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


New Regional Sales Contract Coming in 2012

Yesterday, the Barbara Ciment Team (Barbara, Mel & Emily) attended a very informative Long & Foster Institute presentation by Suzanne I. Cytryn Feinstein, Esquire, who reviewed the New Regional Sales Contract Coming as of January 1, 2012.

A summary of some major changes that a non-expert would appreciate, include:

1. Elimination of “Required Repairs” in Property Condition Paragraph

2. Removing Financing Contingency with “Firm Written Commitment”

3. New Conventional Financing Addendum protects Earnest Money Deposit if low appraisal

4. Appraisal Addendum Terminates at deadline without seller notice

This was a very technical review with lots of legalese that I will not try to paraphrase.

 If you are buying or selling a home after January 1, 2012 in the Capital Region, then you need to be sure that your sales people and lawyers are familiar with how this new contract changes many years of custom and usage.

Let one example suffice.  Item 1 above refers to the elimination of required repairs by the seller for major systems, such as, heating, air-conditioning electrical and plumbing.  With this new contract, a buyer must positively assert that requirement as it is no longer part of the boilerplate. This means that when a buyer has a home inspection, the buyer must detail all issues and not assume that some systems are the responsibility of the seller.  

Some people have criticized this particular change saying that it makes the contract “as is”.   I disagree.  In fact,  I believe that the drafters  chose to make the parties to a sale think through all the issues and settle their differences directly, rather than try and use boilerplate language that may be appropriate in some case and less so in other cases. In general, I like most of the changes that are in the new contract. Future blogs may detail these items as they become interesting.

Barbara Ciment, Realtor