take longer as far as getting an answer and a confirmation than contacting an appointment scheduling service.  Are these listing agents too busy to promptly respond or are they trying to keep out competition, hoping to sell their listings to their own buyers?  I do not know but that is the suspicion.  Calls for showings can go unanswered for days.  Even worse, some listing agents, for whatever reason (some are valid!) need to attend showings.  A buyer and their agent should not have to work around a listing agent’s schedule.  Granted, they have to work around a seller’s schedule but it is the seller’s house.
  4. Many agents have wondered whether their buyer’s offer was actually presented to the seller.  In PA we have forms which attempt to document that an offer was presented but you never really know.  I once had a sealed offer returned to me unopened.  That buyer never had a chance to compete.  In multiple-offer situations, I have been told by several agents that their seller-client reached a point where they wanted to stop looking at additional offers that they had in front of them.  I do empathize!  The real question is how many offers is too many to open, evaluate and compare?  My experience has been that after awhile the offers tend to seem very similar but you never know about any offers you do not actually look at.  What about the time and effort the agent and buyer took to see the house and prepare and deliver an offer?

The bottom line is that we have to rely on and trust each other to do our job.  Technology has made our job easier as far as creating, executing and delivering paperwork than in the past but you still have to print them out and look at them.  Some buyer agents do not submit complete packages.  Some use formats that are difficult to work with.  Do all agents really explain what their clients are reviewing and signing?  Do our clients really understand the paperwork and their potential obligations?  Electronic signing and delivery have made life easier but it has also increased the possibility of a client not fully understanding what they are doing in a rush to sign documents.  Can Real Estate really be conducted electronically instead of face-to-face, at least for major documents like representation agreements and agreements of sale?

My best hope is that a seller hires an experienced, trained and educated agent that has the ethics and integrity to do their job and that a buyer does the same.  If they have both hired the same agent, that is fine but that creates an inherent conflict called “dual agency”.  If, as is more likely, they have hired separate agents, my best hope is that they do everything in their power to promote and protect the best interest of their client while being honest, at least as allowed by their representation agreement, with everyone else.

The simple facts are these:

  1. houses will come on the market.  They may or may not be overpriced or poorly marketed which could prevent their exposure to the full market which can lower activity and selling prices;
  2. some buyers will miss opportunities because their search criteria do not “capture” every real possibility, they simply miss listings as they rush through an email, they are not able to schedule a showing before a house sells or they are not in a position to make a serious offer for whatever reason.  Much of this falls on the buyer.  Many “shop” online for weeks before contacting a professional who can better explain the planning and preparation needed;
  3. sellers may make it more difficult than it should be to see their house or they might be expecting too much from the market;
  4. agents may frustrate their clients’ efforts to sell or buy.

There is a lot more to buying or selling Real Estate than marketing, showings and writing offers.  This is NOT retail!  There is no online “shopping cart” or a “Buy It Now” option.  Again, this is a business decision which is often emotional and justified with logic.  While the public has endless access to data and information, it takes an experienced, trained and educated professional to bring the knowledge and insight that Real Estate sales often require.

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations.

HIRE WISELY: We are not “all the same”!

May 15, 2021

All Offers Must Be Received By … and Will Be Presented on ….

The type of Real Estate market produces some creative ways to “protect and promote” the interest of our clients.  The ebb and flow of who has “power” and “leverage” is interesting.  What may work (or frustrate others) in one market may appear insane in another.  That being said, we are required and expected to respect different “business models”.  However, do we have to do as we are told?

Many listing agents use a “Presentation of Offers” form which spells out what they want included in a purchase offer and how they conduct business.  I respect different “business models” and think the concept makes sense but I am left wondering about some of what they expect.  As long as the seller agrees that is fine but some of what I see seems counter-productive.  Here are a few examples:

  • An agent must submit an offer before being allowed to show a property;
  • A buyer must perform inspections before submitting an offer;
  • Do not have any contingency expire on a weekend or holiday.  If you do, add language to the agreement stating that the time frame is extended to the next “business day”. What exactly is a “holiday” anyway?;
  • Offers received after 5pm will be presented to the seller the next morning;
  • Offers received after 5pm on Friday will be presented to the seller on Monday;
  • Offers are to be submitted at a “specified time” and will be reviewed at a “specified time”.

Respectfully, if a seller agrees with any of these or other terms, perhaps that is their wish and their choice, that is fine but some of these make me wonder.  Real Estate is not a 9-5 job although it should not be 24/7 either.  I guess it all comes down to the type of market.  The question is:  do we have to comply?

We are in the hottest seller’s market I have seen in years.  Every house seems flooded with showings and multiple offers which, combined with the pandemic, many sellers and buyers are finding very frustrating.  To accelerate what I refer to as the “second step” to selling or buying Real Estate, the “third step” being when an offer is negotiated, some listing agents are doing one of two things to generate immediate interest.  They start showings at an “open house” or use a “Coming Soon” strategy to make buyers salivate before they can legally get in.  Both can work but may be creating a frenzy that will not play out as expected.  Some buyers are making offers “sight unseen”, waiving inspections and/ or going well over asking price, all in an effort to beat real or perceived “competition”.  Some agents just make their listings “active” and let the fun begin.  Th market will change.  It always does.

Some agents take this a step further and advertise when offers are due and when they will be presented to the seller.  These are bold steps that must be managed.  I find it interesting when a property listing expires unsold or a contract gets canceled and the listing agent neglected to remove language stating that offers were due and would be presented weeks or months ago.  OOPS!

Let’s suppose I activate a listing on Friday, state that offers are due by Monday at 3pm and will be presented to the seller at 7pm.  Pick any days of the week or time frames you prefer.  What happens next?  Compliant buyers and their agents will honor the listing agent’s instructions assuming they will be followed.  But will they?  Suppose they aren’t?  Some agents will try to submit offers after 3pm.  Does the listing agent say NO?  Is that buyer or agent penalized for being late?  Suppose the buyer agent has difficulty reaching the listing agent to say they have an offer or has trouble getting it to them?  We do so much electronically these days so that should not be a problem but it can be if there are Internet or equipment issues.

Suppose I have a buyer who does not like competition, may have lost out on one or more other houses they really wanted to own or they just want a quick answer so they can pursue other options before they sell?  What should I do?  I would submit an offer as soon as I can and, if my buyer is willing, we can make it expire prior to the 7pm deadline.  Listing agents are required to submit all offers in a timely manner.  While it is possible that their seller has said not to present anything before Monday at 7pm, if I were the listing agent I would let my sellers know that I had something, especially if it is compelling.  Suppose the seller says they want to accept the offer that came in early?

