Matchmaker, Matchmaker….Working as a Buyer’s Agent: Using the MLS

During my initial meeting with the buyers (telephone, email or in person), I always take careful notes about what my buyers want.  This starts the matchmaking process!  The list expands and contracts as we search for homes.  Making the list is where the trust begins….when I listen to my buyers’ requirements and watch the expressions on their faces as they open up to me with their wishes, hopes and concerns, I feel that first “connection” with them.  They need to know that I “get it” and that I am working for THEM…I need to understand them and what they want, and I have to prove that I can find the best match for them.  Once I have my list of requirements, it’s on to the search! 

But wait a minute…. Here’s another part of the story…. it seems to me that EVERY buyer these days has spent some time on the internet and, as we are getting that list of requirements assembled, they are already working off of a short list of houses that they want to see. They have cherry-picked this list from one or more of the real estate websites…and there are lots of websites that have information about houses on the market.  I get the sense many times that buyers think they can find the perfect house without an agent…so why bother with the agent?  If I can avoid using an agent, maybe I can get the house for a better price???

Access to these websites is free for the buyer, but nothing compares to the Agent’s Multiple Listing Service (MLS) in terms of information, history, and searchability!  Not only does the MLS have all of the homes on the market (not all of the public websites have ALL of the homes for sale….) but the MLS permits me to manipulate the price and characteristics of the house along with customizing my search for the specific buyer, i.e., the size, lot, special features, pool, neighborhood, etc.  It also provides me with a map feature so that I can work on more of the important requirements that the buyers want. 

Here are some recent ways I used the MLS to make that perfect match:

First-time buyers send me 14 homes that they want to see*:  Not too long ago, I started working with buyers who had already identified 14 houses that they wanted to see.  They had been working for weeks on their own on one of the popular public access websites and had all of these houses that they said met their requirements.  OK, good…this gives me a start.  I can really see what they want. 

I took the list and starting plugging each one into the MLS to do some research and (hopefully) narrow the search to a manageable number.  Here’s what I learned:  9 were already under contract (public websites are not always updated in a timely manner), 2 had small lots (they had two large dogs and needed at least .25 acres/fenced), one was a short sale (didn’t want that), and two actually turned into possibilities (although neither was the one that they bought).  What a colossal waste of time for them.  They were upset, but it drove home the point that Buyer’s Agents do have a valuable function!  So, I went back onto the realtor’s MLS, did a fresh search and identified several homes for their consideration that were not even on their list. 

Sometimes the search is not very difficult.  But other times, I have to change the parameters, change the city or zipcode to expand the search or mix it up in other ways to find good choices.  We found the perfect match fairly quickly and are now under contract.

Buyers want to make an offer*:  Here’s a fairly common scenario….buyers finally fall in love with the house and want to make an offer.  Typically, in this market, buyers don’t want to offer full price at the start…so they will ask me about the best starting price.  I can’t—and—don’t tell them what to do.  I tell them that I will check the MLS for comparable sales in the neighborhood.  (This is important because the house will not appraise at an unrealistic price, even if the buyer and seller agree on the price….I’ll chat with you about the appraisal another time.  It deserves appropriate discussion all by itself!)   If there aren’t enough recent sales in the neighborhood, I’ll usually expand the search to the zipcode and/or a close-by zipcode or neighborhood that has similar features.  With this information in hand (and this is information that the public sites do not have in one repository), we can go over how to craft the offer.  The MLS easily gives the Buyer Agent important information on recent home sales, comparable features, days on the market, and homes under contract but not “settled.”  Now the buyers have the empirical data that they need to negotiate from a reasonable position.

I can’t find a match for my buyers*:  Much as I hate to admit it, sometimes there is nothing on the market that makes my buyer fall in love.  I recently worked with buyers who had a really, really, really narrow and inflexible list of “must haves.”  We looked for months while their home was on the market.  Then finally, their house sold and they HAD to move.  Again….nothing currently on the market pleased them.  Reluctantly, they were considering renting a short-term apartment and putting their things into storage.  Ugh…that just took all the joy out of FINALLY selling their home.  Now they thought that they would have to move twice.

So, I had an idea….the MLS has a feature where I could search for homes that, for one reason or another, were once on the market, but now are off the market.   Maybe there would be a match in that group.  The MLS gave me all the information that I needed to expand my search to possible homes that no one was even considering because they weren’t in ACTIVE status.  Well, you can no-doubt figure out the rest of the story….I found a great match!  The “former” listing agent was so pleased that I found the property and the buyer went on to successfully bid and close in 30 days.

Again, the journey of the Buyer Agent has a lot of twists and turns.  I have my fair-share of stress but I love what I am doing because it gives me the opportunity to be creative in the ways I bring buyers and homes together.  In the end, matchmaking is lots of fun!  The right tools sure help!

Next:  Matchmaking with Seniors!

*identities have been changed to preserve the privacy of all parties

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Matchmaker, Matchmaker….Working as a Buyer’s Agent 1

Matchmaker, Matchmaker….Working as a Buyer’s Agent

Ah…the Matchmaker!  When we think about a Matchmaker, we typically think about how two people (who may not know too much about each other) are evaluated and measured in many categories and then are brought together and fall “in love” …all through the tireless efforts of the Matchmaker!  Matchmaking is even a part of our TV lives!  Who can resist watching Patti Sanger evaluate the tall, the short, the smooth, the awkward, the beauties and the hunks in her current cable hit TV show “Millionaire Matchmaker” and present her millionaires to a gaggle of prospective “mates.”  In the end, Patti hopes that her skills and intuition will lead her millionaires to the perfect match.

