Thursday, May 29, 2008

Wal-Mart and Real Estate commissions

I am biting off a hard subject here today. Realtors and their commissions. I read an editorial this morning in USA Today. It had to do with a recent agreement, under pressure from court action, between National Association of Realtors (NAR) and so called internet real estate brokers. One such broker is Redfin which is an online brokerage that supposedly gives its users a big break on real estate commissions. The meat on the table is access to the 800 something Multiple listing services (MLS) around the country. Redfin insists that they should be able to access that information just like all other brokerages. NAR decided that they would share the information. Let it be said that they sure don't share that knowledge with me, a licensed real estate broker, unless I pony up about $1200 a year. The big, all knowing, USA Today Editor accuses the real estate industry of collusion, antitrust violations and downright meanness. He is as uninformed as he is opinionated.

First off, I am positive that this editor does not donate his time to USA Today. I will bet that he makes a pretty decent salary and probably some incentives. Why? Because he knows how to run a newspaper, or at least a department within a newspaper. So we can assume that the nasty old profit motive runs deep to his core beliefs.

The belief that the commissions realtors earn is out of line is not a new concept. When I first got into this business I had no clue how a Realtor made a living. I was advised that the average Realtor makes about $36,000 per year. I would be willing to bet that Mr. USA Today makes a lot more than that in a year. You must then take into consideration that a Realtor pays all, and I mean ALL of their own expenses. No company car, gasoline credit card, health benefits, etc. Add a 15% self employment tax on top of that and you will find that most Realtors make less than minimum wage. That does not take into consideration the costs for membership to the MLS, Licensing fees, Education costs, Lock box dues, cell phone, PDA, laptop computer,ISP costs, errors and ommissions insurance, etc. Then a salesperson has to split their commissions with their broker. My first broker splits were 50%. The negotiated 8,7,6,5% commissions are split between the Listing agent and the Selling agent, one representing the Buyer and the other the Seller.

I was fortunate to enter the business 6 years ago when the boom was on. I attained several listings from people who knew me and thought me to be a pretty savvy business man and wanted me to sell their houses. I had this "friend" who was a Broker who went around behind my back telling the people I had listed that he would have charged them 1/2 of what I was charging them to sell thier home. I confronted him and he told me that we Realtors make too much money in commissions. He spent his career in the Public sector so I laughed him off as just not quite understanding the good old American profit motive.

I told him this story that was told to me by an economics professor when I was in college back in Alabama. Seems that there was this manufacturer of widgets located up around Sylacauga, Alabama. He turned out 10,000 widgets a day which he sold for $1 each. He had several employees and business was good and life was rewarding to all involved. One day his assembly line came to a sudden and alarming halt. Over the next couple of days he called his engineers together to address the problem. Nothing, 4 days passed without a single widget rolling off the assembly line. They finally had no other choice but to ask for the Tech rep of the manufacturer of the assemblage machinery to come have a look. Into Sylacauga on a private plane comes the Tech rep. He comes to the factory with an attache' case in hand and walked up and down the frozen assembly line. He finally stopped at one particular place and opened the atache' case. He pulled out a hammer and gave a mighty whack to the line and it came to life rolling along without a hitch. Business was back on track and the widgets rolled off the line as before. A couple of days later the CEO recieved an invoice from the manufacturer for $10,000. The old man was livid. He told his Secretary to call the company and demand an itemization on the invoice. The itemization arrived a few days later. It said: $1 for hitting with a hammer. $9,999 for knowing where to hit. He paid the bill.

I remember back around 1988 putting my home on the market by myself as a For Sale by Owner. Interest rates were 18% on mortgages. Mine was 13.5%. No one was selling houses. My little FSBO sat there for two years. All the while I wondered what in the world I would do if someone came along and wanted to buy it. I had no clue what the next step would have been. I finally woke up and gave it to a Realtor and about 3 months later I attended the closing and got a check. I had little clue as to what happened in between.

You pay a Realtor for what they have between their ears. I have sold a little more than $10 million dollars since I first entered into the business. I have handled over 100 transactions, not all successfully. One thing I have learned along the way is that if you have seen one real estate transaction then you have seen one real estate transaction. They are all unique one to another. You need the professional by your side. Please see my last post.

In our modern world we have, including myself, developed a Wal-Mart mentality. We are all about saving the dollar, getting the best deal. Can we find it at Wal-Mart? You know they ALWAYS have the best price. What about Craigs List, E-Bay, etc. ? Let's take the Realtor out of it and then we can really shuck some corn and save a boat load of money.

I cannot for one minute imagine some faceless person on the internet in front of a keyboard on a computer caring about me in a real estate transaction. I mean really caring about me and my best interests first. You need someone you know well. A person who you trust and believe will put your best interests first and foremost. Most people only buy or sell a house 1-2 times in a lifetime. Wal-mart, E-Bay, Craigs List, Amazon discounting just does not apply in that scenario.

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Enjoy this bottom line philosophy of Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell:

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