Brooklyn Secret Agent: How to Get a Deal Done

Today we bring you the fourth of an anonymous weekly column about real estate by one of the most experienced agents in Brooklyn:
In 2012, 90 percent of the transactions I’ve participated in have involved another broker. In many, I represented the seller, while in some I represented the buyer. On the off chance that there may be some brokers reading this, I thought I would offer some tips that, believe it or not, are not common business practice among many brokers.

For the listing broker:

1. Know the facts about your listing.  For a house, learn the dimensions, the classification, whether there is a C of O, and if there are open permits.  For a co-op or condo, have the documents ready as soon as you list (offering plan, financials, application, house rules).  Know the assessment history.

2. Discuss with the seller ahead of time which attached fixtures might not be included in the sale. Is there one among us who has not seen a multi-million-dollar deal hang in the balance, or even blow up, over the damned chandelier?

3. Be available to show the property. Seems obvious, but an amazing number of hours are wasted when you are unreachable or unavailable.

4. Return all calls and emails.

For the selling, or buyer’s, broker:

1. Show up on time for appointments.  That means don’t plan an itinerary that is impossible. It will take you more than 10 minutes to travel from Clinton Hill to the South Slope.

2. Try to know your client at least a little bit.  If one more broker brings a devoted dog owner to a no-dog listing, I’ll scream.

3. Give feedback to the listing broker. Sellers crave the comments of buyers, even if they don’t always like what they hear. Be honest — I’ll translate “you call THAT a second bedroom?” to “they found the second bedroom too small for their needs.”

4. Return all calls and emails. Can’t emphasize this one enough.

Folks, there’s a lot of money at stake here.  Buyers are spending a fortune; sellers are often about to have a greater windfall than they had ever imagined. As a result, tensions run high. Agents working in this environment have to be as professional as possible. The above suggestions are a beginning, and I’m sure the comments will add plenty of others. But, may I repeat myself? Return all calls and emails!

41 Comment

  • “For the listing broker:”

    5. Provide a listing that is coherent.
    6. In your listing, provide lots of clear photos of the rooms. NOT close ups of the chandelier or plumbing fixture. NO blurry pictures taken with your phone!
    7. Provide a legible floor plan with ACCURATE dimensions.

  • “For the listing broker:”

    5. Provide a listing that is coherent.
    6. In your listing, provide lots of clear photos of the rooms. NOT close ups of the chandelier or plumbing fixture. NO blurry pictures taken with your phone!
    7. Provide a legible floor plan with ACCURATE dimensions.

  • “For the listing broker:”

    8. Know a little bit about the neighborhood, so you can talk it up.
    9. Know what school the home is zoned for.

    • Brokers and agents have to be really careful when talking about schools – comments on things like “good” schools can be interpreted as violations of Fair Housing, and even mentioning the school the spot is zoned for in an ad is prohibited by many of the larger firms for this reason, and also because, as we’ve seen, these things can and do change, and sometimes even the DoE is wrong.

      When someone asks me, I always say, “According to the Department of Education’s website, it’s zoned for PS x, but you really should call the school to make absolutely sure.”

      Ditto when talking about crime or safety – Fair Housing no-nos. I always refer people to the local precinct.

    • By law and agent cannot say what school the property is zoned for. the proper thing to do is refer the buyer to the Board of Education website. There have been lawsuits brought against brokers whose listings ended up being across the street from the zone they quoted.

    • By law and agent cannot say what school the property is zoned for. the proper thing to do is refer the buyer to the Board of Education website. There have been lawsuits brought against brokers whose listings ended up being across the street from the zone they quoted.

  • Know the facts about your listing. If you don’t know something, tell the potential buyer that you will check with the seller and get back to them. Then actually get back to the buyer. Don’t make stuff up!!

  • For the listing broker:

    - Write the listing in proper grammatical English. ( I had to rewrite the one for my apartment because it was written so badly by Corcoran, which then went on to use another broker’s photos but still took 6 percent.)

    - Put the apartment/house back the way you left it after you show it.

    - And once the place is in contract, remember it’s the seller who is paying your fee. Corcoran seemed to work a lot harder for the buyer than they did for us, especially when things got tight on timing at the end.

    - Brokers fees are huge and for many sellers eat up a significant amount of equity. It would be good if agents remembered this.

  • For the listing broker:

    - Write the listing in proper grammatical English. ( I had to rewrite the one for my apartment because it was written so badly by Corcoran, which then went on to use another broker’s photos but still took 6 percent.)

    - Put the apartment/house back the way you left it after you show it.

    - And once the place is in contract, remember it’s the seller who is paying your fee. Corcoran seemed to work a lot harder for the buyer than they did for us, especially when things got tight on timing at the end.

    - Brokers fees are huge and for many sellers eat up a significant amount of equity. It would be good if agents remembered this.

  • You don’t have to pay your residential broker 6%. Little known secret–there are very few residential brokers in the whole of Brooklyn that would not take your $2M brownstone for 4%… and maybe even 3%. Just tell them you will sign today at 4%, and if they want to hold out then you will have to way your “options”. Brokers don’t sleep well at night knowing they might miss out on a big commission regardless of what commission % gets it.

