Real Estate Agent Web Site – Is it Really a Needed Tool For Today’s Real Estate Agent?

A real estate agent web site is a tool for many Realtor’s especially the ones who had a reason and a plan for getting one in the first place. Deciding to place your image and information online could turn out to be a big waste of money if you fail to structure a plan or specific goals for yourself. You can have the most attractive site online and if it is buried behind a million other websites, it would be like you never had one at all.

Lets look at a real estate agent web site from a Sellers point of view. A Seller wants their house or property sold as soon as possible, for the highest price and the best terms suitable to them. In order to secure the listing contract, you will have to convince the Seller that they should choose you over your competition to get those results. With today’s online technology, you will need to show your Seller how you will use your site to help achieve their objectives. Can you see how having yourself and listings online with your own personal site help you secure that listing?

Most agents who have their own real estate agent web site in my opinion are just wasting their money. Yes they can surely advertise that their clients will benefit from this tool but most agents really do not know how to use their site as a proper marketing tool. It just sits there in cyberspace floating around collecting space dust. Another danger besides wasting money is wasting your time. Real estate agents need to be talking to prospects everyday not sitting in front of a computer trying to become computer geeks.

Since there is an ever growing number of Buyers and Sellers using online services, it is strongly recommended that if you plan on being in real estate sales long term, decide to own and operate a real estate agent web site. The sooner the better. Here is why:

1. Keeps you in touch with your customers.
2. Captures buyers interested in your listing inventory which includes your M.L.S.
3. Captures interested Sellers wanting to list with you and your Brokerage.
4. Builds your image as a professional who is busy and successful.
5. Offers other vital information to your clients like “school information”.
6. Provides credibility for even the new real estate agents just starting out.
7. The list goes on.

Finally, a quick word about wasting time and money. Firstly, shop around for the best sites and the best service. You can find offers that require you to pay a monthly amount and that includes their ongoing support or you can find services that will build you the site for a one time fee. Do your due diligence here! Rather than using your new marketing tool as a distraction keeping you from your prospecting, enroll in some courses designed to help newbies like you. There is much to learn. Be patient and prudent and you too will be benefiting from all the advantages that having your own real estate agent web site will deliver.

Real Estate Agents and the Internet – How to Buy and Sell Real Estate Today

Then and Now

Ten years ago, a search for real estate would have started in the office of a local real estate agent or by just driving around town. At the agent’s office, you would spend an afternoon flipping through pages of active property listings from the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS). After choosing properties of interest, you would spend many weeks touring each property until you found the right one. Finding market data to enable you to assess the asking price would take more time and a lot more driving, and you still might not be able to find all of the information you needed to get really comfortable with a fair market value.

Today, most property searches start on the Internet. A quick keyword search on Google by location will likely get you thousands of results. If you spot a property of interest on a real estate web site, you can typically view photos online and maybe even take a virtual tour. You can then check other Web sites, such as the local county assessor, to get an idea of the property’s value, see what the current owner paid for the property, check the real estate taxes, get census data, school information, and even check out what shops are within walking distance-all without leaving your house!

While the resources on the Internet are convenient and helpful, using them properly can be a challenge because of the volume of information and the difficulty in verifying its accuracy. At the time of writing, a search of “Denver real estate” returned 2,670,000 Web sites. Even a neighborhood specific search for real estate can easily return thousands of Web sites. With so many resources online how does an investor effectively use them without getting bogged down or winding up with incomplete or bad information? Believe it or not, understanding how the business of real estate works offline makes it easier to understand online real estate information and strategies.

The Business of Real Estate

Real estate is typically bought and sold either through a licensed real estate agent or directly by the owner. The vast majority is bought and sold through real estate brokers. (We use “agent” and “broker” to refer to the same professional.) This is due to their real estate knowledge and experience and, at least historically, their exclusive access to a database of active properties for sale. Access to this database of property listings provided the most efficient way to search for properties.

