Just when I think I have run out of things to say, I get an email from a friend like the one I received last week:
"Thank you for such a nice evening . . . while everyone may not have been as interested in the very clear nuances of TOAST, I would like to offer that we did not even delve into the logical extension of CROUTONS, proving I do have some restraint . . ."
Okay, that's just too good an opening line to pass up . . . .
Let me set the stage: I had invited a very small and impromptu gathering of friends over for dinner at my house a few weeks ago, which included my buddies, Devereuax and her husband Larry. Devereaux, has recently started a new jam business (Company Jam - delicious!) and had brought along a fresh jar of homemade blackberry as a hostess gift, which my husband promptly opened and started eating right out of the jar! (He does that.) Thus began the discussion of toast . . . .
"For me, it's practically a religious experience," another guest unapologetically exclaimed. "I start every morning with toast. It completes me!"
Forget politics, TOAST really makes for a lively debate!
Was one's preference for dark or for light toast? (Depends.)
What kind of bread makes the best toast? (Sourdough.)
Jam or jelly? (Definitely jam.)
And do English muffins qualify? (Mixed reviews. )
Then we moved onto toasters and toast racks (silly) and why they even exist??? Suffice it to say, that the topic of "toast" was exhaustively explored. And just for the record, we hadn't spoken about French toast either (although I do have strong opinions about it and even have a lovely recipe for it that involves JAM! You'll find it at the end of this column).
Who knew, I had invited a group of "toast aficionados" to my house?
Today's Sellers and Buyers are aficionados as well. More and more, they are so well versed on the topic of Real Estate, that one might wonder if they need a Realtor at all? (They do.) Could it be that with so much information now available online that Realtors are going the way of the Dodo bird or worse yet - the Travel Agent? (No, we're not.)
Why? Unlike travel, Real Estate can't effectively be purchased online. Without walking through the available inventory, exploring the spaces, mentally moving in your furniture, envisioning your life in the home, walking the neighborhood, and thoroughly understanding the nuances of the property, the consumer is at a real disadvantage. (I feel the same about booking vacations online. I MISS Travel Agents. Let's please bring them back.)
Moreover, guiding Sellers and Buyers through a very competitive marketplace, heated back and forth negotiations, and sometimes lengthy and complicated escrows, requires more than a basic license to practice Real Estate. Successful transactions require a deep understanding of the surrounding community, the current marketplace, and a proven track record.
More importantly, but far less obvious to the uninitiated Buyer or Seller is the fact that online agents don't have relationships with the other agents in their communities, don't penetrate the market in a meaningful way, have little if any presence, won't know the stories behind the pending sales, and will probably not be aware of homes that are available "off market" or coming soon (nor regrettably, do out-of-area agents). And that's not just a REAL disadvantage, it's often a FATAL one.
And while, there are discount real estate companies that offer their services for less than the standard fees, or alternatively, attract clients with the a promise of a rebate, it is important for the consumer to understand exactly what they are, and ARE NOT, getting with these online companies. If you choose this path because you believe there is a savings to your bottom line, let me assure you that you are more than likely TOAST! (This is the case with mortgage lenders as well. You NEED a personal relationship with your mortgage broker/banker.)
Which isn't to say that there are NO successful outcomes with a rebate Brokerage, an online house, or an out-of-area agent, but that in a competitive marketplace, you have undoubtedly reduced your chances considerably. And why, when better options exist? Since the fee is typically paid by the savvy Seller (and not the Buyer) why compromise your opportunities? Just as price and terms are going to be critical to the outcome of your offer, so too, is the representation you seek. (Btw - most reputable agents are happy to refer business and collect a hefty referral fee!)
While the C.A.R. license allows a Realtor to write on any listing in the state of California, it's hardly in your best interest. And as a seasoned agent, I am here to assure you that client referrals happen ALL THE TIME. (That isn't to say it doesn't sting, but that we've developed a pragmatic approach to it and rather tough skin.) Business is business.
Finally, whom you choose to work with, is entirely up to you (and should be). Just make sure that the decision is based on logic - not on misplaced loyalty or the desire to save a buck online (it isn't worth it). There are enough emotions that accompany a deal without making your choice of Realtor one of them. So work locally and save the toast for breakfast. You want to eat jam, not be in one!
BTW Miss D, we've finished the jar. Hint, hint, and thank you!
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 600 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.