    • Not all of us are selling $2M brownstones, so don’t have quite the same leverage. I was selling an apartment in Sunset Park. Decidedly smaller sale price, which makes that 6% matter quite a bit more — to me anyhow.

      I initially brokered a smaller percentage fee with another agency. However, they had difficulty selling because their marketing/website couldn’t match Corcoran’s reach. Corcoran also has a virtual monopoly on co-ops in that neighborhood. I spent several weeks trying to negotiate them down, to no avail. Because we wanted to move for school reasons, I was in a bind. Believe me, it’s not something I gave in on easily.

    • Not all of us are selling $2M brownstones, so don’t have quite the same leverage. I was selling an apartment in Sunset Park. Decidedly smaller sale price, which makes that 6% matter quite a bit more — to me anyhow.

      I initially brokered a smaller percentage fee with another agency. However, they had difficulty selling because their marketing/website couldn’t match Corcoran’s reach. Corcoran also has a virtual monopoly on co-ops in that neighborhood. I spent several weeks trying to negotiate them down, to no avail. Because we wanted to move for school reasons, I was in a bind. Believe me, it’s not something I gave in on easily.

    • Those agents taking 3% or 4% commission are not likely to co-broke your listing, meaning that the only people who will see it are those who do not have their own broker/agent – and if they do co-broke “selectively” (as opposed to the mandatory co-broking for REBNY members) it will not attract as much interest from the rest of the brokerage community.

      You should also compare what advertising resources will be expended on your listing, as well as what photography, floor plans, etc., will be provided – again, most “discount” brokers do not use professional photographers or floor planners, and your listing is therefore also less likely to attract buyers.

    • gowanus – no REBNY or co-broking broker will take an exclusive listing for 3% – open listing yes.

  • Also for the listing broker:

    Learn enough architectural history as to accurately date your building to at least a decade or three. No matter what ACRIS, Property Shark or Zillow says, no classic New York City row house was ever built in 1931. That was the year they discovered they couldn’t find the records, not the year the house was built. A quick perusal of neighborhood history, and common sense would help you with this.

    If you don’t want to learn this stuff, hire some one who knows it, (ie me!) who will be glad to help you not look like an idiot.

  • it’s sad and kind of pathetic that the lists above “are not common practice among many brokers.”

  • it’s sad and kind of pathetic that the lists above “are not common practice among many brokers.”

  • unless you are moving here from out of town, i think using a broker to buy a place is such a waste of time. I also don’t see a huge benefit (one that outweighs a 6% commission) for listing with an agent to sell. IMO – edited

  • I don’t mean to be negative, but none of this really sounds like “secret agent” – type information. Just saying.

  • I’m convinced that the secret agent is Babs – I will bet 5 gallons of gas on it.

    • Good thing I don’t drive, crownlfc, and therefore have no need for gas – because you’re wrong. And “highly sought after,” “much desired,” etc., are also big no-nos when discussing schools – Corcoran and several other brokerages actually have entire lists of words and phrases you can’t use due to Fair Housing, and those are both on it.

      • Not sure I agree with you there on that Babs, regarding schools.

        Corcoran has the right to have their own word list but they are not HUD or the DOS. Using those terms for neighborhoods are a different story.

        A lawyer in the RE section of the Times once advised against using the phrase “walking distance” in ads, as it can be construed as discriminatory against people who happen to use wheel chairs?

        I followed his “advice” for a few months before I decided that we have the English language for a reason and that was a bit over the top.

        • Corcoran errs on the side of caution here, and I agree. It’s amazing what people will sue over. I have heard the walking distance thing too, but generally I just think it’s a stupid term, because I’ve seen things labelled “walking distance,” when they’re nowhere close. If something is really close, I’ll say “two blocks away” or whatever.

  • “For the listing broker:”

    10. Don’t use pretentious names for rooms. ie. Gallery and Grilling Deck.

  • “For the listing broker:”

    10. Don’t use pretentious names for rooms. ie. Gallery and Grilling Deck.

  • This might be the worst feature column in the history of the blog.

  • Unfortunately, it seems to be secret to many agents out there – to buyers and sellers it probably sounds like common sense.

    **

    Anyone in SALES who needs to be told to “return all calls and emails” and “show up on time for appointments” can get “secret” information every day for the next 10 years direct from the Dalai Lama of real estate and it won’t make any difference. They’re in the wrong business.

  • 6% will always seem outrageous to me. In London, it’s 2 to 3.5%. One could argue the lower commission actually helps increase values since turnover is very brisk and the more the turnover, the more prices go up.

  • 6% will always seem outrageous to me. In London, it’s 2 to 3.5%. One could argue the lower commission actually helps increase values since turnover is very brisk and the more the turnover, the more prices go up.

  • Actually, 1.5 to 3% is probably more accurate.

  • Seriously. Call people back. Makes me crazy (though they call me back 5x as often as they call back my wife. Because I’m a dude.) And do it on a phone, not a tin can attached to a string. I can’t understand a darn thing half the people say.

    (Also, when you do call back, try to be a little bit more convincing about all the people who are clamoring for this house: ie don’t say you’re waiting for a signed contract any minute, and have loads of people interested, but sure, you can show it to me any time I want in the next three weeks.)