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Lessons in Real Estate #2: What I Learned as an Unrepresented Buyer (and What You Should Know if You Don’t Have a Real Estate Agent Yet)

7 min read
Tim Hyer

Hiring a real estate agent is an important step in every home buyer’s journey.  Looking back on my experience as a buyer, there’s a lot I didn’t know about choosing a real estate agent, but wish I had. 

How it began

My wife and I moved to San Francisco in 2007.  We fell in love with the city which had successfully rebounded several years after the dot com crash.  Tech was king and I recall the unveiling of the very first iPhone shortly after we arrived.  We rented a one bedroom apartment in Nob Hill for $2,200/mo which, in hindsight, was a complete bargain.  We both had good jobs and didn’t see ourselves leaving anytime soon so we naturally started finding our way into open houses on the weekends.

We really had no urgency to buy anything, but that all changed one Sunday when we found ourselves in the crosshairs of a motivated agent who was working an open house that we happened to visit.  Although we had purchased a home before, it was new construction which meant there were no agents involved, so we didn’t know to have our guards up when we met people at open houses.  We’ve since learned that driven agents will cover open houses for busy listing agents with the sole intention of prospecting for new potential clients.  We’d just assumed we were talking to the listing agent whose main objective was to sell this listing.  We had no idea this agent could care less about this particular listing, and instead wanted to learn everything she possibly could about us so that she could begin sending us other listings we may like even more.  We were unaware of the fact that she was creating a relationship out of thin air and was searching for ways to make herself directly valuable to us.

What a real estate agent is really looking for

Looking back, we were sitting ducks.  This agent was hungry for new clients and we checked all the right boxes:

  • Dual income couple

  • Well paying jobs

  • Good credit standing

  • Interested in buying something “at some point in the future”

  • Potential for quick loan approval through existing mortgage relationship

  • No existing agent relationship

Although we didn’t know it, the last point was the most important fact to this agent.  I recall the way her eyes lit up when she learned that we didn’t have an agent.  It was like a cartoon character’s eyeballs getting filled with dollar signs.  But hindsight is 20/20.  To us, it felt like we had just met an extremely friendly, thoughtful, and helpful person.  It didn’t feel strange when she ever so slyly got our contact details and friended us on Facebook.  We were oblivious to the fact that this agent was doing the equivalent of a dog peeing to mark its territory.

The courtship

Monday morning, back to work.  I noticed an email from the nice agent we had met the day before, saying how wonderful it was to meet.  That was nice of her, I thought.  After lunch, another email from the agent, this time with a link to other listings on the market.  I figured what the heck, it doesn’t hurt to look.  Wow, there were some really interesting options in our price range.  I forwarded the link to my wife and got back to work.

Monday evening on my commute home, my phone rang from an unknown number.  Guess who?  The agent was wondering what I thought of the listings she had sent earlier.  Once again, I hadn’t fully processed what was happening and candidly shared that I liked a couple.  Within two minutes, she was asking for my availability to do some showings that week.  Before I knew it, I committed to two appointments the following evening after work.  I hadn’t even confirmed with my wife.  Although the listings we toured that week didn’t resonate with us, within a couple of days, the agent sent an email for several new listings that she believed were right up our alley.  She was right.  By the following day, we saw one that we loved and were ready to make an offer.  Fortunately, we already had an existing mortgage broker who was aware of our employment, credit, and existing mortgage that was generating rental income.  Further, it was 2008 just ahead of the housing crisis, so needless to say, we got a quick pre-approval letter.

Wow -- that was fast! 

It’s hard to believe that this person who randomly struck up a conversation with us less than two weeks prior was now representing us in the purchase of a condo in San Francisco.  It felt surreal.  We hadn’t planned to move this quickly, and although we were excited, we were nervous too.  This was stretching us to our limits financially and we worried we were rushing into things.  We had a couple moments of cold feet, which our new agent guided us through.  Before we knew it, we were eating from a box of pizza on the floor, just after we signed the closing papers on the condo.  In the empty fridge was a bottle of champagne and two glasses with a card of congratulations from our agent.  Despite the market crash a few months later, the SF housing market rallied over the next decade when we finally sold and that condo became one of the best investment decisions we ever made.  All thanks to the random agent who snatched us up at that Sunday open house.

My takeaways

When I think about my experience, there are certainly some takeaways.  First, if my wife and I are any indication, unrepresented home buyers can be pretty clueless about the home buying process.  Second, real estate agents are ambitious, goal-oriented hustlers who are looking for any opportunity to get new clients, transactions, and commissions.  Although our experience ended up working out positively in the long run, I could see the high pressure agent approach we experienced going south.  Perhaps an agent’s personality is not aligned with the buyer.  Perhaps the buyer and agent have very different outlooks on the market.  Perhaps the buyer isn’t really ready to buy anything right now and the agent is being too pushy.  Perhaps the buyer would just like to know what other agents might be out there before committing to working with anyone.  That can be uncomfortable to do once you are in discussions with an agent. 

What you can do if you’re looking for a new home and don’t have an agent 

Trusty is a platform where buyers can see how multiple real estate agents think and work before making a commitment.  It’s a safe environment where unrepresented buyers are in control, and can interact with a variety of agents without the pressure of a relationship.  On Trusty, buyers can get a sense for how agents think about specific homes they are interested in by accessing reviews of specific properties the agents have toured.  Buyers can see photos, videos, and other content generated by the agent to get a full sense for that agent’s personality, and how they think about the market.  Trusty encourages buyers to connect with multiple agents to ask questions and get a sense for how they’d work together.  There’s no contact info exchanged so no one can contact buyers unsolicited -- it’s all on the buyer’s terms.  And if there isn’t a fit with a particular agent, you can move on without the awkwardness.  Agents are aware that Trusty is about making genuine connections, and welcome the ability to show potential buyers how they think and work. 

Buying a home is a major life decision.  Trusty can help you find your perfect agent match so that you feel great about who you choose to have on your side for that journey. 

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