Active Rain September 27, 2010

“I Don’t Want to Waste My Time (so I’ll Waste Yours)”

J Philip Real EstateHaving represented buyers and sellers for 14 years I can appreciate the job that licensees have to do for their clients on both sides of the transaction. I may expound on the role of the listing agent in another post, but for now I want to address a trend I am seeing more and more in Westchester agents who identify themselves as a “buyer’s agent.” 

First, an example: A buyer sees a home they like, and they email their agent that they’d like to see it, but have a few questions. One of the questions is whether or not the complex is approved for FHA financing. The buyer agent emails the listing agent, who says that he knows of no prohibition on FHA financing but they should ask their loan officer, who can run the address. The “buyer agent” then tells the buyers that the listing agent knows of no problem with FHA. They see the home, like it, and make an offer. After inspections, contracts, and shopping around for a mortgage, the FHA issue is forgotten. The buyer’s attorney and loan officer, seeing that the townhome is Fee Simple ownership (not a condo), do not ask about FHA. 2 weeks after the question is asked by the -ahem- “buyer’s agent,” FHA financing is chosen as the best option. 3 weeks later, the deal dies when the bank refuses to do a spot approval on the unit because the complex is not FHA approved. 5 weeks are wasted. 

Sound unlikely? It isn’t. More and more *ahem* “buyer agents” are nothing more than glorified chauffeurs and door openers who do little to no research to advocate for their client. They lazily ask the listing agent to do their research for them and sloppily interpret what is told-or not told- them, passing it along to their buyers to speed to process along to the closing and the collection of the check. 

While we can criticize listing agents for inaccurate information, it is irresponsible for buyer agents to accept listing information as gospel, and it is antithetical to buyer agency to not independently verify code compliance, clear title, or to rely on listing aqents to research curveball questions from their buyers.

I’ll repeat that last part in case it wasn’t clear: If you are a -ahem- “buyer agent” and your client has a question on a property that requires independent verification, you are screwing your -ahem- “client” over by not getting the answer yourself and demanding that the listing agent research the answer, especially if the property hasn’t been shown yet.  

I’ll restate that if it wasn’t clear: It takes chutzpah to ask the listing agent to do your research for you. 

Among the questions posed to me lately that a buyer agent ought not rely on the listing agent to answer:

  • Is the complex FHA approved?
  • Are there any rules governing additions?
  • Are there any prohibitions from the town on a privacy fence? 
  • Will the setback rules allow for expansion of the garage? 
  • Can we build an addition? 
  • Does the co op allow pets/renting? 
J Philip Real EstateThe listing agent is not the advocate for the buyer and is not obliged to bird dog unique questions. Buyers are civilians; they are going to ask millions of questions- subdivision rules-mineral rights-setback rules-zoning-and their buyer agent need to diligently get answers from  primary sources, not the other side. It’s like Johnny Cochran calling Marcia Clarke and asking how he could get OJ off. It doesn’t work that way. Many agents (and their assistants! don’t get me started) don’t like it when I tell them this. But I’m not splitting my fee 50/50 when I do 90% of the work. I’ve got my hands full over here, thank you.  
Yet more and more, I am getting buyer agents asking me to do their work for them. They don’t want to show the place if I can’t get them answers, they say. No wonder buyers are gravitating toward rebate based operations- they don’t see their agents as earning their fee! Anyone can unlock a door and write up an offer. Break a sweat! Pull that property card. Call the building department. Call the HOA and verify rules. Hiding behind the representations of the listing agent does not absolve buyer agents from liability, nor does it make a good shortcut for honest work on behalf of the client, who is entrusting their financial future to people who are really just working for themselves. Buyers deserve better. 
9/28 Note: Thanks for all your comments. All real estate is local, and if you work in an MLS where possible financing is a required field, please bear in mind that my local MLS does not. Again, all markets are local. Substitute instead setback rules for expansion, a deck, or the feasibility of a fence. Buyer agents should always verify what is represented, and should research hypothetical scenarios on which the MLS is silent from primary sources in the interest of their client. The listing agent cannot, and should not, make representations about altering the property unless all plans and permits are in place and current. In Westchester and Putnam counties, possible financing is the responsibility of the buyers agent unless the property is a co op, then requirements must be posted in required fields!