Buyers and their agents who were in the process of meeting the 3pm deadline have every right to be upset but did the listing agent do anything wrong?  Suppose a seller signs an offer before an “open house”?  At the very least, if my seller decided to sign an offer earlier than we advertised, I would let agents know what happened to be transparent and fair.  I would not want to waste their time and effort.  You never know, something could happen with the accepted offer and we may need to resume showings.  Perhaps a buyer is willing to provide a back-up offer.

Multiple offers are common these days which sounds nice but explaining them, evaluating their differences, responding to them and selecting the “winner” can be more complicated than it seems.  Are they taken at “face value”, which means that no one is provided an opportunity for a “second chance”, or are all or some “negotiated”?  What happens if they only “entertain” a few of them?  Even with multiple offers there is no guarantee that a seller will get what they want but they might learn the market’s perception of value.  Sellers determine the price but buyers determine the value.

What happens when the “sight unseen” buyer finally sees inside or the buyer who waived inspections questions the condition of the property or what the seller disclosed?  What happens when the appraiser files their report?  The “creativity” that secured a signed purchase agreement does not guarantee a deed transfer.  Real Estate is like 3-dimensional chess compared to a basic retail transaction where I pay you and I get my purchased item right away.  Real Estate provides “delayed gratification”:  every day until settlement may offer an unpleasant surprise.  It is never over until the seller has the buyer’s money and the buyer has the seller’s keys.

Even in “normal” markets, which generally means 3-6 months of available inventory, depending on what you believe, things can get contentious.  While we generally “cooperate” with each other, this is a competitive industry.  Only one buyer gets the house.  Buying or selling Real Estate are emotional decisions justified with logic.  Putting in the time and effort to buy or sell Real Estate requires commitment and exposing yourself to potential frustration.  They are not things most people do every day.  What one person thinks is creative can have quite a different reaction from someone else.

REALTORS have to manage expectations.  We need to explain the process of buying or selling to our clients.  We have done this before.  The consumer has 24/7 access to endless amounts of data and information, including television shows, but it takes an experienced, trained and educated professional to add two secret ingredients:  knowledge and insight.

When it comes to buying or selling what is likely your largest asset and biggest investment,

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations.

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

April 5, 2021

My New Audio Course is LIVE on Listenable.io

I received an email from the staff at Listenable.  They provide an online platform that offers “powerful, bite-sized audio courses authored by well‑loved experts”.  They said:  “Congratulations on launching your first course on Listenable!  We’re excited to have you on board!  We sincerely appreciate the work you’ve done to create such an outstanding course and we are proud to have you on the Listenable team.”

I am happy and excited to add my content to their impressive lineup of courses.  The title of my course is “The Basics of Selling Residential Real Estate”.  Why did I create it?

My passion for Real Estate led to my writing blogs and recording podcasts.  Someone at Listenable heard my podcasts and contacted me to ask if I would be interested in creating an audio course for them.  The subject matter was up to me and this topic seemed an obvious choice.

As I have learned over the course of my career as well as through my involvement in various roles within the Real Estate community, Real Estate is not rocket science by any means although many make it far more complicated than necessary.  The process of selling or buying residential Real Estate generally involves a number of basic steps that must be completed in order to succeed.  Hiring a professional should increase your chances for success.  Our experience, training and education can provide the knowledge and insight typically needed to navigate the home selling or buying process.

My course consists of 13 lessons averaging about 8 minutes each.  I break the steps of selling Real Estate down into “the basics” and explain what we do and why we do it.  My goal is to take some of the mystery out of what people think we do and clarify it so that the typical listener will be more comfortable with the process.  I discuss the entire selling process from hiring an agent through settlement/ closing.  I hope that you will listen to it and recommend my course to people you know.

Here are the lessons:  The “Five Steps to Selling Real Estate”; Hiring an Agent; Preparing Your House for Sale; Marketing Your House to Sell; Pricing Your House to Sell; The Listing Contract; Your House is on the “Active” Market; Congratulations, You Have an Offer; Contingencies; Closing the Sale.  I included two “bonus” lessons:  Andrew’s Time-Tested Real Estate One Liners and The Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS.

Here is a direct link:  https://listenable.io/web/courses/380/the-basics-of-selling-residential-real-estate/   To enjoy14 free days of Listenable, use this link:  https://listenable.io/?rf=CMO1BEOO

I have an extensive catalog of blogs and podcasts posted on several websites including my primary site AndrewWetzel.com.  If you haven’t followed them, I encourage you to give them a try.  If you have read and listened to my material, thank you.  I will keep adding new content.

Best wishes and thank you for listening and reading!  As always, I am a phone call, email or text away if you have any questions.

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations.

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same.

Should a Buyer Agent Represent Two Buyers Bidding on the Same House?

This is a question that most agents and buyers never really have to think about.  How often does this happen?  I like to raise the question in my ethics classes for these very reasons.  Once people do think about it, it can generate a lively theoretical discussion which generates emotion and opinion.  I am not sure there is a perfect answer but I think it has so many aspects to it that it is worth discussing.  Better now than in an ethics hearing.  Let me start with some disclaimers.

First, this is my opinion and not intended as legal advice.  Second, I am in PA where this practice is not considered “dual agency”.  In fact, our contracts specifically allow this to happen which I will discuss later in further detail.  However, it is considered “dual agency” in some states which makes me wonder why, how can that be:  it either is or it is not “dual agency”.  How can it be looked at differently in different states?  If it were considered “dual agency”, which is not allowed in some states, that would at least provide some direction as to how to handle it and remove my concerns.  Third, my intent is not to interfere with any existing business relationships although I would respectfully suggest that buyers should know if this situation might come up so that they can make an informed decision before entering into a business relationship that might not work for them.  In PA many agents refuse to act as “dual agents”.  I wonder how they view this topic?

I am an analytical thinker so I will look at this from several perspectives.  Let’s start with some contract information, meaning some language that a potential buyer-client should know before hiring an agent to represent them.  This assumes that a buyer hires an agent and actually discusses their respective roles.  Of course, if an agent does not follow our rules and regulations, a member of the public may not be as well informed as they should be.  While well over 90% of the public searches online for Real Estate listings and information, I do not believe that most really understand agency representation.  We do more than open doors and write contracts.  Do prospective buyers know what to ask agents they might hire?  Are they resistant when an agent tries to do their job by discussing contracts and agency disclosures?  I am going to talk about this from the perspective of being a REALTOR, not just a licensee.  This means I will refer to out REALTOR Code of Ethics as well as our state’s “standard forms”.

Article 1 of our REALTOR Code of Ethics requires that we protect and promote the interests of our clients above all else.  While we are required to have a business relationship contract with someone to represent them as our client, rather than as our customer, that is not always the case and not having a contract is not an excuse when a problem arises.  What is important is what a buyer thinks of our relationship.  Our conduct may convey a perception that they are our client when they are technically not.  That poses potential problems and it likely means that they know less than they would have had they seen the proper forms.  This Article brings up the topic of fiduciary duties which I will discuss later.  These are owed to a client but not to a customer.

