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Op/Ed

Brokers, agents taking on too many listings and hurting homeowners

With technology connecting agents and consumers in new ways, the industry has responded by taking on more and more listings, but who really pays the price? Homeowners. Let’s look at a new study on the topic.

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It stands to reason that with a finite number of work hours a week, agents, no matter how efficient or technologically empowered they might be, can handle a limited number of listings successfully at any given time.

Yet some brokers and business models today—and agents themselves–are flirting with disaster by taking on too many listings to reap rewards from a system built upon commission-based compensation. The emergence of discount models that seek to increase agent productivity with technology based tools may be making the problem worse.

It stands to reason that if this hamster wheel keeps spinning out of control, somebody is going to lose. Now there’s proof. The big loser is the home seller, but it stands to reason their disappointment will rub off on the agencies and agents that that push too hard for profits.

A new study published in the current issue of the Journal of Housing Economics, How Many Listings Are Too Many? Agent Inventory Externalities and the Residential Housing Market, was conducted by Scott A. Wentland, Xun Bian and Bennie D. Waller of Longwood University in Farmville, VA and Geoffrey K. Turnbull of the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

It found that agents who take on too many listings (15 or more) will end up selling them for 3.0 percent less and will take significantly longer to sell them (129 percent more time) than agents with modest listing inventories (2 to 7 listings).

Moreover, they found that home sellers are the victims of a system that rewards agents with inventories that are too large

Too Many Clients, Too Little Time

“Agents representing 15 or more listings may be trying to represent ‘too many’ clients at one time, resulting in a substantially longer marketing duration and an important source of illiquidity for numerous homes in this market…The compensation structure in the real estate brokerage industry constantly puts agents in situations where they must balance their own interests with various clients’ interests. Agents are rewarded only if the property sells, as traditional full service broker compensation does not take into account the effort exerted to sell a particular property,” the authors concluded.

The study looked at whether agents have an incentive to take on too many listings—at least from the point of view of their clients. Additional listings may represent additional broker commissions, but they also place greater claims on the broker’s time and energy, which in turn can have adverse sales performance consequences for their clients. The dilution of agent effort and agency costs by very large numbers of listings adversely affects home prices and liquidity, the study found.

The study consisted of 21,450 properties residential properties obtained from a Virginia multiple listing service (MLS) for the period April 1999 through June 2009. Roughly half of all listings were represented by agents with medium inventory, where the agent is representing anywhere from two to seven additional listings. Nearly 10 percent of listings were represented by agents with very high inventory where agent inventory exceeded 15 or more additional listings. Nearly 17 percent of listings in the data set were represented by agents with a high or above average number of listings, from 8 to 14 additional listings. Nearly 20 percent of homes sold with listing agents who had one or zero additional inventory on the market. The bulk of the low listings were likely represented by agents who work part-time.

Baseline results showed that a small increase in agent inventory is associated with a slight discount in price and a substantial increase in time on market. The magnitude of the marginal effects are small, which is consistent with the expectation that one additional listing may not impose a very high marginal cost. An increase in agent inventory (9 listings) reduces the sale price by only 0.6 percent and increases marketing time by 13.6 percent, or approximately $1,000 and 15 days on average, respectively.

However, if the listing agent representing a seller had a very high number of other listings (i.e., 15+), that home generally sold for approximately 3 percent less and remained on the market for 129 percent longer than a home listed with an agent with a more modest inventory (i.e., 2 to 7 listings). This amounted to 142 days compared to the reference group whose time on market was on average 110 days. Despite the fact that this group represented only 10 percent of their sample, the result was still striking.

Greater Inventory = Lower Price, Longer DOM

“It is clear from the results that there is a relationship between agent inventory and sales outcomes that sellers care most about: selling price and time on market. Greater agent inventory is associated with a slightly lower price and a significantly higher time on market,” wrote the authors.

The study also compared sales of agent-owned homes with homes owned by clients and found that agents generally sell their homes for approximately 1.6 percent more than client properties. Inventory competition increases the time on market by 26 percent for clients, but only 12 percent for agents. In sum, agent-owned homes still take longer to sell with additional inventory, but not as long as client properties. This supports the theory that the inventory effect is driven primarily by agent incentives.

In the end, the authors place blame on agents, not their brokers or business models. “The results imply that agent incentives to secure additional contracts and potential commissions generate negative externalities for other properties in their inventory. Greater inventory diverts selling effort from existing inventory, resulting in longer time on market for all houses in the inventory. Agent effort to list properties has a direct effect on selling effort itself—a relationship previously overlooked. Further, the effect appears to be causal as well, in light of the identification strategy of employing an owner-agent interaction. It is clear than agent incentives drive this effect,” they said.

This story was originally published on June 08, 2015.

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Steve Cook is editor and co-publisher of Real Estate Economy Watch, which has been recognized as one of the two best real estate news sites in the nation by the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Before he co-founded REEW in 2007, Cook was vice president of public affairs for the National Association of Realtors.

Op/Ed

A hugely dangerous challenge of the Internet of Things

(EDITORIAL) The Internet of Things is here, with all manner of soft AI voices and shiny Bluetooth bits. But how long can we count on it staying?

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LG Alexa internet of things

So, robot apocalypse. The Internet of Things machines have their cold metal fingers all up in our data, our houses, our sand dunes and/or porn.

And for what? What do they offer in exchange for this unprecedented invasion of our day to day lives?

Seamless, user-friendly automation to help with a thousand daily tasks, demonstrably improving our quality of life.

That’s… that’s actually a pretty good offer! Nice work, robots.

It comes with catches, and we’ve covered those, but Day One bumps and blunders are part of owning tech. They generally get engineered out.

What I want to talk about is Day 100, or 1000. Because the important word in “Internet of Things” isn’t “Internet.” We have the Internet. We can confidently expect the Internet to continue being a big deal.

But “things” is an important word. Things are distinct from tech. With tech, buying the thing and futzing with the thing are part of the fun, especially for practicing nerds like your narrator. Tech is new, and the excitement of a new game or a new phone can take the edge off, say, a server crash or a quick trip to tech support and back.

What about things? No early adopter aura in history will get a customer to ignore a fridge full of rotten food. Fridges need to work, period. So does your thermostat and your car. All those things are charter candidates for the full IoT overhaul, and they’re all capital T Things, not tech. They aren’t shiny toys people can live without for a week or four. They’re expected parts of daily life, things that need to work on Day 1, 100, and 1000.

Are companies preparing for that? Are the startups rising out of the blue-light-white-plastic Stuff Renaissance prepared to rebrand as global service providers, doing the hard, unglamorous, absolutely necessary work of digital maintenance?

Bigger question: are they prepared to guarantee security while they do so? Because anything with digitized bits needs patches and updates to function, and if it can download patches and updates, it can download things that are not patches and updates. No one wants to chase a botnet out of their microwave. Are the companies invested in always-on Things standing up and saying they’ll take responsibility for indefinitely securing and maintaining the infrastructure they intend to profit from?

Short answer, no. They’re not. Operations departments tend to be vanishingly small, painfully understaffed, spectacularly underpaid. Let’s be real,: we don’t prioritize stuff like that. We’re talking the digital equivalent of the guy who chases the raccoons out of your HVAC, and that sounds entirely too much like work.

Maintenance is not sexy.

But it’s absolutely necessary. It’s generally just the beginning of a thing. It gets the wheel rolling, and that’s not to be undersold.

But the IoT wheel is most definitely rolling. The issue is keeping it in motion, making it a wifi-level universal usage standard, not a 3DTV fad.

That won’t get done in a meeting. That gets done through long term adoption, and long term adoption will be about attracting, training, and retaining people willing to do the hard work of maintenance and customer support.

The Internet of Things wants to be a major step forward in the infrastructure of daily life. I am incredibly in favor of that. But daily life works because it’s the full time job of a whole lot of people to make sure it does so. So to Internet of Things companies, I say – pay them, treat them well, make your organization the best place in the industry for them, or be left behind by the people who do.