The MLS (and CIE)

The database of residential, land, and smaller income producing properties (including some commercial properties) is commonly referred to as a multiple listing service (MLS). In most cases, only properties listed by member real estate agents can be added to an MLS. The primary purpose of an MLS is to enable the member real estate agents to make offers of compensation to other member agents if they find a buyer for a property.

This purposes did not include enabling the direct publishing of the MLS information to the public; times change. Today, most MLS information is directly accessible to the public over the Internet in many different forms.

Commercial property listings are also displayed online but aggregated commercial property information is more elusive. Larger MLSs often operate a commercial information exchange (CIE). A CIE is similar to an MLS but the agents adding the listings to the database are not required to offer any specific type of compensation to the other members. Compensation is negotiated outside the CIE.

In most cases, for-sale-by-owner properties cannot be directly added to an MLS and CIE, which are typically maintained by REALTOR associations. The lack of a managed centralized database can make these properties more difficult to locate. Traditionally, these properties are found by driving around or looking for ads in the local newspaper’s real estate listings. A more efficient way to locate for-sale-by-owner properties is to search for a for-sale-by-owner Web site in the geographic area.

What is a REALTOR? Sometimes the terms real estate agent and REALTOR are used interchangeably; however, they are not the same. A REALTOR is a licensed real estate agent who is also a member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS. REALTORS are required to comply with a strict code of ethics and conduct.

MLS and CIE property listing information was historically only available in hard copy, and as we mentioned, only directly available to real estate agents members of an MLS or CIE. About ten years ago, this valuable property information started to trickle out to the Internet. This trickle is now a flood!

One reason is that most of the 1 million or so REALTORS have Web sites, and most of those Web sites have varying amounts of the local MLS or CIE property information displayed on them. Another reason is that there are many non-real estate agent Web sites that also offer real estate information, including, for-sale-by-owner sites, foreclosure sites, regional and international listing sites, County assessor sites, and valuation and market information sites. The flood of real estate information to the Internet definitely makes the information more accessible but also more confusing and subject to misunderstanding and misuse.

Real Estate Agents

Despite the flood of real estate information on the Internet, most properties are still sold directly through real estate agents listing properties in the local MLS or CIE. However, those property listings do not stay local anymore. By its nature, the Internet is a global marketplace and local MLS and CIE listings are normally disseminated for display on many different Web sites. For example, many go to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS Web site, http://www.realtor.com, and to the local real estate agent’s Web site. In addition, the listing may be displayed on the Web site of a local newspaper. In essence, the Internet is just another form of marketing offered by today’s real estate agent, but it has a much broader reach than the old print advertising.

In addition to Internet marketing, listing agents may also help the seller establish a price, hold open houses, keep the seller informed of interested buyers and offers, negotiate the contract and help with closing. When an agent provides all of these services it is referred to as being a full service listing arrangement. While full service listing arrangements are the most common type of listing arrangement, they are not the only option anymore.

Changes in the technology behind the real estate business have caused many agents to change the way they do business. In large part, this is due to the instant access most consumers now have to property listings and other real estate information. In addition, the Internet and other technologies have automated much of the marketing and initial searching process for real estate. For example, consumers can view properties online and make inquires via email. Brokers can use automated programs to send listings to consumers that match their property criteria. So, some agents now limit the services they offer and change their fees accordingly. An agent may offer to advertise the property in the MLS but only provide limited additional services. In the future, some real estate agents may offer services in more of an ala carte fashion.

Because of the volume of real estate information on the Internet, when people hire a real estate agent today they should look at the particular services offered by the agent and the depth of their experience and knowledge in the relevant property sector. It is no longer just about access to property listing information. Buyers and sellers historically found agents by referrals from friends and family. The Internet now provides ways to directly find qualified agents or to research the biography of an agent referred to you offline. One such site, AgentWorld.com, is quickly becoming the LinkedIn or Facebook for real estate agents. On this site an agent can personalize their profile, start a blog, post photos and videos and even create a link to their web site for free. Once unique content is added to their profile page the search engines notice!