Article 2 states that “REALTORS shall avoid … concealment of pertinent facts relating to the property or transaction ….  REALTORS shall not, however, be obligated to …  disclose facts which are confidential”.  This Article brings up the topic of confidentiality which I will also discuss later.

In PA we have a form called a “Consumer Notice” that all licensees are required to present and explain to any member of the public before having a “substantive” discussion with them, referring to their “needs and wants”, and entering into a business relationship.  It describes the different relationships available as well as reviewing a number of agency/ representation-related issues. 

Under “Buyer Agent”, it says that we “work exclusively for the buyer”, that we “must act in the buyer’s best interest” “and must keep all confidential information, confidential”.  I mentioned a relationship called “dual agency”.  This occurs when an agent or Broker “works for both the seller and the buyer” in the same sale.  As stated in our Code of Ethics, this relationship requires “full disclosure to and with the informed consent of both parties”, meaning in writing, before acting in that capacity.

The Consumer Notice also includes several other important details.  All agents “must disclose, as soon as practicable, all conflicts of interest”.  A dual agent may not take any action that is detrimental to either party.  In a typical seller/ buyer scenario that is perhaps best explained by saying that a dual agent cannot disclose how low a seller will go or how high a buyer will go in their efforts to sign an agreement of sale or negotiate details later such as inspection issues.

Based on what I have presented so far, my non-legal but educated opinion is that representing two buyer-clients bidding on the same house seems like “dual agency” to me.  Again, I do not understand how some states see it that way while others, including PA, do not but I think that there is no harm in treating it as “dual agency”.  I have never heard a client complain that their agent over-protected their interests, have you?

Now let’s discuss “fiduciary duties”.  Working with a customer, meaning there is no contract, has requirements.  Working for a client expands that list as there is agency representation and six fiduciary duties.  The list includes:  obeying a client’s lawful instructions, being loyal to their purpose or goal, disclosing what you know that could help them succeed, keeping their information confidential, being accountable for keeping them on track with what they need to do throughout the process and providing reasonable care and diligence in your representation to protect them.  There is much more to these duties but imagine representing two buyers with similar intentions.

In a “dual agency” relationship two of these fiduciary duties are compromised or negated:  you cannot disclose to one party what the other party wants kept confidential.  This does not refer to “material facts” that must be disclosed if known.  It does refer to things that could hurt someone’s negotiating strategy.  A critical question is what is meant by confidential?

A listing agent can share details about an offer presented to them by one agent with another agent.  Many agents and consumers do not know that.  This is another topic that gets my classes going!  Absent a previously signed “confidentiality agreement”, such as is often used in commercial listings, the details of an offer are not inherently private and can be “shopped” to get a better offer.  Of course, this does not include the buyer’s name or personal information.

That being said, some people are very private and consider things “confidential” that others may not.  Learning this is part of getting to know your client.  Do you see how this can impact having more than one buyer client interested in the same property?

In PA we have two different buyer representation contracts, one is “exclusive” while the other is “non-exclusive”, the difference being whether a buyer works solely with one agent or has more than one agent assisting them.  That alone can present issues but is not my point here.  Unfortunately, some agents do not present either form to their prospective clients or they do so at the point of creating an offer on a property.  Better late than never!  I know that some clients are resistant to signing contracts or they may be willing to be a customer rather than committing to one Broker/ agent and getting the benefits of full representation.  However, there is important information they need to know and an executed contract proves they were at least informed of this information.

In both the exclusive and the non-exclusive contracts, there is the same language regarding issues related to conflicts with two clients.  They both say that a “Broker may not take action that is inconsistent with a buyer’s interest”.  They both say that an agent “may show the same properties to other buyers and may represent those buyers in attempts to purchase the same property that a buyer wishes to purchase” and that doing this is not a “breach of duty”.  They both say that “It is a conflict of interest when a Broker … cannot put a buyer’s interest before any other”.  “Unless permitted by a buyer or required by law, a Broker will not knowingly reveal or use any confidential information of a buyer”.  However, it does not specify what the word “confidential” mean.  It does talk about not treating the “existence, terms or conditions of any offer as confidential unless there is a confidentiality agreement” but the sentence ends with “between a Buyer and the seller”.  I guess the word “exclusive” only works one way, meaning that the buyer is restricted to one agent but the agent is not restricted to one buyer.

Then both contracts go on to say that “it is a conflict of interest when a Broker or licensee … cannot put a buyer’s interest before any other”.  The section concludes by saying that if there is a “conflict of interest, the broker will notify the Buyer in a timely manner”.  How does all of this sound to you?

These are not guidelines or suggestions, they are rules.  How do you accept all of these rules and properly manage the home searches of two buyers who want to pursue the same house?  Of course, if two or more buyers are looking in different areas and price ranges this may never be an issue.  But buyer’s plans change.  Many buyers end up buying a house vastly different from what they said they wanted.

I am not an attorney but these sections seem to conflict, don’t they?  Wouldn’t having more than one buyer interested in making an offer on the same house be about as conflicted as it gets?  While the rules say that an agent must mention having a conflict, it does not elaborate.  Do I need to do more than say “I have a conflict”?  Can I say what the conflict is?  Here is the best part:  to whom do I mention the conflict and what is the remedy?  Do I tell both buyers?  Can I just end my relationship with one of the buyers and keep working for the other?

That raises an interesting question:  who is allowed to terminate a contract?  While I could have another agent take over with one buyer, I think that poses a problem as I would still know information about that buyer that I would not normally know and that could harm them.  In fact, when agents encounter problems with seller/ buyer dual agency, I suggest that they completely remove themselves from both client relationships to avoid any perception of problems with disclosure or confidentiality.

As with all Real Estate paperwork, the buyer contracts do encourage the prospective client to seek the services of an appropriate professional, such as an attorney.  While that makes sense, is there time to do that?  If a buyer has done as I suggest, all of this would have been taken care of before I showed them any houses.  Conflicts that arise after that may not be able to be undone and it could impact a buyer’s opportunity to make an offer and get it signed.

Let’s drill down further to the real issue.  Aside from whether one agent can truly best represent the separate but conflicting interests of two different buyers, remember that only one buyer gets the house, does the agent have the right to tell each buyer-client about the other’s interest in the same house?  Does doing that conflict with the fiduciary duties owed to each buyer-client?  What is the goal?

