If you already work as a real estate agent, there is one question that you’ve likely grown tired of. I’m talking about the famous, “Why do I need an agent?” or some variant thereof. If you’re just getting into the business, trust me — within a few years, maybe sooner, you’ll have heard it dozens of times and may find yourself equally annoyed with it.
But my goal is not to be harsh on the general public. In reality, this question is motivated by nothing more than honest ignorance of what a real estate agent actually does all day and the many roles they play when it comes to selling and buying property.
That’s not surprising — most people only buy property a few times in their life whereas agents do it, well, a lot. The next time you hear this question, consider one of these five strategies for answering it.
1. You already pay for experts
Here’s the first and most important point to keep in mind when you get the question: The person asking is likely already paying for experts in other areas of their professional and personal lives.
As Anthony West, a Realtor in Kansas City, put it: “Why do you need a doctor, an attorney or anyone that specializes in a specific field? You go to them because you trust that as a professional they will help you in achieving the right outcome and add value along the way.”
In fact, real estate has something of a unique place when it comes to the average buyer (or seller) estimating their own abilities. Most people pay their bank to keep their money safe and to make wise investment decisions on their behalf.
It’s also not unusual to accept the advice of a friend when selling a car. The local bog box store’s garden center receives about a zillion requests related to which plants to buy and how to care for them. Given that property is the most expensive thing that most people will buy in their lifetime, it doesn’t make sense to just wing it on their own intuition or limited experience.
Gently pointing this out should form a large part of your response to this question. Explain that you have experience in the complexities of buying and selling real estate, and like other professionals, your time has value.
2. The paperwork is complicated
As part of a more detailed answer to the question, you can begin to describe some of the complexities of property deals. They’ll probably stop you before you’ve gone very far.
The most important point to make here is the simple one — buying or selling property requires the completion of several complex forms. It’s easy to make a costly mistake without a seasoned pro to guide them through the process.
Looked at from a purely monetary perspective, in fact, the time that your client spends learning and attempting to properly fill these forms out will likely make your fee seem relatively painless by comparison.
If they are still not convinced, remind them of the risks involved with moving large sums of money around and the still-rising incidence of online theft. While real estate is not generally recognized as a high-value hacker target, any time financial transitions occur online, expect that cyber-criminals won’t be far behind.
Even the escrow process has come under attack in recent years. The reality is unavoidable. These days, property deals are a major temptation for criminals looking to make a quick buck.
“Have you ever noticed that when visiting (pre-pandemic) those that unskillfully put their own furniture together, you could tell that they did?” Dr. Lee Davenport, real estate trainer and coach, said. “Perhaps, the table wobbled, screws were missing from the bookcase that was too fragile to hold more than one book, or the chair felt lopsided when you took a seat. Assembling furniture was just not their ‘cup of tea’ — doing a real estate deal without an agent is like that. Sure, you can do it yourself but if this is not in your ‘wheel-house’ you will likely miss something important that will wobble later.”
You should, of course, be careful that these points aren’t interpreted as you being skeptical about a client’s ability, or (even worse) as a threat. Instead, explain that you get this question all the time, and that the best illustration of the answer is merely to take a look at the reams of forms in your office.
3. Agents know the ‘tricks’
A slightly different approach to answering this question is to appeal to a client’s desire to make a great deal. With the right client, you can explain that you have been in the property business for years and that you know all the “tricks” in the book. For ambitious clients, the idea that their agents are using all the “dark arts” at their disposal can be a powerful factor in choosing an agent.
Be warned, however, that this can be a risky strategy. There is (unfortunately) still a widespread misconception that real estate agents are morally compromised and will stop at nothing to make a sale. Implicating that you are willing to go the extra mile to make a sale could play into this suspicion and turn certain clients off.
For this reason, an excellent approach is to point skeptical clients to reviews that your previous clients have left you. There is a reason why ecommerce sites lead the way in purchases, now accounting for one in three in the U.S. — people like to read reviews before they buy.
Make a dedicated place on your website for testimonials from happy clients. Prospective clients will subconsciously connect them to the value in your services.
4. Agents are trained negotiators
Without bragging too much about your skills, sales and success rates, it can also be worth pointing out that negotiation is a skill that takes years — if not decades — to perfect.
Many real estate agents, you can point out, actually take courses designed for hostage negotiators and international CEOs, merely to learn how to get their clients the best property deals.
Some clients, as you will notice, are not susceptible to the arguments above. They believe that they can save money by doing everything themselves, that they are smart enough to get the paperwork right, and ambitious enough to close the deal quickly on their own.
The reality is they may be right. But for this type of client, the fact that you will be able to get them a better price — whether they are buying or selling — may be the most important line of argument you have.
As Cara Ameer, a bicoastal agent with Coldwell Banker who is licensed to practice in both California and Florida, said, people often “need an agent to protect [them] from what [they] don’t know and that which [they] think [they] do, which is often inaccurate and misaligned information.”
It’s therefore worth keeping a few statistics up your sleeve to respond to these questions. You can point out, for example, that in 2019 the typical “sale-by-owner” home sold for $200,000 compared to $280,000 for agent-assisted home sales, largely due to the superior negotiating skill of real estate agents.
5. They are on your side
Finally, it’s worth using this question as an opportunity to address some of the myths that the general public still has about real estate agents. Unfortunately, some homebuyers think that we spend most of our time unnaturally focused on big-picture sales goals, and that for us, their new home is just an extra pay day.
Real estate agent Jay Thompson said in an email: “You buy a home once every 10 years, but an agent does this every day — you need someone on your side that understands everything that can go wrong, and how to fix it.”
Don’t neglect to point out that real estate agents are obligated to work for the best interests of their clients. This is true in a moral sense, of course, but also a legal one. At the end of the day, real estate agents can be prosecuted for working against their clients’ interests. This point should be made to any prospective client who is still under the impression that we are completely and utterly sales-obsessed to the exclusion of all else.
This can also be a great opportunity to stress that you love your job and that the greatest satisfaction you get is helping people find the perfect property. For most of the real estate agents I know, this is a major benefit of their career, though they might be reticent to admit it. For most agents, satisfied clients are far more valuable than an extra sale.
The bottom line
So, there you have it — five proven strategies for responding to the most annoying question in real estate. Give them a try and see what works for you, but don’t be scared to get creative with your responses either.
Every client, town and agent is different, and what works in California is unlikely to work in Arkansas. Ultimately, the best responses to the question are those that are honest. If you think you are worth the commission, explain why.
Derek Dowell is a real estate raconteur with Blue Coconut Publishing in West Plains, Missouri, and Big Pine Key, Florida. Connect with him on LinkedIn.