In Defense of Real Estate Broker Commissions

I hear it all the time from home sellers.  “Why do Realtors make so much money?”  I’ve heard a few variants on the sentiment, ranging from the more diplomatic, “Realtors don’t seem to do much work to earn their commission,” to the more direct, “this commission is horse s**t!”   I submit to you, however, that Realtors more than earn every penny of their commissions.

My first point is quite simple — You don’t realize how much work a Realtor actually does.  If your Realtor friend goes for spa treatments every day, they are not closing deals — it’s that simple.  Prospecting and networking for clients takes a lot of time.  Once those clients are found, if they are buyers locating properties and setting up showings takes time and effort.  If they are sellers, preparing presentations to homeowners who may or may not list with you takes time and effort.  They prepare and present offers.  They negotiate.  They work with their clients all the way through to closing, often on a daily basis.  Realtors work weekends and holidays, because the rest of us aren’t available to look at property during normal working hours.  A successful Realtor is someone who works extremely hard.

The next point is also fairly easy to understand — Realtors are sales professionals, which means their compensation is tied to results, rather than the amount of time spent.  Let’s face it, most sales jobs are not salaried positions.  It’s all about value added.

A good agent adds value by using their expertise to help you find good properties in the right neighborhood at the right price.  Or if you are seller, they can pinpoint the right price so that the property will move quickly.  They use their experience in sales and negotiation tactics to the table to cut the best deal possible once you’ve started negotiating.  Once you are under contract, a good agent will make sure the appraiser has the right comps to do an accurate appraisal.   These are just examples of some of the numerous things that Realtors do that add real value to the process.

Not convinced?

My next point is a little more nuanced.  You might ask why we need real estate brokers at all (you might be a amused to know that one of the first Google autofills when you type ‘why do real estate agents’ is ‘exist’).  The answer to the question gets into the reason agents of all sorts exist in the first place.  For example, why do actors and athletes have agents negotiate their contracts?  Most of us have never needed someone else to negotiate the price of goods or our salary for us.  Part of the answer is that the more complicated and nuanced the negotiation, the better you will do having an expert negotiate with you.  And let me assure you, negotiating a 6 or 7 figure real estate transaction is as complicated and nuanced as it gets.

Take the example of NFL player Russell Okung, who defiantly announced in 2015 that he would enter free agency without an agent.  Of course, most of us know that athletes and entertainers regularly use agents to negotiate salaries and endorsements.  Okung proceeded to sign a five-year deal worth approximately $10.6 million per year with the Denver Broncos.  Not too bad, considering that he doesn’t owe a cut to an agent, which can be up to 3% ($318,000 per year in this instance)!  In fact, the amount he saved alone would put him in the top 3% of all earners in the US according to CNN Money.

Sadly, Okung only earned $8 million from that contract.  You see, NFL contracts are voidable by the team at any time.  The only money a player is guaranteed is the up front signing bonus, which is why you so frequently such large bonuses for players.  No agent would have let him jeopardize his future by signing such a risky contract.  Especially given the well know effects that playing in the NFL has on the human body and brain.  Okung essentially gave up millions to save $318K.

It is well accepted that athletes and artists who represent themselves tend to get emotionally involved.  It’s not easy to hear that you are not the best at your craft anymore or that you are not the box office draw you once were.  Likewise, home buyer and sellers tend to have difficulty keeping their emotions out of the mix.  It is not easy to hear that your kitchen is dated or the school district is sub-par.  Suffice to say, you do not want to end up making a Russell Okung-like mistake when selling or buying the most expensive thing you may ever own.  The best way to avoid such a mistake is by hiring a Realtor.

Finally, if you don’t buy some of my more squishy reasoning above, you will be happy to find out that the numbers support the fact that, in most cases Realtors add more value than they take away from a real estate transaction.  For example, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in 2015 the typical for sale by owner (FSBO) home sold for $185,000, while the typical agent assisted transaction had a sale price of $240,000.  Granted, this is a very general statistic, but it is striking, nonetheless.

Setting a listing price for your home is difficult to do objectively.  It is easy to fall into the trap of setting a high price just in case someone falls in love with the home and just has to over pay.  In 2015, 18% of FSBO sellers found setting the sale price to be the most difficult aspect of selling their home.  Overpriced homes sit on the market longer than necessary, which increases carrying costs and stress.  The longer a home is on the market, the less attractive it is to buyers who begin to wonder what must be wrong with it.  These sellers typically end up accepting lower prices in the long run, and a good agent won’t let you fall into that trap.

Likewise, it is easy for a buyer to fall into the trap of throwing a lowball offer out there to see if you can get the seller to bite.  A lowball offer is just going to piss off the seller, who will probably not engage in negotiations with someone who does not seem serious.  A good agent will steer you away from this tactical mistake that could cost you the home of your dreams.

This blog post is not long enough to be an exhaustive analysis of the value that Realtors add to real estate transactions or give all the reason they are worth it.  I don’t expect everyone to be moved to change their opinions on the matter.  However, I hope that I have given you some things to consider when thinking about Realtor commissions.  I maintain that real estate brokers earn every penny they make.  To be honest, they may suffer more from bad PR than anything else.  Sometimes they make it look a little too easy.  In this instance, looks are deceiving.  I will leave you with a final musing — if a real estate license is a license to print money, why aren’t you selling real estate?  Wouldn’t you like to have a job where you make too much money?

Why Chicago Landlords Should Not Take Security Deposits

I should first and foremost make it perfectly clear that the follow advice is geared specifically toward Chicago (and maybe also Evanston) residential landlords.  If you are a commercial landlord, or a residential landlord somewhere else in Illinois, feel free to scroll past this to another blog post, because it does not apply to you.