I have had agents tell me that they want to be “fair”.  Really?  Who gets to decide what is “fair”?  What does that even mean?  The REALTOR Code of Ethics used to have that word in Article 1:  it said that, while we had a duty to protect and promote the best interests of our clients, we had a duty to treat people fairly.  If you are a sports fan, what is fair?  Is a pitch a ball or strike?  Did a referee miss a penalty or make a bad call?  The word, however nice it sounds, is confusing because it is unclear.  Do any two people, especially those working on the same sale, define the term the same?  Again, only one buyer can win.  Perhaps neither buyer will succeed but that does not mean that all is well.  Anyway, the Code of Ethics was amended years ago to say that we have to treat people honestly.  I’ll leave that alone but telling two buyer clients about the interest of the other is not a measure of honesty to me.

Years ago I had an agent in my office show one of my listings.  They brought me an offer which was negotiated, accepted and signed.  When I called to tell them that it was signed by my seller-client they made a very unusual request of me:  they asked if I would enter my name in the MLS as the buyer’s agent.  I asked why and was told that this agent had sent the same property listing information to four different clients but only one seized the opportunity and quickly got the house under agreement.  The agent was concerned that the other three would blame them for not telling them what had happened.  I commended this agent for what they did!  I can’t imagine what might have happened had they shown the house to the other clients and written and negotiated multiple offers on the same house.

The question then becomes what happens next?  Let me explore a couple possibilities.

  • If neither buyer gets the house, there may have been no harm done but the question of whether our actions are ethical or professional is based on our conduct and not the outcome.  “No harm, no foul” is not the measure.  Did our actions possibly cause both buyers to lose a sale?
  • Suppose one of your two buyers wins.  Did they improve their offer because they knew they had competition?  If so, did they spend or do more than they really had to and might have done if they did not know?  Did the other buyer hold back or drop out because they felt they could not win?  Some people want to compete, even if they overdo it, while others will not compete even if they might succeed.  Saying that both buyers knew that other agents had interested buyers does not change my opinion.

To conclude, there is a lot to what seems like a simple question.  Ultimately, it “appears” that our forms and contracts allow us to represent more than one buyer interested in buying the same house but I am not sure there is sufficient guidance as far as what to do when this situation comes up.  I have disclosure and confidentiality concerns.  I think each client should be allowed to make that decision.  I would guess that both would like to know about the other even if wanting their own interest kept quiet.  Suppose one cares and the other doesn’t?  Is it fair for one to know but not the other?  There is that word again, “fair”.  Trying to work this out once the situation comes up is too late. 

Let me add two thoughts.  First, this is not the same as a listing agent sharing the details of your client’s offer with another agent or having them let you know that other agents have made offers on a property that interests one or more of your buyer clients.  You must tell them that information.  However, you have no fiduciary duty to the listing agent, the seller or any other agent’s buyer clients.

My second thought is more of a question.  Suppose you write and present an offer for one buyer-client and it is rejected or countered without leading to having a signed agreement of sale.  Do you have the right or authority to tell another buyer-client the details?  While telling them what did not work with one buyer-client seems to make sense, perhaps that offer would work now if no one else has made a better offer.  Seller expectations do change.  Does telling another buyer how the seller countered an offer accomplish anything?  There is no guarantee that the seller would still be interested in that amount with a different buyer-client and, if the market is competitive, your current buyer client may only get one chance to make an offer.  Suppose you tell them a number and they lose.  An offer is more than the price and two buyers offering the same number may have very different terms and conditions.  Suppose the buyer-client whose offer failed decides to make another offer?

I am not trying to scare anyone but, if nothing else, I hope that people who read or listen to this will better understand how Real Estate works.  It is not retail where everyone is able to buy a product for a known price and there is ample supply.  Again, we do so much more than open doors and write contracts.  Real Estate requires experience, training and education.  It is not for everyone and it can get more complicated than it needs to be at any given moment.  Life would be easy if sellers would just accept their asking price or if buyers would just offer the asking price when they make an offer.  Of course, both of those statements are unrealistic if not ridiculous.  If they were true, you wouldn’t need a professional!  This is EXACTLY why I end my blogs and podcasts like this:

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations.

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

November 28, 2020

Delaware County PA October 2020 Residential Housing Report

Bright MLS has released their Residential Market Statistics (which they call Local Market Insight) for single family homes in Delaware County Pennsylvania through October 2020.  If you would like information about this or any other County or any specific municipalities in the Delaware Valley, please contact me.  I am only a text, email or phone call away!  I respond promptly to all inquiries.

The overall market continues to be affected by the pandemic and resulting economic impact.  However, generally speaking, the results in many areas are encouraging and, as always, your experience may differ depending on your location and how you have been personally impacted.  As I always say, the decision to buy or sell Real Estate is a personal one and the current environment typifies that.

The report compares current year-to-date results to one-year ago, same time period.  As with all Real Estate statistics, two things are true.  First, the performance within individual zip-codes can and will vary significantly from the overall County.  Real Estate is local and results can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and even block to block.  There is no such thing as a “national” Real Estate market any more than there is a national weather forecast so, whether you may be thinking about selling or buying, please contact me for details about your areas of interest.  I can provide current information and keep you informed about the evolving market.  Deciding whether it is the right time to sell or buy is a personal decision typically involving a number of variables.  I can provide the knowledge and insight to help you decide what works for you.

My second point is that, unfortunately, all Real Estate statistics involving sold data is stale.  This is especially true if you are relying on Internet valuation models which use recorded data rather than up-to-date MLS information.  Even then, while a sale may be reported as settled or closed today, the real question is when was the offer negotiated?  Typically, sales can take 45 to 60 days to close so the market today may be different.  Up-to-date information, even if not perfect, is important!

As far as the statistics, there were 7282 units listed for sale through October 2020 compared to 8133 listed through October 2019, a decrease of over 10%.  Low inventory levels are the cause of related data points.  There were 5684 closed sales through October 2020 compared to 5879 through October 2019, a decrease of over 3%.  The median selling price through October 2020 was $250,000 compared to $227,500 through October 2019, an increase of almost 10%.  The large decrease in properties being listed had a relatively small effect on the number sold while substantially increasing their selling prices.  Again, these numbers vary throughout the County:  the underlying data shows a wide range of results in all categories among the 49 different municipalities in Delaware County.

Generally speaking, low inventory levels in some areas have produced multiple offers and a frenzy among buyers, some of whom may live to regret a hasty decision to get a property under contract.  During the shutdown when “in-person” Real Estate activity was not permitted, many buyers made offers “sight unseen”, some without inspections to improve their odds.  The effects of that remain to be seen but Real Estate, perhaps with the exception of those acquired strictly as “investments” with documented income, is generally not something given its expense and complexity that the typical buyer would want to purchase without an in-person showing let alone removing the protection of an inspection contingency.  Technology, however advanced, has its limitations.

