Are real estate agents obsolete?

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Are real estate agents obsolete?

Here’s a question that has come up again lately: are real estate agents obsolete? You know, of course, that I’m going to say that we are not, even though it was predicted that the whole industry would be fading into the sunset by now. Somehow, we are thriving as an industry.

A bit of history

First, a bit of history, because you know that’s how I roll.

In the dim, dark past — the days before I got licensed — real estate agencies came into being as a matter of expediency. They were clearinghouses for people looking to buy and sell their properties. It was, quite honestly, a very efficient system.

That efficiency held it in place, substantially unchanged for years and years. There were a few minor tweaks here and there, but by-and-large the whole system remained pretty much unchanged for a long, long time.

Then came the internet.

About the time I was getting started in the sales side of this business, the possibilities of online marketing and research in the real estate space were becoming more and more apparent. Every new idea generated a ton of other new ideas. Real estate agents, it seemed, were on their way out.

If all the buyers and sellers had access to all the information, why  would anyone need someone to handle the transaction? I mean, really, how hard could it be to “list” a property on an online database, and wait for the offers to pour in?

The predictions of the death of the real estate agency model came from everywhere, and a lot of them pointed to the collapse of the travel agency model as proof that consumers could get along quite well without any agent skimming thousands of dollars of profits out of homeowners’ pockets, thankyouverymuch.

Let’s talk about that for a minute.

The “dying” agency model

First, the travel agency model hasn’t died. It has merely shifted focus. It’s still very much alive and well, living in the corporate space, but I’ve seen instances where it’s starting to creep back into the retail space, because, dangitall, travel agents do provide a valuable service for those who find a need of it. Although consumers are getting used to making their own travel arrangements, they are also finding that the actually like having someone take care of all the details — and solving the problems when the problems inevitably arise.

Think about the consequences of making bad decisions when planning your annual vacation. You might end up in a bad hotel, or not realize that there is a fee for something you had no idea existed — and there’s always a fee for something, isn’t there? — or you might not be able book the cruise/tour/outing you had you heart set on (because, unknown to you, the travel agents had all available bookings locked up). It would make for a disappointing vacation, but depending on your outlook, it could become the source of much laughter in the years ahead. “Live and learn,” you’d say, and resolve to do better next year.

Over time, you’d get pretty darned good at making travel arrangements, as long as you stay on top of all the changes that come at us faster and faster every year. Do it often enough — even just once a year — and you can’t help but get pretty darned good at it. Your friends might even seek you out to provide help and guidance. Ironic, isn’t that? You’ve become a de facto travel agent.

Real estate vs. travel

Now compare that to a real estate transaction. How many of those will you undertake in your lifetime? Two? Three? Four?

Folks, you don’t get good at something you only do four times in a lifetime.

Now factor in that each one of those transactions was separated by years. The rules of the game — both in the way the business operates given current technology and local customs; and in the actual, legislated, on-the-books-laws — change regularly. Have you kept up on all those changes? Are you sure you know what the current rules are?

Despite its enormous impact on the national economy — and it’s huge! — real estate is really a local business. The way it is practiced varies wildly from region to region. Each region, and by that I do not necessarily mean “state,” has its own customs and requirements. If you’ve moved from one region to another, you need to know that that rules are different now. Are you prepared?

Above and beyond all of that, there’s a huge fallacy in the assumptions made about buying and selling real estate yourself. If you look carefully at the arguments for a do-it-yourself approach, you’ll see that they invariably end with listing and finding properties online. Can you list and find properties online? Of course you can. The skills required for that are pretty minimal. Once you’ve got the property on the internet, though, the real fun begins.

And by “fun,” I mean “consequences.”

So think back a minute on the consequences of making poor travel arrangements. What’s going to happen? Probably not a lot more than a disappointing vacation. If you make mistakes in your plans, chances are good that you can make at least some corrections “on the fly” as you are vacationing, so all is not lost. If your real estate transaction falls apart, you might not be able to say that.

It could very well mean that all is lost, and it will take you a lifetime to recover.

That’s where real estate agents come in. We work in this business — in this locale — every day. We keep our skills honed, and stay up-to-date with laws, regulations, and market conditions. When you hire a real estate agent, that’s what you’re paying for: protection and representation throughout the transaction. Putting your property online, or finding homes to show you is only one small part of what we do. Our job, really, begins once the home is listed or found.

Always has been, and always will be.

Until next time,




Randall Brennan, REALTOR

Certified Negotiation Expert
Certified Investor Agent Specialist
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