In most cities, the Sunday paper, local magazines, bus benches, and even theater programs are full of ads placed by Realtors looking for new business. The ads have an eerie sameness the faces staring out of them tend to look a little too eager, the smiles a tad too radiant, the eyes a little too bright with hunger. Everyone has heard about the big commissions Realtors earn, so it's no wonder they are practically jumping out of their billboards to grab your business. What many people don't know is that the commission is all most Realtors earn; they make no other salary. A star agent in an upscale market can become very wealthy selling real estate, but many Realtors are middle-income folks who get into the field because they like houses, enjoy interacting with people, and relish the freedom the job allows them. Whatever type of agent you choose to work with, the key to success is understanding his priorities and limits, and making sure he understands yours.
Behind the Scenes: Working Hard for the Money
Satisfying customers and gaining their trust is how Realtors build a loyal clientele, but it has become more challenging in this age of Internet access. Because it's so easy for people to view homes online and drive to open houses themselves, Realtors must prove that they are more than just neighborhood tour guides. According to Rhonna Robles, who has been selling real estate in Dallas for 26 years, "The biggest misconception of people who have not used a Realtor before is that they can do all this themselves and save the commission. If you have a good Realtor, they're going to save you money. They're going to help you get what you want and get a better mortgage. They really earn more than they make."
To convince consumers of this, the Realtor must woo her clients with a menu of skills and resources the average citizen does not possess. She must negotiate the deal, explain the legal transactions, and recommend home inspectors, appraisers, mortgage brokers, and the like. She must be patient, diplomatic, and acutely observant. Says Robles, "A lot of times I can tell what a client wants before the client himself knows, because I see how they physically react when we go in someplace. By the end of the day I may say, 'You keep telling me you like old houses, but the ones you get excited about are the new ones.'"
The majority of buyers and sellers hold nine-to-five jobs, so the Realtor must work evenings and weekends to be available whenever a client has time to view a home. A good Realtor is aware of every new listing and is prepared to swoop a prospective buyer into viewing it before another Realtor gets there. It's a constant hustle, and throughout all the excitement, disappointment, and emotional turmoil, the Realtor must remain upbeat and smiling.
Depending on the location and the housing market, the real estate business ranges from competitive to cutthroat. Each year, hundreds of new agents are licensed in every major metropolitan area. Seventy percent of these newbies will take down their shingle after only one year. The survivors are those who have the best general knowledge of the field and the neighborhood, who follow through, and who have enough drive to compete with established Realtors. Perhaps most important, successful Realtors have good working relationships with other Realtors. The field may be competitive, but there is also a lot of "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine." Says Robles, "You want someone who's not just a shark, someone who's a really nice person and who the other agents are going to want to work with so you can get the inside scoop. When the market's hot, it's important to know about things before they hit so your client has a little more time to mentally prepare. Sharks may be tough negotiators, but in a hot market you don't need a tough negotiator. You're just trying to get a house and you're going to pay over asking price anyway."
Word-of-mouth recommendations account for 60 percent of an agent's clients, so it's crucial that she maintain a superior track record and a reputation for being honest, accessible, and eager to please. That means going the extra mile to deliver service. With just a bit of knowledge about how Realtors and the real estate transaction work, the ball is always in your court.