What about the properties that did not sellMany came off the market and remain unavailable.  As the pandemic has evolved, some properties did come back on the market but many have not.  Did owners delay, change or give up their plans?  Buying activity has been strong but the sellers may be reluctant to allow showings or may have issues they are dealing with.  My only concern is whether people are making an informed decision or reacting to what they “think” is happening in the market.

For example, I recently sat on an Auxiliary Tax Assessment Appeal panel and heard almost 1000 appeals by people generally questioning whether their proposed assessed value is realistic or not.  While I understand their concern about how the new assessments based on July 2019 market values will affect next year’s tax bills, many are saying that the pandemic has lowered selling prices which is a debatable statement.  Whether true or not is easily demonstrated but, regardless, the new assessed values are based on July 2019 long  before the current pandemic was known.

Buyers and sellers need to do the same planning and preparation that those tasks typically require.   Anyone looking to sell or buy needs to understand their local market and decide how to react to the pandemic as a “variable” that was not here last year and, hopefully, will be gone in the near future.  However, the effects of buying and selling remain for years.  They are important decisions and likely require the knowledge and insight that a professional can provide.

I tell my clients that I cannot guarantee that their house will sell if it is on the market but am fairly certain that it won’t if they take it off the market.  Anyone trying to sell now may have less competition and more offers to consider.  Buyers may have more competition and fewer houses to consider.  Hiring an experienced, trained and educated professional is more important than ever.

Despite the pandemic, every house will not sell.  Houses may get showings without generating offers unless buyers think they are priced within the range of their perceived “worth”.  Most property listings whose contracts are canceled or allowed to expire have asking prices considered high for their market and/ or they were poorly marketed, meaning that some buyers and agents may not have even known that a house was available to look at or purchase.  Some buyers may even make “full price” offers just to control the process only to have remorse later as inspection results are revealed. Of course this may well depend on the ratio of buyer and sellers so there is more to this than raw statistics.

If a market has a lot of inventory, some buyers may not be willing to look at houses priced high compared to the rest of the market:  why try to negotiate a price down when other similar properties are available at more competitive prices?  Many sellers open to negotiating their price will never get the chance.  I will be happy to discuss specifics with you.

The overall economy is coming back but many are still hurting financially.  Statistics aside, what are you planning to do?  Real Estate is generally a long-term investment unless you are looking to fix and flip it or planning to move within a short period of time.  There are opportunities out there.  As with the stock market, it is very difficult to pick the best time to make a move.  All you can do is get the best available information, determine what is in your best interests and then start the process.  I am a phone call or email away and getting started is easy once you take action.

If you want or need to sell any type of Real Estate, now or in the future, whether you tried and did not succeed before or are planning for the first time, it is never too early to start the planning and preparation.  Please do not wait for what you think is a better or the best time to start.  Buyers look all year long and can only see and buy properties that are available to see.  Based on what we experienced this year, is waiting for Spring something you would consider?

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations! 

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

October 25, 2020

Delaware County PA September 2020 Local Real Estate Market Insight

Bright MLS has released their Local Market Insight statistics for all single-family homes, meaning both detached and attached, in Delaware County Pennsylvania through September 2020.  If you would like more detailed information about Delaware County or any other County or any specific municipalities in the Delaware Valley, please contact me.  I am only a text, email or phone call away and I respond promptly to all inquiries.

The overall market continues to be affected by the pandemic and resulting economic impact.  However, generally speaking, the results in many areas are encouraging and, as always, your experience may differ depending on your location and how you have been personally impacted.  As I always say, the decision to buy or sell Real Estate is a personal one and the current environment typifies that.

This report compares current year-to-date results to one-year ago, same time period.  As with all Real Estate statistics, two things are true.  First, the performance within individual zip-codes can and will vary significantly from the overall County.  Real Estate is local and results can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood and even block to block.  There is no such thing as a “national” Real Estate market any more than there is a national weather forecast so, if you are thinking about selling or buying, please contact me for details about your areas of interest.  I can provide current information and keep you informed about the evolving market.  Deciding whether it is the right time to sell or buy is a personal decision typically involving a number of variables.  I have the experience to provide you with the knowledge and insight critical to helping you decide what works for you.

My second point is that, unfortunately, all Real Estate statistics involving sold data are stale.  This is especially true if you are relying on Internet valuation models which use recorded data rather than up-to-date MLS information.  Even then, while a sale may be reported as settled or closed today, the real question is when was the offer negotiated?  Many sales take 45 to 60 days to close, sometimes longer if there are issues, so the market today may be different.  Up-to-date information, even if not perfect, is important!

As far as the statistics, there were 6417 properties listed for sale through September 2020 compared to 7370 listed through September 2019, a decrease of 12.9%.  Low inventory levels are having a major impact on the Real Estate market in many areas, with many buyers competing.  There were 4893 closed sales through September 2020 compared to 5296 through September 2019, a decrease of 7.6%.  Compare units listed to closed sales and it is obvious that many houses did not sell.  The median selling price through September 2020 was $250,000 compared to $230,000 through September 2019, an increase of 8.7%.  Interestingly enough, all statistics just for September 2020 are much improved over September 2019, suggesting that the market has continued to rebound after a sub-par spring.  Again, these numbers vary throughout the County:  the underlying data shows a wide range of results in all categories among the 49 different municipalities in Delaware County.

Generally speaking, low inventory levels in some areas have produced multiple offers and a frenzy among buyers, some of whom may live to regret a hasty decision to get a property under contract.  I still see people who regret decisions they made or did not make during the last boom.  During the shutdown when “in-person” Real Estate activity was not permitted, many buyers made offers “sight unseen” or without inspections.  The effects of that remain to be seen but Real Estate, perhaps with the exception of properties acquired strictly as “investments” with documented income, is generally not something given its expense and complexity that the typical buyer would want to purchase without an in-person showing and inspections.  Technology, however advanced, has its limitations.

What about the properties that did not sellMany came off the market and still remain unavailable.  As the pandemic continues to evolve, some properties did come back on the market but many have not.  Did owners delay, change or give up their plans?  Buying activity has been strong but the sellers may be reluctant to allow showings or may have other issues they are dealing with.  My main concern is whether people are making an informed decision or reacting to what they “think” is happening in the market.  As always, some opinions are just that.

For example, I am sitting on one of five Auxiliary Property Reassessment Appeal panels in Delaware County and to date my panel has heard over 600 appeals by owners questioning whether the new assessed value assigned to their property is realistic or not.  Many who purchased their homes during the past few years are telling us that they overpaid for their homes and they are questioning why their assessments are being based on what they actually paid.  It remains to be seen how people buying this year feel going forward.

Buyers need to do the same planning and preparation that buying always requires.  Selling involves the same planning and preparation as in the past.  Anyone looking to sell or buy just needs to understand their local market and decide how to react to the pandemic as a “variable” that was not here last year and, hopefully, will be gone in the near future.  The reassessment adds another dimension of uncertainty as far as what your tax rate will be going forward.  As always, the effects of buying and selling remain for years.