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Op/Ed

The texting sin to never commit with your clients, period

(EDITORIAL) Clear communication with clients is important (and that’s an understatement). This study found one error that separated the sincere text from the insincere.

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texting smartphone tech device rfid

I have enough issues making myself understood when I speak with someone face-to-face. Now I need to pay attention to how I text so as not to be misconstrued.

According to the latest findings from Celia Klin, associate professor of psychology and associate dean at Binghamton University’s Harpur College, the mere use of a period (.) can make a person seem less sincere compared to say, using an exclamation point (!), which, by the way, ranks higher on the sincerity meter.

The study, led by Celia Klin of Binghamton University, and published in Computers in Human Behavior, suggests ending your text messages with a period makes them seem less sincere to the receiver.

Participants in the study read short exchanges with responses that either did or did not contain messages that ended with a period.

When the messages were in text message form, as opposed to handwritten notes, the messages that ended with a period were generally rated as being less sincere than messages that didn’t end in a period.

Klin points out that “Texting is lacking many of the social cues used in actual face-to-face conversations. When speaking, people easily convey social and emotional information with eye gaze, facial expressions, tone of voice, pauses, and so on.”

Instead, adds Professor Klin, people who text rely on what they have available to them: “…emoticons, deliberate misspellings that mimic speech sounds and punctuation.”

I’m not sure what the alternative to texting is. Lifehacker.com recently published its findings of what it feels are the five best alternative texting apps. But at the end of the day (or end of the sentence in this case) you are still texting and thus still setting yourself up for the dreaded improper use of a period (.)

That said, Lifehacker’s survey revealed that WhatsApp leads the pack. WhatsApp is a cross-platform messaging system that supports Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Blackberry devices. WhatsApp is popular because the service is backed by hundreds of millions of active users, and allows you to send text, photo, and voice/video messages to individuals and groups for free using mobile data or Wi-Fi. And there’s not a Period (.) in sight. You can see the rest of the top five contenders by clicking here.

In terms of expressing myself, the use of emoticons works perfectly for me. Trouble is, within a professional context the cartoon-like emoticon looks out of place. That’s OK. It’s the next best thing to speaking in person (which I’d rather do anyway) and it sure beats worrying about period (.) misuse.

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Op/Ed

Why you should lose the sweat pants if you work from home

(EDITORIAL) While it’s tempting to cozy up and work in your most comfortable sweatpants or yoga pants, there are a number of reasons that dressing up to go to work can help increase work from home productivity.

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work from home

There are many often discussed benefits to working from home. If you’re not spending time on a daily commute, that means you have more time to work on personal projects and share with your family and friends. Plus it saves you gas and/or fare money.

While it’s tempting to cozy up and work in your most comfortable sweatpants or yoga pants, there are a number of reasons that dressing up to go to work can help increase work from home productivity — even if you’re just commuting to your couch!

You should wear pants (yes, everyday).

When you look your best, you feel your best, and arguably work your best.

It’s pretty hard to resist the temptation of vegging out a bit if you’ve rolled out of bed and headed to your desk while still wearing pajamas. If you have no plan to get dressed for the day, the temptation to hit the snooze button until the moment you need to be present and accounted for will really work against you.

Your computer will say work, but your favorite oversized t-shirt says go back to bed.

When you’re working from home, planning to get up early and prepare for your day allows you to create a transitional space that will help distinguish your home life from your work life. Dressing for success, even if you don’t see anyone during your office hours, will drive your sense of purpose and help you carve out a more productive space. It will also signify to any family members or roommates that you’ve entered the workspace and shouldn’t be bothered.

If you work from a restaurant, coffee shop, or workspaces, it can make you more approachable.

If you’re not dressed for the part, those around you may assume that you’re spending your time recreationally. Even if you are constantly answering your phone, drafting emails, or working on a project. It’s deceptively easy to look like you’re simply browsing the internet or socializing in casual attire.

There are plenty of opportunities to network and meet new people, even when you work from home. You never know who you may end up connecting with, and dressing appropriately to your profession can send the message that you’re an expert and take what you do seriously.

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