I am going to be venting a bit in this blog, so just bear with me. But consumers, particularly first time buyers, please think about these points. This was triggered by a few recent incidents that have really, really irked me.
A bit of background: I live and work in Richmond's Historic Fan District. It is a very specifically designated area, the entire neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It also happens to be adjacent to VCU's Monroe Park Campus. The Fan is one of the City's most expensive neighborhoods, for a number of reasons, including :
1. Beautiful Victorian architecture;
2. One of the best, if not THE best, public elementary schools in the City of Richmond in William Fox Elementary;
3. An established walkable urban neighborhood filled with shops, restaurants, art galleries and more;
4. The VCU connection, which creates high demand from both the students and faculty associated with the University.
Certainly since the 1990s, the Fan has traditionally attracted old home lovers, VCU students and faculty, young families with elementary school children, and the urban hipster and young professional population. Increasingly, it is attracting another demographic, the down-sizing Baby Boomers relocating from the suburbs. Some of these folks previously lived in the City, and moved out to one of the Counties for the public schools when their children were old enough. But more and more we are seeing people relocating into the City who have never lived in an old house. This creates issues in and of itself. These issues are further complicated when either of the agents involved in the transaction, buyer's agent or listing agent, is unfamiliar with the issues that can come up with old houses. To name some "biggies": asbestos, lead-based paint, oil tanks.
So, what is my problem? Working in the Fan - and for that matter the Museum District, Carytown, Bellevue, Ginter Park, Westover Hills, I could go on and on naming historic City neighborhoods - requires a certain level of expertise. I would think a buyer or a seller would want an agent who has listed and sold properties in the area. However, over and over again I see people using agents that have no or next to no experience with historic properties.
I really don't understand it. People will do more research to buy a TV or a computer than they will to find the agent that is going to help them buy or sell a home. And that home is for most people the biggest single investment they will make in their life.
Now, part of the problem is some agents represent themselves as expert in a particular area when they are no such thing. This is mainly on the Internet, through websites and Facebook pages. From what I've seen, the representation of "expertise" is typically passive, meaning the agent has sections on their website that discuss the Fan and buying and selling in the Fan. They are using search engine optimization ("SEO") to show up high in search results. But here's what I don't understand: Why don't you, Mr. or Ms. Buyer or Seller, ask the agent how many houses they have listed or sold in the [relevant historic neighborhood]? Or if they have some other nexxus for knowledge of the neighborhood?
I will certainly agree that part of this rant is self-serving, because I do almost all my work in historic City neighborhoods, I live in the Fan, my office is in the Fan, I grew up in Bellevue and Ginter Park, and almost all my business has been in City neighborhoods. It is frustrating when you have spent a lot of time to develop specific expertise, and other agents are using the Internet and SEO to capture leads without putting in the time and developing the expertise. It is especially frustrating when you have to do a deal with one of these agents and end up doing their work, because they don't even know what issues to spot. Or, worse yet, you have a deal fall apart because the inexperienced agent missed an issue that is typical with an old house, didn't advise their client, and their client flipped out over an inspection item that we see all. the. time.
Look, it is no surprise that agents and brokerages would like to get a toe-hold in these City neighborhoods, which are often some of the most expensive real estate in the Greater Richmond Metropolitan area. There have been a number of brokerages that have established offices in the Fan and Museum District over the last several years, in an attempt to capture market share. Many, if not most, of those offices eventually closed.
What is my "solution?" Well, besides having all those buyers and sellers calling me up to represent them? [:)]? I think agents have to earn their stripes the old fashioned way, by putting in the time. I tagged along behind my broker for two years, learning as much as I could about a real estate market that I already knew intimately, because I lived in it and had for 15+ years. But I needed to learn the ins and outs of representing buyers and sellers, how to manage a transaction, what the pitfalls are that can come up in inspection, how to solve those issues, and much, much more. I am a licensed attorney that had done major corporate transactions, so I knew my way around contracts and negotiation better than the typical new real estate agent. But I still had to learn how to buy and sell real estate. My real estate training was like law school, where the teach you how to "think like a lawyer," but nothing about how to actually practice law.
The situation of the buyer or seller calling on the inexperienced agent based on that agent's SEO skills is yet another example of the pitfalls of internet access to data in the real estate world. Information is not knowledge. Consumers, do your homework. Interview multiple agents. Find someone with expertise. Find someone that you feel comfortable with too. After all, this is a professional service relationship, so you need to like the person you are working with. Agents and consumers who want to flame me for this position, I'd love to get some comments back. Meanwhile, I'm off to host an Open House. In the Fan. [;)].