Now that I have the major disclaimer out of the way, let me tell you why it’s a bad idea to accept security deposits in Chicago.  The City of Chicago has a law on its books called the Chicago Residential Landlords and Tenants Ordinance (RLTO).  The RLTO imposes a number of fairly onerous requirements on landlords with respect to security deposits.  For example:

  • Security deposits must be held in a federally insured interest-bearing account and cannot be commingled with with the landlord’s assets.
  • The name and address of the bank where the deposit will be held must be disclosed  conspicuously in the lease.
  • Upon accepting the deposit the tenant must be given a written receipt with the name of the person receiving the deposit, the name of the landlord (if not the person receiving the deposit), the date, and a description of the dwelling unit.  The receipt must also be signed by the person receiving the deposit.
  • Interest must be paid to the tenant on all deposits held more than six months.  Interest is paid once a year at a rate established by the city comptroller.  The landlord is responsible for figuring out how much.
  • Any deductions from the deposit for repairs must be itemized in a written statement, accompanied by supporting invoices.  These documents must be given to the tenant within 30 days.

And the list is not exhaustive!  The consequences for violating any of these requirements are damages in an amount equal to the amount of the security deposit and payment of the tenant’s legal fees and costs!  And believe me, there are handful of attorneys here in Chicago, who are more than happy to build up a massive bill just to stick it to the landlord.  Can you imagine owning a 100 unit building and having to comply with all of these requirements for every deposit you receive?  You would never get anything else done.

Fortunately there is a solution called the non-refundable move-in fee.  Some savvy landlord figured out that if the up front payment by the tenant is not refundable, it is not a deposit.  The fee is typically $500-$1,000 for each move-in, and it is not given back to the tenant at the end of the lease term.  Now that it isn’t a deposit, you do not have to meet the requirements of the RLTO; at least with respect to security deposits.  Importantly, the Courts have endorsed this strategy.  In Steenes v. MAC Property Management, LLC, the Illinois First District Appellate Court held that a move in fee is not a security deposit under the RLTO, as long as the amount of the fee is considerably less than the monthly rent and it is not refundable. 2014 IL App (1st) 120719.

Let’s face it, the upside for having a security deposit is far outweighed by the potential liability faced for a violation.  Take my word for it, the Courts take the RLTO very seriously, and if you find yourself in this situation, it will be expensive.  It also makes sense from a business perspective.  Unless you don’t properly vet your tenants, most of them are not going to trash your place, regardless of whether or not you are holding a security deposit.  If you bank the move in fees, you’ll have money in your pocket to deal with the naughty tenants.  And you’ll never have to write a check to a tenant who has already stiffed you on rent (or their attorney).

I spend an inordinate amount of time writing on real estate transactions, so this one is for all of you landlords.  An eviction is a big deal for any landlord.  They are expensive.  Not only are you paying an attorney, but you also have to fund mortgage payments and other costs out of pocket until you can get rid of the bad egg and replace them with a paying tenant.  If you find yourself in this situation, I recommend acting quickly.  The eviction process can be lengthy, so the sooner you call me, the better.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me at 773-632-8330 or patrick@loftus-law.com.  And finally, as always, I am honored by your referrals.  To learn more about my practice, please contact me!

Why Should You Hire An Attorney To Buy or Sell Your Home?

Answer: Because you do not want to risk flushing your money down the toilet.

     You have probably heard people say that you don’t really need a lawyer for a real estate transaction.  Or you may be under the impression that real estate closings are easy for lawyers, and your real estate lawyer really isn’t doing much other than collecting a check at closing.  To be honest, I hope and pray that your lawyer does not have much to do, because a smooth transaction makes the herculean task of moving a lot less stressful.  Unfortunately, most real estate transactions will involve some unexpected hiccups, and that’s when having an experienced real estate attorney will save you from suffering a potentially catastrophic loss.

     Take for example the story of military veteran Danny Shedd, whose story is told in an article published by Vice.  (click the link to read more)  The article describes how Shedd is currently being evicted from the home he purchased, because the deed he received at closing incorrectly described some swamp land somewhere in the woods rather than the property he was trying to buy for his family.  This type of mistake is exactly the type of error that your real estate lawyer can identify and deal with before you hand over your hard earned savings for unihabitable swamp land.  If you tell me that I can spend $500 to save a little over $172,000, I would ask you where I mail that check!

     The bad news is that the best result Shedd can hope for is a refund of his purchase money from the Seller.  Even worse is that it will not be cheap to arrive at that result, and now he has to find a new home for his family. probably not be cheap for him.  Had he been represented by an attorney in the transaction, the mistake would likely have been discovered before Shedd plunked down $172,425 in cash for the wrong plot of land.

    If you have questions about real estate closings, or any other real estate matter, as always, you can contact me at patrick@loftus-law.com or 773-632-8330.  To see what my clients have to say about me, please visit me at avvo.com or on my Google + page.

     Shout out to Vice for the good content.

Construction Work Begins on Western-Belmont Viaduct

More change is coming to Roscoe Village!  If you frequently use Western Ave., DNAinfo has you covered with this Survival Guide.  Best of luck to you Northsiders, while I continue to deal with construction on the new Kennedy to Eisenhower flyover.

A half-century old, much traveled viaduct in Chicago is about to be torn down. But will the plan to replace it really improve traffic conditions?

Source: Construction Work Begins on Western-Belmont Viaduct

Hat tip to WTTW’s Chicago Tonight for the photo!