Some have argued that the Internet makes REALTORS and the MLS less relevant. We believe this will be false in the long run. It may change the role of the agent but will make knowledgeable, qualified, and professional REALTORS more relevant than ever. In fact, the number of real estate agents has risen significantly in recent years. No wonder, the Internet has made local real estate a global business. Besides, Internet or not, the simple fact remains that the purchase of real property is the largest single purchase most people make in their life (or, for many investors, the largest multiple purchases over a lifetime) and they want expert help. As for the MLS, it remains the most reliable source of real estate listing and sold information available and continues to enable efficient marketing of properties. So, what is the function of all the online real estate information?

Online real estate information is a great research tool for buyers and sellers and a marketing tool for sellers. When used properly, buyers can save time by quickly researching properties and, ultimately, make better investment decisions. Sellers can efficiently research the market and make informed decisions about hiring an agent and marketing their properties online. The next step is to know where to look online for some of the best resources.
Internet Strategies

In the sections that follow, we provide strategies and tips on how to use the Internet to locate properties for sale and research information relevant to your decision to purchase the property. There are many real estate Web sites from which to choose and although we do not mean to endorse any particular Web site, we have found the ones listed here to be good resources in most cases or to be so popular that they need mention. One way to test a Web site’s accuracy is to search for information about a property you already own.

Finding Real Estate for Sale

Despite the widely available access to real estate listings, many believe that MLS databases continue to offer the most complete and accurate source of real estate information. Most MLSs now distribute content to other Web sites (primarily operated by real estate agents). An excellent starting point for MLS originated content is the national NAR Web site, realtor.com, which is also the most popular web site for searching real estate listings. Virtually all local and regional MLSs have an agreement with realtor.com to display much of their active listing inventory.

Some local and regional MLS systems also have a publicly accessible Web site. However, to get complete information you will most likely still need to find a qualified local REALTOR. Many local real estate agents will also provide their customers (via email) new listings that are input into the MLS that match their predefined criteria. This can be very helpful to a busy buyer.

There are also many Web sites that display both real estate agent listed and for-sale-by-owner properties. Some of the more popular Web sites include zillow.com and trulia.com. These sites offer other services too. For example, zillow.com is best known for its instantaneous property valuation function and trulia.com for providing historical information. Another source of properties for sale is the state, regional, and local Web sites associated with brokerage companies; for example, remax.com or prudential.com. Search engines like yahoo.com and classified advertising sites like craigslist.com also have a large number of active real estate listings.

One key difference between these sites is how much information you can access anonymously. For example, at trulia.com you can shop anonymously up to a point but then you will need to click through to the agent’s Web site for more information. Many new real estate search engines allow you to sift through listings without having to fill out a form. The best strategy is to browse a few of the sites listed above to find geographic areas or price ranges that are interesting. Once you get serious about a property, then that is the time to find a qualified REALTOR of your choice to conduct a complete search in the local MLS.

It also never hurts to search the old-fashioned way by driving through the neighborhoods that interest you. There is no substitute for physically, not virtually, walking the block when you are making a serious investment decision. In this sense, real estate is still a very local business and standing in front of the property can lead to a much different decision than viewing a Web page printout.

Valuing Real Estate

As we mentioned, one of the most popular real estate tools is zillow.com’s instant property valuation. Just type in an address and in and you get a property value. It even charts the price ups and downs, and shows the last date sold (including price) and the property taxes. There are other sites that provide similar tools such as housevalues.com and homegain.com. Unfortunately, many people use these estimated values alone to justify sales prices, offers and counteroffers. However, these are only rough estimates based on a formula that incorporates the local county sales information. These estimates can swing wildly over a short period of time and do not appear to always track actual market changes, which are normally more gradual. In addition, these estimates do not automatically take into account property remodels or renovations or other property specific or local changes. This is not to say these sites are not useful. In fact, they are great starting points and can provide a good ball-park value in many cases.