Being a Buyer Agent is real estate matchmaking!  Just think of the Buyer as my Millionaire!  Gotta find that perfect match….hmmmm.  Let’s get started!  Here’s what I do…I’ll typically meet with new buyers by telephone or email, chat a bit, and ask them the obvious questions: Where do you want to live?  How much to you want to spend?  Do you have to sell a house?  Preferred style of the home?  How many bedrooms?  Bathrooms?  Carpet?  Hardwoods?  Walk to METRO?  Size of lot?  Garage?  Are you pre-approved for a loan?  What’s your timeline?

With those answers, I begin my search on the MLS for homes that meet my Millionaire’s requirements.  Oh yes….another important step….gotta trust each other!  Obviously, we are still strangers to each other and I have to learn about the buyers and interpret what they say they want into the real world of homes on the market.  As a Buyer Agent, I work solely for the buyer.  But that isn’t necessarily what the Buyers think!  Buyers can be hostile.  Some think (and even tell me), “Oh, real estate agents only work for themselves!  No one is actually on “my team.”  Not so!!!  I prove to buyers how important it is for them to trust me and for me to trust them, as I lead them through the home search process.  I can’t tell you how many times I say, “If I can’t find you a home, either you’re not telling me what you really want….or I’m not listening to you!!”  Gotta trust and gotta listen!

And it’s definitely about falling in love!  Last week, I had three buyers who fell in love!

Move up buyers*:  Lovely couple.  This is what they told me (remember….I’m listening!):  They want a single family house, under $500K with at least 4 bedrooms, a large lot, great kitchen that they don’t have to renovate.  Hardwood floors.  First floor den and first floor laundry, double garage.  Those are the most important features.  Basically, they don’t want to have to renovate.  So, I searched for those features, ran an internet list for them, and sent them the list.  I asked them to look at the list and the pictures, narrow the list to no more than 5 homes that they wanted to see first, and then let me make appointments.

We opened the door to the first house on the new list. Bingo, I thought, this is “it.”  They surprised me, though, and said that they wanted a pool.  This doesn’t have a pool.  Ok, so now you’re telling me something that’s very important to you…you never told me that!!!  That’s why they want a large lot….they want to build a pool or purchase a home with a pool.  We saw 5 homes on that first day and they liked all of them.  I told them to go home and think about how they wanted to proceed.

Two days later, they sent me an email with two different houses that they wanted to see ASAP.  OH….and this is really interesting!  Now we’re going to look at two houses just under $600K.  So for those who are not math majors, we just jumped $100K.  OK….made those appointments and we saw the two houses.  The first one on Day Two was OK….it had a first floor laundry room, a first floor den, the garage, the large lot….but it had a lot of carpet. Ugh.  A turn-off for them.  So, we went on to the second home…and this is where I watched them fall in love!  5 bedrooms/3.5 baths.  All hardwoods.  Double garage and large back yard, but the houses are close together.  Kitchen is OK (not new).  No first floor den.  Laundry is in the basement.  I thought, “no, I don’t think this is it.”  I looked at her, sitting on the sofa.  She’s looking at him.  They are talking, shaking their heads, and getting all excited.  They are IN LOVE….with the HOUSE!  OH, the moment was exquisite!

First-time home buyers*
:  So this couple wants a townhouse within walking distance of a METRO.  Wants it in good shape, but they’re willing to do work, as long as it’s close to a METRO.  We looked at 4 homes.  They liked 2 of them.  As a matter of fact, he was positively over-the-moon for one of the townhouses.  I told them to go home and think about it.  An hour later, she calls me and tells me that she wants to see a house (instead of a townhouse)….just to be sure.  So, I took them to a house in their price range, near a METRO.  He is standing with me, after touring the home with her.  She is still wandering around.  The house is really gorgeous, but over-improved for the area.  I looked at him and said, “Forget the townhouse….she’s IN LOVE!”  We wrote the contract that night.

Renters want a specific area*:  Renters call me and wants to see a townhouse in a specific area.  They have to see it immediately because they want the “area.”  The next day, I meet them at the townhouse.  They toured and examined everything carefully.  I looked at their faces and could immediately see that this was just not “it.”  No, this was not “the one.”  One says she had to think some more.  But before we closed the front door to go back to our cars, I asked her if she would perhaps consider a single family house in the same area….not a townhouse.  How much? About  $20K more than the townhouse and it was completely renovated with new deck and screened-in porch.  Gorgeous granite and maple kitchen, new roof, new windows, new landscaping, hardwood floors, new bathrooms….a real “wow.”  I asked them to follow me to the house and, when they walked in, I could see that they, too, were in LOVE.  I’m getting them pre-approved for a loan and I hope to have a contract ready in a few days.

So, that’s how real estate matchmaking as a Buyer Agent works!  I really love being a Buyer’s Agent.  It’s so exciting, rewarding and fun to see that look on my clients’ faces when they find the perfect match!  Patti Sanger…move over!

Next:  How a Buyer’s Agent uses the MLS to find the perfect match!

*identities have been changed to preserve the privacy of all parties

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Barbara Ciment, Realtor