I tell my clients that I cannot guarantee that their house will sell if it is on the market but am fairly certain that it won’t if they take it off the market.  Anyone trying to sell now may have less competition and more offers to consider.  Buyers may have more competition and fewer houses to consider.  Hiring an experienced, trained and educated professional is more important than ever.

Despite any pandemic, every house will not sell.  Houses may get showings without generating offers unless buyers think they are priced within the range of their perceived “worth”.  Most property listings whose contracts are canceled or allowed to expire have asking prices considered high for their market and/ or they were poorly marketed, meaning that some buyers and agents may not have even known that a property was available to look at or purchase.  I have recorded a blog and a podcast on that very subject based on two very recent experiences, one with a seller and the other with a buyer.  Some buyers may even make a “full price” offer just to control the process only to have remorse later as inspection results are revealed. Of course this may well depend on the ratio of buyer and sellers so there is more to this than raw statistics.

If a market has a lot of inventory, some buyers may not be willing to look at houses priced high compared to the rest of the market:  why try to negotiate a price down when other similar properties are available at more competitive prices?  Many sellers open to negotiating their price will never get the chance.  I will happy to discuss specifics with you.

The overall economy is coming back but many are still hurting financially.  Statistics aside, what are you planning to do?  Real Estate is generally a long-term investment unless you are looking to fix and flip it or planning to move within a short period of time.  There are opportunities out there.  As with the stock market, it is very difficult to pick the best time to make a move.  An educated consumer faces better odds than a lucky one!  All you can do is get the best available information, determine what is in your best interests and then start the process.  I am a phone call or email away and getting started is easy once you take action.

If you want or need to sell any type of Real Estate, now or in the future, whether you tried and did not succeed before or are doing it for the first time, it is never too early to start the planning and preparation.  Please do not wait for what you think is a better or the best time to start.  Buyers look all year long and can only see and buy properties that are available to see.

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations! 

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

October 3, 2020

Data Integrity: How Accuracy Impacts Searches and Profits

“Data integrity” ensures that reported information is accurate and can be relied upon.  In Real Estate this could be the status of a property, the price, the type of property and its features.  The importance of accurate information cannot be overstated as people make costly decisions based on what is reported.

A seller needs a “ready, willing and able” buyer to complete a sale.  Buyers “acquire” Real Estate information from a variety of sources.  They expect that all properties matching their search criteria will be in their search results so that they can evaluate them and decide whether to take any action.  Suppose they get wrong information or they do not know that a property is available?  They may never get to see it so they cannot buy it.  Houses may sit on the market unsold causing the listing agents to ask the sellers for an unnecessary and costly price reduction which reduces their proceeds but does not make it any easier for buyers to find their property in their search results.  Think Google search.

Errors will affect a market analysis for both sellers and buyers.  Sellers looking to price their property according to its location, features and condition may rely on bad information causing them to overprice or underprice their property.  Their house could sit on the market unsold or they could accept less than they should have.  Buyers need accurate information when deciding how much to offer a seller.

Houses that do not sell typically have a pricing or a marketing problem.  By marketing I mean wrong or missing “searchable” property features, missing or poor-quality pictures and missing or poorly written property descriptions/ remarks sections.  In addition to excluding properties that really matched their search criteria, poor marketing may cause buyers to dismiss properties because they “look” bad.

Bad information can also impact the mortgage appraiser.  They evaluate selling prices based on reported comparable sales.  They rely on and verify what is reported but how would they know if something is missing?  Appraisers rely on pictures, features and the public remarks to try to identify the prior sales most similar to the house they are appraising.  What is the cost of inaccurate or missing information?  If relying on bad information makes it appear that a buyer paid too much, their sale may stop unless the seller lowers their asking price OR the buyer comes up with more money OR they somehow work it out.  Mortgages are based on a percentage of the appraised value so errors matter.

To conclude, data integrity is a BIG deal.  Many sellers have wasted months or even years on the market when they really had little chance of selling given the inaccurate information.  I call these “fatal errors”.  Marketing exposes property information to potential buyers, their agents and anyone else who may need or want to rely on what they hope is accurate information.  Garbage in; garbage out!

The Internet has made this more complicated.  Most buyers “shop” online, many even after hiring an agent.  The MLS syndicates property information to the major search engines.  If the MLS information is inaccurate, this magnifies the problem because the information is going directly to the consumer, unfiltered. Your printout is literally like a resume.  Unless your house is on a well-traveled street exposing your “For Sale” sign to lots of traffic, the MLS and Internet may be the only ways anyone will know you want to sell.  Does that make you feel comfortable?  What is the cost of delaying your plans or being asked to accept less money than you should?  What does your printout look like?

I recently met two couples looking to work with me, one to buy and the other to sell Real Estate.  Both plans involved my searching the market to identify comparable properties.  Let me briefly discuss my experiences with both.

First let me discuss the buyers.  They are ready to buy their first home, have saved the necessary funds, done a little exploring on their own and are ready to conduct their search.  We discussed their budget, their “needs” and their “wants”.  Fortunately, my experience enabled me to share how the best search can get messed up because listing agents or those they utilize to upload the details of their property listings often enter incorrect information or, just as bad, incomplete information.

These buyers had two specific “wants”:  a porch and a yard.  I performed a search without those features, found 26 “results” and sent them to my clients.  Then I did two additional searches, adding the two specific “wants” separately.  I found only 3 listings that showed there being a porch and only 3 showing some yard.  I knew that seemed low but never expected the results to be so wrong.

I looked at the more basic search with 26 results and identified an additional 17 properties with porches, raising the real total to 20, and found an additional 21 properties with a yard, raising that total to 24.  How pathetic!  If I wanted to take the time I might review the pricing history to see how long the incorrect listings had stayed on the market and then to see how many took price reductions.  The bottom line is that I assume nothing:  porches and yards are salable features but not present on every home so not entering them when they are present can be costly.

The other couple is looking to sell a 4-unit building.  It features a large lot with a detached 2-car garage and ample parking so nothing is truly comparable.  However, determining a range of potential pricing should not be as difficult as it was.

Using my experience, I knew that I had to start my analysis by looking at multi-unit properties without specifying the number of units.  When I do this I often find “commercial” properties, meaning they offer more than 4 living units, but that did not happen here.

My search identified 22 properties.  7 were listed as offering 2 units; 1 was listed as 3 units; 1 was listed as a 4 unit.  All were correct but there were 22 in the search results?  13 properties were listed as only having ONE UNIT!  So sad and so avoidable!  My best guess is that the people who uploaded the data thought “unit” referred to “buildings” and not leased, income-producing units.  Who entered the information?  Did the property owners know?