When it comes to getting a more accurate value for a particular property, there are other strategies that are more trustworthy. One is to go directly to your county’s Web site. More often than not the county assessor’s area of the Web site provides sales and tax information for all properties in the county. If you want to research a particular property or compare sales prices of comparable properties, the local assessor’s sites are really helpful. When you visit a county’s Web site you are getting information straight from the source. Most counties today publish property information on their Web sites. Many times you cannot only see the price a previous owner paid, but the assessed value, property taxes, and maps. Some county assessors are now adding a market and property valuation tools too.

Given the importance of valuation to investing, we are also going to remind you of the two most important (non-Internet) valuation methods: real estate agents and appraisers. Working with a local REALTOR is an accurate and efficient way to get value information for a property. While one of the primary purposes of the MLS is to market the active property listings of its members, the system also collects sales information for those listings. REALTOR members can pull this sales information and produce comparable market analyses (sometimes called CMAs) that provide an excellent snapshot of a particular property’s value for the market in a particular area.

Finally, the most accurate way to value a property is by having a certified appraiser produce an appraisal. An appraiser will typically review both the sold information in the MLS system as well as county information and then analyze the information to produce a valuation for the property based on one or more approved methods of valuation. These methods of valuation can include a comparison of similar properties adjusted for differences between the properties, determine the cost to replace the property, or, with an income producing property, determine a value based on the income generated from the property.

The Neighborhood

There are many ways the Internet can help you get the scoop on a particular neighborhood. For example, census data can be found at census.gov. You can also check out the neighborhood scoop at sites like outside.in or review local blogs. A blog is a Web site where people discuss topics by posting and responding to messages. Start by looking at placeblogger.com and kcnn.org/citymediasites.com for a directory of blogs. Trulia.com has a “Heat Map” that shows how hot or cold each neighborhood is based on prices, sales, or popularity among the sites users.

Schools

When it comes to selling residential property or rental properties that cater to families, the quality of the area school district makes a huge difference. There are many Web sites devoted to school information. Check out greatschools.net or schoolmatters.com. Most local school districts also have their own Web site. These sites contain a variety of information about the public schools and the school district, including its district demographics, test scores, and parent reviews.

Finding the Right Real Estate Agent

A recent addition to the Internet boom in real estate information is Web sites that let real estate agents market their expertise and local knowledge by displaying their professional profiles and socially networking with blogs. You can search to find an agent with a particular expertise, geographic area of specialization, or an agent offering specific services. The web site AgentWorld.com lets users quickly and easily find an agent with the right expertise using keyword searches and clean and simple agent profiles. AgentWorld.com also enables agents to post personalized blogs, photos and videos to help consumers find the best agent for their needs. Plus, many agent profiles include a direct link to the agent’s web site where you will likely find the local MLS listings.

Maps and Other Tools

The Internet has made mapping and locating properties much easier. To get an aerial view or satellite image of a property or neighborhood, go to maps.live.com or maps.google.com or visit walkscore.com to see how walk-able a particular property is. These sites can give you an idea of the neighborhood characteristics and the types of entertainment, restaurants, and other facilities that are within walking distance of the property. Maps.Live.com provides a view at an angle so you can see the sides of houses and Maps.Google even gives you a 360 degree street-level view for certain neighborhoods. If you have not tried one of these satellite map Web sites, you really should if only for amusement.

Final Thoughts on Internet Strategies

The Internet is a very effective research and marketing tool for real estate investors but is not a replacement for a knowledgeable experienced real estate professional. The Internet can save you time and money by enabling quick and easy property research and marketing options. Sites like AgentWorld.com also help you efficiently find a REALTOR who fits your buying or selling needs.

Always remember, when it comes to Internet strategies for real estate: More knowledge is better. You need to use the Internet to build your knowledge base on a target property or to find a real estate agent with expertise you need. However, the big caution here is that the Internet should not replace human judgment and perspective, expert advice or physical due diligence-keys to successful investing.

Are Real Estate Agents Due Commission

The right of an Estate Agent to earn commission is enshrined in common law. In general, commission is due when the Estate Agent has perform a client’s mandate, regardless of the amount of time or effort it took to perform the mandate.

