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    Keeping It Local

    mark pennI’ve written several times about the benefits of using a real estate agent, and about the potential pitfalls of not using one.  While a few sellers and even fewer buyers have had some success conducting their real estate business without the assistance of a professional’s services, it’s been proven that, by far, the knowledge and experience of an agent more than pays for itself in the final results, not to mention the lack of legal action!

    But let’s take this a step further. As with many other facets of the business world, there has been some dabbling in what we might call “non-traditional” real estate companies, which don’t fit the mold that has formed around real estate service over the decades. That’s generally OK; I think a healthy market changes, evolves, and produces models that might not have been previously seen or expected.

    Some of those changes get traction, while others don’t and eventually disappear. As our economy constricted, there was a parallel reduction in new and experimental real estate business models. Most of the “non-traditional” versions of real estate brokerages did not survive, or actually re-invented themselves again—this time back towards a more traditional model.

    Now, predictably, as the real estate market returns to a semblance of normalcy, some of the “neo” versions of the real estate brokerage are popping up again. An example of these models is an “online” real estate brokerage, where the owner(s) do not invest in local brick and mortar offices. They may never have set foot in a geographic area where they market themselves to homebuyers and sellers.

    These “remote” agents miss the boat, however, given their lack of local expertise. How can they provide you with services that are best tailored to what is happening in your own town or neighborhood, when they have little knowledge of your region and could be located hundreds of miles away? It also helps to have an agent who fits well with your personal needs and style, both of which are difficult to assess virtually.

    Then there is just plain old good service. One wonders, in this day of burgeoning multi-national corporations and mega-online presences, if a traditional model of “service” can possibly survive. Who, for instance, hasn’t had a completely frustrating experience with a large company’s so-called customer service department? And yet, in real estate, personal and local service is what it’s all about.

    While the out-of-town online brokerage can certainly handle paperwork and function adequately in the more mundane tasks involved in basic real estate matters, the fact is that’s just a tiny piece of the puzzle when it comes to critically important transactions. How can an online “agent” sitting behind a computer monitor halfway across the country actually provide his/her client with service when it comes to knowing and marketing the unique qualities of a neighborhood, the particulars of local regulations and restrictions, or personal knowledge of recent local sales, to name just a few items? They can’t.

    When it comes to the assistance of a professional in one of the biggest transactions most people ever make, there are some things that just don’t make sense or, in the long run, do not pay off when it comes to a less personal and more “bulk” style of serving a client. There is no substitute for an agent whose eyes you look directly into, who knows every niche of your market, and who will be there next to you when you go for your final signing at the title company. It’s simple: Work with a local agent. Your dream home won’t be virtually based, so your agent should not be either.

    A Bay Area native, Mark Penn has been a REALTOR® with Coldwell Banker since 2004. He is also active in animal welfare, and is a former educator, facilitator, and air traffic controller. Mark can be reached at