Is the Realtor Dead?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) —“This last house sets the benchmark for the house I’d really like one day,” I told the real estate agent, as we slid back into her car, “but, I need something in a good school district. It’s a deal breaker. My daughter starts kindergarten in a year.”

“Oh, well, it’s always something, isn’t it,” she honked in adenoidal annoyance.

It was the seventh house I’d seen in two hours with her—all of which were listed at $200,000 more than I could afford. After two in-person meetings and two dozen emails, did she miss the bit about my budget? She obviously missed the bit about school districts.

Also see: Overseas Real Estate Investment

Earlier in the day, she even declined to sit down for coffee, mid-way through our open house marathon through Northwest Washington, D.C. I thought, rather sanely, that we should chat (again) about my priorities as a buyer.

“Oh, no,” she growled, “we have more houses to see. There’s no time!”

But, it wasn’t time that we lacked. It was rapport. Why did I trade a year of hunting and gathering on the Internet for two hours of this?

The Big Binder in the Sky

Historically, real estate agents have been the valves that modulate available information about housing stock, comparables, and local market trends for buyers and sellers. They have also been incredibly handy in the negotiation process—helping you trade mortgage points to lower an interest rate, dealing with squirrely third parties like inspectors, and mediating a sale that buyers and sellers ideally find agreeable.

In other words, the value of an agent has always been two fold—made clear up front when they help you hunt for buyers or sellers and made even clearer when they help keep the hunt from becoming a bloodbath.

Happy sellers walked away feeling that they got a good price, and happy buyers walked into their new home feeling that they got a good deal. Now, online databases like Zillow or Trulia threaten to kill one half of the agent’s intrinsic value.