In South Africa, there is no limit to the amount of commission an Estate Agent can charge. In the upper end of the market, this often results in impressive earnings. These facts, combined with the public perception that an Estate Agent is often seen to do very little in comparison with the handsome rewards received, has encouraged many people to join the Estate Agency industry. At last count there were more than 72,000 Estate Agents registered in South Africa. Although, in practise, not all are actively working as Estate Agents. Many Estate Agents are active only when the property market is buoyant and go dormant when the market slows down. Nevertheless, they are qualified to act as Estate Agents and may resume activity whenever they feel, with the provision that they comply with the requirements of the Estate Agencies Affairs Act.

Giving rise to commission dispute

Before we go on, it should be noted that most property deals go through without dispute. However, this does not mean that of the deals that go through there was no reason for dispute. Simply not knowing is often a cause for valid claims not being made, mostly on the side of the client. For such cases there is nothing one can do in retrospect, since all wrongs committed by Estate Agents are automatically made right upon date of transfer. No need to repent or visit confession, all sins are just magically wiped away.

In most cases commission disputes arise simply as a result of misconception by the public as to their rights and duties when they give an Estate Agent a mandate. However, dispute also arises due to misconception of Estate Agents as to their rights and duties in performing a client’s mandate. Both types of misconception can be easily avoided if Estate Agents spend more time being “frank” about discussing commission before accepting a mandate. In practise, this does not always happen, whether because of forgetfulness, lack of diligence or because of pressure to get the mandate. Discussion surrounding commission is often relegated to a mandate form, placed in front of the client with the expectation of signing. This document merely serves to capture the basic details and rarely elaborates on definition of terms, rights or duties at length.

While it is sound business practise to record in writing the amount of commission and under what circumstances the mandate will be considered fulfilled, some mandates omit small points that are not in the Estate Agency favour or the document itself serves to cover “conditions of absence in agreement” covered by common law. For example, under common law, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, an Estate Agent is not entitled to commission simply because, over a period of time, there has been a conscientious effort to carry out a clients mandate.

Compliance requirements

We have noted that certain common law principles govern an Estate Agent’s right to commission and that standard contracts are employed to cover such rights. We have also noted that such documents can fail to explain terms and can even be employed to protect the agent from common law principles that are not in the Estate Agents favor. Our remedy to reducing the potential for conflict is to encourage more open discussion and consultation of commission with clients by Estate Agents.

However, assuming such discussion were to take place, how is a person know whether or not an Estate Agent is due commission when they themselves do not have enough information to ask the right questions during such discussion.

In this section we cover some of the points clients should know, compliance points that are often neglected or forgotten by even the most seasoned and professional of Estate Agents.

The first thing to know is that the Estate Agency Affairs Act and the Code of Conduct both have a direct impact on an Estate Agents right to receive commission. One of the most important stipulations of the act is that an Estate Agent may only receive commissions on transactions concluded during a period for which the Estate Agent is in possession of a valid Fidelity Fund Certificate.

Second thing to know is that Estate Agents who have not complied with the prescribed training requirements are not allowed to receive commission on agreements where they have drafted or completed clauses in a sale or lease agreement.

In addition to these requirements section 8 of the [Code of Conduct] sets forth conditions under an Estate Agent shall not be entitled to commission.

The implications of these three points are often not made clear to clients. Rarely, if ever, is a client furbished with a copy, or presented, an Estate Agents Fidelity Fund Certificate or a copy of the Code of Conduct. Incidentally, the Fidelity Fund Certificate is printed with a business card sized tear-off capable of fitting into a wallet where it can be easily kept like a drivers license and presented when required. There should be no reason why a professional Estate Agent with a valid Fidelity Fund Certificate should not wish to present it.

The act goes one step further. In addition to an individual Estate Agent having to hold a valid Fidelity Fund Certificate, the Agency Company, all participating directors and any person promoting or canvasing immovable property are also required to hold a valid Fidelity Fund Certificates. In the event that an Agency does not have valid Fidelity Fund Certificate, or any of the Estate Agents or employees of the Agency, all people employed with such agency are not entitled to claim commission.

