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Why Competent REALTORS Should NOT Have All the Answers

Article by Nate Moquin

Because it’s often the largest investment people make, and most people only buy a few homes in their lifetime, home buyers have a plethora of important questions for their REALTORS before buying. Americans are inherently savvy consumers and are naturally hungry for information when making a large buying decision. But there are certain types of questions that, when answered directly by an agent (instead of connecting you to a qualified professional in that field), can actually be a disservice to you. I’ll explain what I mean with specific examples.

Good real estate agents will ultimately help you find all the answers to the important questions you have. At the end of the day a buyer should feel confident that their agent has provided the appropriate resources for all of their questions. But for an agent to know which questions not to answer directly, takes discipline. Why? When eager, less disciplined agents try to answer questions outside of their profession that they are not qualified to answer, they can get their clients (and themselves) into trouble. The temptation to answer all questions is high because a big part of the value agents provide comes from providing information. Most of us agents want to help in every way we can, and great service is how professionals earn referrals. So, this is tougher to resist than it sounds.

Of the questions we get asked most frequently, many are of the type that we can and should answer for our clients. Examples are: “What do you think of the price of this house?” “Is this basement counted as part of the overall square footage?” “Do you think the sellers will include the appliances?” etc. But there are 3 primary types of questions your agent should never answer directly, though they should always help you find the answer.

Here are the 3 types of questions that an agent should NOT answer directly:

1.Questions of opinion. “Does the lake this house is on get really green in the fall?” “How is the crime in this neighborhood?” and “Are the schools good in this area?” are some examples. The problem with answering questions with subjective answers, is, my definition of a “really green” lake or a “good” school may drastically differ from your definition. A buyer moving to Milwaukee, WI who grew up Eau Claire, WI (where I’m from) will almost certainly have a different definition of “low crime” than the local agent they hire in Milwaukee to help them buy a house there.

2.Questions requiring the expertise of a licensed professional in a particular field. These are questions such as “What size is the electrical breaker panel?” “Where are the lot lines?” and “Can I build a shed on this property?” A REALTOR looking at a 200 amp main breaker of an electrical panel may reasonably assume it is a 200 amp panel. But only an electrician can test the panel and know if it is actually a 100 amp panel and the owner just installed the wrong breaker to prevent it from tripping. An agent can be held accountable in some cases, even when citing government maps to show where the lot lines are (though the government cannot be held accountable). The town of the property you want to build a shed on may be one of several towns your REALTOR services, all with different zoning laws. These zoning laws often change from year to year and may also be subject to neighborhood covenants that are even more restrictive.

3.Legal questions. It is not as easy as you might think to identify a legal question. “Will I get my earnest money back if the deal falls apart?” is a fair and common question. It is also an example of legal question which, by law, agents are not permitted to answer. Agents can explain what the contract says regarding what happens to the earnest money, but speculating what will, or should happen if the other party does not agree to release it, is illegal. Answering questions like these can be considered an attempt to practice law, which is illegal if you are not an attorney. “How can I get out of this Offer?” is another example.

So how do we address these issues? A good agent has a database of phone numbers of various government agencies, and will know which agency to call to address a particular type of question. We will also connect you with licensed professionals or provide credible websites that will most efficiently provide the answer you are looking for. A real estate agent that seems willing to answer any question off the top of their head may not actually have your best interest at heart.

For more information on this and other subjects, or call Nate at 715-456-8597 directly. You may also submit questions via email at: