Have you ever wondered what on Earth your real estate agent is doing behind your back?
No, we don’t mean anything underhanded, naughty, or downright felonious—far from it, in fact. So relax. What we’re talking about is a mystery: In the sometimes confusing, occasionally hectic, and always stressful world of buying and selling, what are your agents really doing behind the scenes?
We’re here to shed some light! For every hour an agent spends in your presence, he or she will spend an average of nine hours out of eyesight working on your behalf. Why? Because agents don’t get paid if they don’t close the deal! Unlike lawyers who bill by the hour, agents won’t receive a penny until (or unless) a sale comes through. It’s all a gamble, in which they could shoot snake eyes and come away empty-handed. This is the business.
So if you’re wondering what that 6% commission is actually going toward, we’ve compiled a list of things agents do when you’re not watching (or should be doing—if they’re not, maybe you need a different agent!).
They shop property online
Don’t we all? And yet, their real estate research goes beyond oohing and ahhing over a few photos on a Saturday night. Darbi McGlone, a Realtor® with Jim Talbot Realty inBaton Rouge, LA, estimates she spends about two hours each day researching potential properties.
“This could include looking up flood zones, previewing the homes for out-of-state clients, or any number of specific things,” she says.
Plus, listings come and go fast in the real estate world, so agents need to check their multiple listing service database constantly, or else they’ll miss out. Sometimes the process of matching up properties with clients can take a very long time.
“I have a client who wants a Mid-Century Modern house in Carlsbad, but there aren’t many there,” says Rachel Collins Friedman, a Realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty in San Diego, CA. That means that she’s been searching the database regularly for that particular kind of property for three years (here’s hoping all that patience pays off).
They go prospecting
Of course, there’s nothing like seeing a house in all its brick-and-mortar glory, which is why most Realtors worth their salt spend tons of time driving around checking out new listings. In Friedman’s San Diego area, they call it “caravan day.”
“It’s a good way to preview properties, and it’s a good time to network with other agents and talk up your listing,” she says.
They attend pitch sessions
Agents don’t spend all their time sizing up homes. According to Friedman, they also spend tons of face time with other pros at pitch sessions—gatherings of local agents at cafes where they swap listing info in order to spread the word about your property if you’re selling, or to find the house that checks every box on your wish list if you’re buying.
They spend their own money on marketing
In addition to not getting paid until a deal is done, selling agents also spend their own money on marketing: magazine and newspaper ads, fliers, hiring a photographer, glossy prints, and premium placements on listing sites.
“Agents can spend thousands marketing a property,” says Friedman.
They write up offers and counteroffers
Offers and counteroffers are an extremely important part of the transaction, as they can save or net you thousands of dollars on a sale. Yet getting to the right price requires written offers and counteroffers every step of the way.
“It’s time-consuming to be writing them up, explaining to the client how to counteroffer and the ways to do so, and just keeping track of it all,” Friedman says.
They stick around for inspections
You might not be present when it’s inspection time, but a good agent will be. This gives the agent an immediate knowledge of what’s going on. Anything from termites to an iffy foundation can be relayed to the buyer immediately, according to Friedman. McGlone estimates inspections take roughly two hours.
They smooth bumps in the road
Not every sale goes smoothly—buyers and sellers get difficult all the time—but good agents try to shield their clients from the high drama unless there’s a reason to fill them in.
“It’s called putting out fires,” says McGlone. “It’s just fixing issues that a lot of times buyers and sellers never needed to be made aware of.”
They keep you calm when the pressure’s on
Good agents don’t just hand you a house. They can also act as a therapist, making your sale much less stressful.
“People get emotional. You have to be a problem-solver and keep a positive approach and come up with a positive solution,” Friedman says. “It might not take a lot of time, but it takes emotional energy.”