I Have a Buyer for Your Home

How real estate agents really find buyers for home sellers

Rear view of a young couple looking at a house
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If you own your home, you’ve probably received letters in the mail from real estate agents claiming, "I have a buyer for your home." Make no mistake: These letters are thinly disguised solicitation letters from wanna-be listing agents. Even if one of these agents does represent a buyer in the market for a home, there is just about zero chance that the buyer actually wants your specific home. This is one of the reasons that the public often mistrusts real estate agents, because some agents openly bend the truth.

As long as the agent can rationalize the lie, the agent might not see the harm in making up facts that are not true.

Sellers who offer their homes for sale by themselves, known as FSBOs (For Sale By Owners), also hear from agents who claim to have buyers. And maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but really, those agents know that many FSBO homes have trouble selling, and they want to be there when the owners realize they need to list with an agent.

Why the Lie?

How do agents get away with saying I have a buyer for your home when they don't? Because nobody questions it. Because agents will say, Hey, I am working with a few buyers and even though your home does not fit their parameters, who's to say they won't change their minds about it? Or, I could run into a buyer tomorrow who wants to buy your home, you never know. Yet it does not change the fact that the agent does not, at this very moment, have a buyer for your home.

Agents also throw away, er, invest, a lot of money in taking sales training courses. Sales trainers tell them it's OK to bend the truth to get a chance to talk to a seller. What an agent might be angling for is an opportunity to sit down with the seller and apply sales tactics to get the listing. But this is not how listing agents find buyers your home.

How Agents Find Home Buyers

A listing agent is not about to spend money and invest time in trying to find a buyer for a home that is not the agent's listing. That agent wants to list your home, generally through an exclusive right-to-sell listing. This type of listing agreement says the agent earns a commission when the home sells, regardless of who found the buyer. Before you say, “Wait a minute, what if I find the buyer?” you need to realize that this type of preferred listing agreement also induces the listing agent to spend freely and market widely to expose your home to the largest pool of buyers possible.

After the listing agent signs a listing agreement with the seller, the agent will use a mix of several marketing techniques:

  • Putting a for sale sign in the yard, unless HOA regulations don't permit signage or the seller objects. According to National Association of Realtors statistics, about 10% or so of buyers come from a sign.
  • Holding open houses. Maybe another 5% of buyers come from open houses.
  • Listing the house into the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Most buyers come from the listing agent's marketing, and MLS is a key part of that. A good agent will submit professional quality photographs, download the listing to all the major property websites, and use print and direct mail accordingly. Some agents maintain separate databases for contacting buyer's agents in nearby cities as well.
  • Networking with fellow agents, and promoting the listing at office meetings and board meetings.
  • Designing e-flyers and blast emails to every agent who belongs to their board.

But the fact remains that the agent finds the buyer only after the agent signs the listing agreement with you.

Pocket Listings to Find Buyers

Pocket listings are homes that are not on the open market and are known solely to the listing agent and the agent's broker. I am not a big fan of pocket listings because that practice tends to dramatically reduce the number of buyers who will have an opportunity to see those homes. In certain cases, luxury home sellers sometimes don't want their homes exposed to the public because they value privacy over money. Or, their home is so weird that few buyers except those with a ton of cash who can afford to remodel will want it.

Some wealthy homeowners spend a lot of money on satisfying peculiar tastes, just because they can.

Some sellers also hope a pocket listing will attract that patient buyer who is waiting in the shadows. Every agent has a buyer or two who wants the agent to let them know if a home in a particular neighborhood becomes available, but that doesn't mean the buyer will pay market value for that home or that the buyer will even know it is for sale.

Pocket listings are typically favored by many real estate agents because it means the listing agent will most likely also represent the buyer, a practice known as double-ending and dual agency. It could mean a double commission to that agent because the agent will probably pocket both the listing and selling agent's fees. It gives pocket listing a whole new meaning.

Realistically, though, it generally makes more sense to show your home to a million potential buyers than just one buyer.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, BRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.