Of the 13 errors, 11 offered 2 units and 2 offered 3 units.  Had I been searching specifically by number  of units and not known better, I would have missed information that could be helpful to these sellers.  I wonder if any buyers missed these 13?

One additional point.  Only 7 of the 22 showed annual income, an important measure used by investors.  I understand that some of these buildings had vacant units but think it important to enter “projected rent” rather than assuming that every investor knows the area they are searching.  Many investors own Real Estate located far from where they live.  One agent actually had the monthly rent instead of the annual rent.

The bottom line is that buying and selling residential or investment Real Estate can be challenging enough without hiding property from people.  Data integrity issues can cause buyers to miss the best listings and some sellers may take needless price reductions when price may not be an issue. 

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

HIRE WISELY: We are not all the same!

May 20, 2020

PA Governor Amends Covid-19 Executive Order:  Real Estate is Now “Essential”!

Since March 19, 2020, the PA Real Estate market has been in a form of suspended animation.  For those agents who followed the law, business stopped on a dime.  Properties that went “under contract” prior to that date were allowed to move forward although many municipalities and contractors were not willing or able to help complete the sale.  Even then, many of those owners were frustrated in their efforts to buy their “next home”.  Some ended up paying two mortgages.

 

Otherwise, agents were not allowed to conduct business “in person”, owners with “active” listings could not have actual showings and buyers could not visit properties to see inside.  Business could be conducted “virtually” which likely worked better with “under contract” properties since those prospective buyers had likely seen the interior of their intended purchase.  Properties that had been inspected were in the best position although getting to settlement had its issues especially if a municipal inspection needed to be done since many of those departments stopped doing business.

 

Owners still looking for buyers had issues.  Most buyers are reluctant, even in a competitive market, to make an offer without actually being able to see the interior.  Buying “sight unseen” happened but I liken it to “online dating” where someone tells or shows you what they want you to “know”.  What could go wrong?  At least that was better than going on a “blind date”!

 

While I respect different “business models” and understand that some buyers and sellers needed a “creative” solution to work past our being the only state where Real Estate was considered “non-essential”, buying “sight unseen” is risky.  For a few hundred dollars a buyer could use a property inspection as a way out.  While not intended as legal advice, it happens.  Some buyers cannot afford to waste any money so this may not have been an option for them.  What about a seller who risks this happening to them?  If the listing agent follows the rules, the property history may stigmatize the property if others thought there were issues with the house whereas the problem was really the buyer.

 

Fortunately, there is a new “dawn” albeit with some restrictions.  Some sellers and buyers will jump at the opportunity; others may choose to wait to see what happens.  How many are currently unemployed and unable to get financing?  How many sellers need to buy their “next home” and are not ready to compete or who feel that the “right one” is not yet on the market?  If possible, some sellers may want to get their house sold even if it means renting for a short time.  At least their purchase won’t be tied to a sale and they may be able to determine if they really like an area they were considering.

 

As I always say, you cannot “time the market” so I encourage buyers and sellers to determine what is in their best interests.  I am an experienced, trained and educated REALTOR and can offer the knowledge and insight to help you evaluate what is best for you.  Assuming that people follow the guidelines and requirements for resuming Real Estate activity, my hope is that PA continues to improve so that we can avoid a set-back.  Time will tell.  Either way, I can help you now or later!  I do suggest doing some planning and preparation so we can do an effective and efficient campaign when you are ready.  That could make all the difference.

 

In the meantime, please visit my web site, listen to my podcasts and read my blogs.

 

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

 

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

April 2, 2020

The Spring Market is Delayed

The coronavirus is having a major impact on the world, our country and most of us.  My deepest sympathy goes to everyone who has been personally impacted in any way.  Life is very different today than it was just a few weeks ago.  Let me discuss Real Estate.  I am not minimizing or dismissing any other profession but I am a REALTOR and Real Estate is a major component in our economy.  It will be crucial for our recovery.

The “spring market”, the peak selling season of the year, has usually begun by now.  Many owners want to move after school has ended or before enjoying the summer.  However, the pandemic has essentially stopped the typical spring market, perhaps delaying it for months.  Whatever the long-term results of this, it touches on something I see and say every fall and winter.

Fall, specifically September and October, is typically the second wave of Real Estate activity.  While Real Estate can and does sell every day of the year, there are really two major seasons.  After summer and enjoying the great outdoors, I suspect some return home from vacation feeling claustrophobic as they adjust to spending more time indoors while others want to sell before the new year.

What is interesting and happens every year is that many owners who were unsuccessful trying to sell, decide to wait until the next spring.  Some are frustrated by the process; others want to enjoy the coming holiday season.  Every year I remind people that houses sell every day, that most houses look their best in the fall and, as we are clearly seeing NOW, who knows what spring will bring?  There are many who came to regret leaving the market in 2008.  Then the market crashed.  How many might have sold and moved on had they committed to trying to sell?  And now this.

We started off 2020 with nice weather so the Real Estate market continued to perform well.  Some still kept their houses off the market.  Inventory levels remained low which undoubtedly concerned many wondering where they might move.  What happens to their plans?  Does this describe your situation?

How long will this last?  What will life be like afterwards?  What will be “normal”?  How quickly will our booming economy return?  There are so many questions but we have to look forward, don’t we?

In PA Real Estate is not considered an essential industry so we are not allowed to have direct contact with prospective clients.  Properties that were already “under contract” are moving forward, likely relying on technology, although there are hiccups.  Property “due diligence” inspections, mortgage processing and municipal inspections are facing hurdles requiring cooperation to continue moving forward.

However, trying to sell houses that have been recently listed or still on the market unsold is very difficult.  We are not allowed to show houses in the usual way.  We can rely on technology which is great but that puts buyers and their agents into the position of doing business without actually visiting a homeWhat could possibly go wrong?  Taking new listings is equally difficult if we are following the rules.

I  am confident that this will pass.  Hopefully quickly!  Owners will have an opportunity to decide whether to move forward with their plans, albeit delayed, or wait until some later date, perhaps “next spring”.  I am here to help you and provide knowledge and insight to help you make an informed decision.  Whether sooner or later, we can get back to normal and move forward with your plans.

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

March 14, 2020

Buying Real Estate “Sight Unseen”

When we experience a “seller’s market”, meaning that there are more buyers looking than there are properties available for them to buy, the competition often leads to frustration.  This is especially true when getting to see inside becomes an issue.  It is not unusual for a buyer to have to bid on several houses before getting an offer accepted.  At least they got to see inside and make an offer, right?

A new policy created by NAR, the National Association of REALTORS, and implemented by Bright MLS has added to the drama.  As a result, some are making offers to buy Real Estate “sight unseen”.  What does this mean and what are the implications?