In an industry with more than 72,000 agents, the public can easily be convinced to mandate the services of non-valid Estate Agents. Such persons, while operating illegally are not bound to operate under the Estate Agency Affairs Act or the Code of Conduct. As a result the Estate Agency Affairs Board, the organisation responsible for protecting the consumer, can only bring a criminal case against such persons and has no power to sanction any conduct. Whereas, if the Estate Agent is operating with a valid Fidelity Fund Certificate, failure to comply with requirements constitutes conduct deserving of sanction that may see the Estate Agents license to operate revoked.
Performance of the mandate

Terms of mandate differ, but in general terms a mandate is seen to be fulfilled when:

1. A buyer is introduced to the seller who is both legally and financially able to buy the property.

2. A binding contract of sale is concluded. It is worth noting that a contract with suspensive conditions is not binding until such time as such conditions have been met.

3. A transaction and its terms are substantially in accordance with the clients mandate.

Point 3 is interesting. The word “substantially” gives rise to a special twist. Since it means that, unless a client makes express note that commission will only be paid when the contract is concluded on “exact terms stipulated”, an agent is not required to execute a mandate to the exact letter. For example, if the client wants 500, 000 for a property and the highest offer attainable is 450, 000, the client cannot refuse to pay the full commission agreed.

A further twist of this case can evolve where an introduced buyer does not enter into a sale, but instead enters into a lease agreement. In this case, despite a lease agreement being in place, the Estate Agent is not deemed to have substantively completed the mandate and is not due commission as a different transaction to that which was mandated has resulted.

In practice we see this problem occurring all the time. An Estate Agent concludes a contract of sale at a price less that what the buyer was prepared to accept. Then the seller wishes to negotiate the commission down.
Effective Cause

Many people are under the impression that all they need do to qualify for commission is introduce a buyer and seller from wish a contract of sale is concluded. This is possibly one of the most common misconceptions shared by both Estate Agents and clients alike.

In fact an Estate Agent is required to do the above and be capable of demonstrating that he or she was the effective cause of the resulting transaction, north withstanding other factors. In reality many factors must be considered in order to demonstrate effective cause, including:

* How much effort did an agent put in. Simply giving a buyer and seller each others telephone numbers is not enough.

* The time between introduction and sale. If buyer and seller conclude a sale shortly after introduction, the argument that the Estate Agent was the effective cause is strong. However, if the sale agreement took place after a considerable period of time, the argument would be more difficult to prove.

* The extent of consultation provided by the estate agent. If through an Estate Agents consultation one or more obstacles to conclusion of the sale where removed, then the effective cause is in favor of the Estate Agent. However, if the obstacles were removed without the help of the Estate Agent, then the effective cause is most probable to lay with the buyer and seller.

* Frequency of interaction. How often did the Estate Agent communicate with the buyer and did the agent cease negotiations with the buyer at any point in time.

Conclusion

This article has briefly highlight a few of the main points concerning the rights and duties of Estate Agents and clients using their services. While some may see the information provided as a means to try avoid paying Estate Agents commission, the ability to do so legally is not easy. However, clients that feel they have genuinely not been served by an Estate Agent are not without recourse, if they have the information pertaining to their rights and duties as clients.

Having said this, it should be noted that Estate Agents are not paid for good intentions or hard work, only for bottom-line results. As a result it is not possible to measure an Estate Agents performance by the amount of work they put into a deal. Many Estate Agents do put a tremendous amount of work into their deals and take great pride in adhering to professional conduct. By the same token, an Estate Agent can earn considerable amounts of commission for relatively little work, but in this case runs the risk of getting nothing whatsoever if the mandate is neglected.

In closing it could be argued that the expectations and needs of clients would be better served if clients were better informed about both their own rights and duties and those of Estate Agents. However, in order for service levels to be improved, clients must also be willing to enforce their rights and not accept invalid Estate Agents or negligent service.