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Flipping The Question On Its Head

Editor’s Note

As an aging member of Genration X trying to figure out where he left his car keys, I was unable to put together a really cool video as counterpoint. But in the interest of an even battle, I’m writing this post on my computer as I drive down I-17. And you – yes, you in the blue Pontiac Sunbird – please get out of the left lane if you’re only going to drive 52 MPH. Wait … I’m not in the left lane anymore???

Looking At This The Wrong Way

Yesterday’s lockbox debate left me flummoxed. At its heart, it’s the perfect example of real estate being local. For those working in very tight, very small markets – say Connecticut – it probably makes sense to set appointments with the listing agent. But for those of us in a place like Maricopa County – larger than Connecticut and several other states – it’s a bit more problematic.

But really, that’s neither here not there. Because the question as I see it is the customer service that we’re providing to our seller (even if they’re really a client and not a customer, but client service sounds like I ought to be arranging a visit from some nieces.)

Start to Finish Service

So what else can I do to provide outstanding customer service start to finish? Well, if I’m already present while the buyers are going through the house and am answering any questions, reading their body language and listening to their perception of the home’s value, I also probably ought to write the purchase contract. I’m a certified instructor with the state, the other agent probably isn’t, and it would be poor service if I presented a vague, incomplete or otherwise wonky contract to the sellers.

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Sure, there are agency issues but we’ll get to those.

Thinking about it further, we probably ought to write the contract in the sellers’ living room and present it at a town hall meeting at the kitchen table. If the buyers have any questions the sellers can answer them then and there, but we should be able to get everything hashed out in a few minutes time.

When the time comes for inspections, since there’s no lockbox, I’ll need to be present again. Which is fine, because then I’ll be versant in whatever issues the inspector might uncover. And since I’m already there and the buyers already are there, I may as well write up the inspection report just to make sure everything is in the right place (scary to think how many agents don’t know the difference between a warranted item and a negotiatble repair.)

Can’t do this at the kitchen table but as part of my service I’d make sure it was done in a timely fashion for all parties involved.

As a good listing agent I’ll already have spoken to the buyers’ lender when I received the LSR to make sure the loan was legit. If one call’s good, then a dozen calls are even better. So I suppose I’ll continue checking with the lender to make sure the loan’s on track.

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And then there are the calls to escrow I’m already making to ensure everything’s moving forward. I’d never attend the buyers’ side of the closing when I represent the seller, but maybe I should just in case there are other questions to answer.

Which All Leads To …

… the ultimate question, which is this: why is the supposed buyers’ agent receiving a dime in this deal? Because of the incredible customer service I’ve rendered for my seller (which later transferred to the buyer), the buyers’ agent in this scenario would have done absolutely zero. Which would make them the laziest REALTOR in the world, by my reckoning.

Once you’ve abrogated your first basic responsibility – to show the home to your buyers – where do you stop surrendering the basics of what you’re supposed to do. Put another way, if your knowledge level is such that you need me there to point out the sconces and upgraded cabinets, you’re probably better off leaving the transaction to me anyway.

This suddenly has become a dual agency situation, which will cause some to head for the pitchforks and the torches, but let’s face it … the buyers’ agent wasn’t representing the seller in this case anyway.

Understanding the Sellers’ Perspective

And, for the record, I do understand the perspective given in the comments about a seller wanting to make sure their agent does everything possible to sell their house. I’ve heard the same.

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What I tell my sellers is it’s my job to market the home and get it sold. How I do it shouldn’t matter quite as much as that it gets done. The most elaborate, expensive marketing in the world is useless if the home doesn’t actually sell.

I’m not pushing samples at Costco and trying to get someone to buy a box as they move on looking for the 12-pack of paper towels. I’m selling a (generally) six-figure property that more often than not is sold because of an emotional connection between buyer and home. The features that mean most to you may mean nothing to a buyer, so pointing them out ad nauseum will hurt the cause, not help.

Keep in mind, this only applies to situations where the buyers already have an agent. Clearly, if someone without an agent wants to see the property, I’ll be there.

After all, the buyers couldn’t work the lockbox without an electronic key even if they tried.

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Written By

Jonathan Dalton is a Realtor with RE/MAX Desert Showcase in Peoria, Arizona and is the author of the All Phoenix Real Estate blog as well as a half-dozen neighborhood sites. His partner, Tobey, is a somewhat rotund beagle who sleeps 21 hours a day.



  1. Matt Stigliano

    March 20, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Jonathan – I should have known you’d have a reply. I love how you lead from step to step of what you should be doing. Some may call it exaggeration, but I see it pretty clearly.

    Nice post.

  2. Chuck G

    March 20, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Finally….A voice of reason.

  3. Jonathan Dalton

    March 20, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Thank you, gentlemen!

  4. Elaine Reese

    March 21, 2009 at 9:19 am

    I read the “lockbox” article and didn’t bother to comment because IMO it was a disjointed concept and totally unrealistic. NOT having a lockbox on a home is poor customer service in this area where listings may be 20 miles apart or more.

    Sellers hire me to MARKET their home such that it sells. A piece of that marketing is providing top-notch materials in the home so that all the “extra” info about the special features and BENEFITS of the home are available for all to read, view and take with them. That’s my job.

    If I’m spending my day criss-crossing two counties to be at every showing, then I’m not doing what I should be doing which is to market the home to the most buyers possible. Actually being in the home during showings would have an opposite affect in that it would DETER buyer’s acceptance. Thus, BEING IN THE HOME would be POOR customer service.

  5. BawldGuy

    March 27, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Thanks Jon, you said what I was thinking, only all our words are found in Webster’s.

    Using Sellers as analogous to owners of baseball teams, I remember explaining to my young son, Josh, why Cecil Fielder made so much more than our own Tony Gwynn. After all, Tony hit about 70-100 points better for average, and struck out about 20-30 times yearly, something Fielder accomplished monthly with little effort.

    I explained to him baseball decides who wins and who loses based upon the number of runs scored. Gwynn averaged about 50-80 RBI a year, with about 8-12 homers. Meanwhile Fielder was knocking in 120+ runs a season, not to mention his 30-40+ homers.

    Teams don’t win cuz they out hit the other guys, they win cuz they outscore ’em.

    Sellers pay agents for closed sales. Period. The rest is what goes into the hot air balloon and is called ‘service’. Singles hitters get paid well, but RBI kings get wealthy.

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