We have experienced “seller’s markets” before and we will again.  Generally speaking, a combination of low mortgage interest rates and low inventory causes houses to sell quickly, making many buyers and sellers act differently than they might in a more balanced market.  Asking prices may be the “floor” rather than the “ceiling” when it comes to making an offer and a buyer, assuming they have an opportunity to see inside a house and make an offer, may not get a second chance so it may be wise to offer their “highest and best” from the beginning.  However, the regulations covering appraisals are stricter than in the past so offering above the asking price is not always the best answer.  What to do?

Many buyers, frustrated by competition, bidding wars and houses they cannot get in to see, are trying to be creative.  They have several options in addition to the amount of their offer such as:  offering a high deposit, being flexible with a settlement date and waiving inspections.  Some may give up or delay buying.  Many sellers are overwhelmed by multiple showings, multiple offers and, as unusual as this may sound, not knowing whether their highest offer will appraise and, if they get an acceptable offer, whether they will even be able to find their “next” home.  One of the ironies of this type of market is how a seller who has a lot of leverage when selling will react when they are buying without having the same leverage.  The shoe may literally be on the other foot.

Enter the new NAR policy called the “Clear Cooperation Listing Policy”.  It has caused confusion and frustration although most REALTORS understand why it was necessary.  Frankly, it is impossible to deny its purpose.  It requires brokers to upload property information to the MLS within 1 business day, excluding weekends and national or state holidays, of any public advertising which includes a “For Sale” sign and social media.  Violating the policy may result in a substantial fine.  Absent public advertising, we are required to upload the information to the MLS within 3 business days.

Some think the new policy a direct assault on a long-standing business model known as the company or office “exclusive listing” where listings were taken and “publicly advertised” but kept off the MLS because the listing broker would not offer to compensate buyer agents working for other “brands”.  Real Estate prides itself in having many different business models as long as we operate within our various rules and regulations.  However, some of this creativity may appear to conflict with our core principles.  I discuss “exclusive listings” in an article entitled “Coming Soon” and will mention that, while still a legitimate business model, they are no longer able to be “publicly advertised”.

The MLS platform is a member-only web site for sharing property information among members to “cooperate” with them for our mutual benefit.  We are “match makers”, meaning that we help bring buyers and sellers together.  A major aspect of this is that we sell each other’s property listings. The creation of the MLS platform made our jobs easier by increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of how we marketed and learned about property listings.  Before the MLS, agents and companies were on their own.

The goal is to expose Real Estate to the broadest possible market which should theoretically “protect and promote” the interests of both sellers and buyers as required by Article 1 of the REALTOR Code of Ethics.  Presumably, this should allow sellers to achieve the highest possible selling price and the best terms in the shortest period of time by ensuring that as many buyers and agents as possible would be able to access property information, schedule showings and, if a buyer liked what they saw, make an offer.  It essentially levels the playing field by making information and properties accessible to all.

Unfortunately, we still live in a society where some people or groups are excluded from opportunities to see and buy Real Estate.  Undercover investigations and complaints from the public still show this to be true even if not as obvious or pervasive as before.  It is unacceptable when anyone is prevented from being able to buy housing and live where they want to live when affordability is not an issue.

The reaction to any major policy change such as this one can be interesting and it remains to be seen how this one plays out.  Will any listing agent blatantly disregard the policy despite the MLS stating their intention to impose a severe fine for violations?  The public, including agents representing prospective buyers, also has options for responding.

What can a buyer or agent do when they cannot get the information they need about a property listed as “Coming Soon”?  The “Coming Soon” status means no showings are allowed to anyone but the MLS should provide information, shouldn’t it?  The concern is that some agents and their buyers, including the listing agent’s own buyer-clients, are being allowed to view these properties and make offers before they are made available to the public.  Instead of converting to an “Active” status many of these go right to “under contract”.  What are an agent and buyer supposed to do?  They will know the “projected” date when the listing status will change to active, allowing showings, and may even know when offers will be presented.  However, those dates can change without notice so should they wait and hope or take some other form of action?  Waiting may result in failure.  Some are making offers on houses without the buyer or their agent actually seeing inside.  This raises two concerns.

First, we have a fiduciary duty to represent our buyer-clients but what is our risk in preparing an offer on a home that neither of us has seen?  Suppose neither has actually visited the location to see the exterior or the neighborhood?  While I am certainly not a contractor or an inspector, I have seen a number of things both inside and outside houses that made me question the pricing or condition of a home and, when asked, I have offered my opinion on whether to pursue a house, how to negotiate the price and what to inspect.  Obviously an agent needs to make sure they are not exceeding their level of competence.

What options does a buyer have if they come to realize that a house is not as nice as they had hoped or expected based on the exterior or the MLS presentation including pictures and public remarks?  Suppose the listing has poor quality or no pictures and little or nothing in the way of a description?  Most agents will tell you that an inspection contingency provides a “way out” and, while it does, it has a cost to the buyer and it takes time.  Would they make an offer “sight unseen” without inspections?  I could go on.

Second, as a listing agent, as attractive as it may sound to sell a client’s house without their having the  inconvenience of showings, suppose a buyer uses a home inspection to terminate a sale when there is really nothing wrong or a seller would make any repairs they might request?  Perhaps they offered a low deposit and are willing to forfeit it to terminate a contract?  A failed sale stigmatizes a house, perhaps even worse than a lengthy time on the market.  If a house comes back on the market quickly after going under contract it generally means that something happened during the inspection contingency time frame.  That could negatively impact future interest as well as the eventual selling price.  Some listing agents do not report that a house is “under contract” to avoid all of this.

I have heard both sides and wish I had an answer.  There is no perfect solution and buyers and sellers, including their agents, will always have a different perspective.  If a buyer wants to make an offer without seeing inside, is this really the best option?  Where is the liability?  I am not sure.

Realistically, if I were a seller I would be reluctant to accept any offer without a showing especially if it contained a frivolous or easy way out unless there were a substantial, perhaps even a non-refundable, deposit.  If I were a buyer I would be reluctant to buy “sight unseen”.  At the very least I would want to walk the exterior to identify potential concerns and include them in my offer.  Otherwise, a seller might say a house was being sold “as-is”, another contentious term, and was priced accordingly or that any concerns should have been factored into the buyer’s offer.  The cost to inspect and potential time lost could prevent a buyer from seeing the best house.  Does it make sense to reduce buying Real Estate to essentially being like a “blind date” where neither side has any real obligation?

While “seller’s markets” will occur over and over again, the new “Clear Cooperation Listing Policy” has added a new twist to an old theme and time will tell how we all adapt to it.  The first fine for violating the new policy will have a major impact going forward.  A “buyer’s market” will change much of the drama.  Either way, there will always be another twist.

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

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