Today's newspapers abound with stories highlighting the dilemma of home sellers who can no long count on quick and easy sales with double-digit appreciation rates. Overlooked, however, are significant aspects of real estate brokers' behavior which contribute greatly to the lack of consumer confidence in home sales.

When times get tough, the tough brokers just turn against their own clients, blaming the victims and refusing to risk permitting buyers and sellers to enter the kind of arms-length negotiations necessary to assure fair market values.

No wonder sellers are reluctant to trust the argument that it's "in their best interests" to cut their prices to what the agent says the market will bear. Today's sellers were yesterday's buyers, many of them romanced into buying by an agent's touting the area's high appreciation rate, or "recession-proof" history.

Many also might remember being urged to buy the "most house they could afford" because today's budget-stretching would pay off in tomorrow's high equity on resale. Although higher prices meant higher commissions for the sales agent, many of these same buyers were probably convinced "their" sales agent was only looking out for their best interests at the time, when in fact they were representing the sellers, watching out for their commission and only manipulating the buyer.

Times are a lot tougher now than they were a few years ago when all the agent had to do to earn a commission was to plant the for-sale sign to make multiple offers blossom. Those same big companies that reaped big profits then are now heaping all the blame on buyers and sellers for not being "realistic" about home prices. {Washington Post Sept. 15, "Home Sellers Have Great Expectations: Agents Rejecting Too-High Prices" by staff writer Jacqueline L. Salmon.} Houses, they say, remain unsold and clog up the market because "Sellers won't drop their prices and buyers won't raise their offers."

The largest real estate firm in the area, Long and Foster, says bluntly, "If homeowners insist on asking for a higher price than the firm's ... agents estimate the house is worth, 'we don't want them.' "

It's time sellers get wise and reject arrogant brokers who continually manipulate the marketplace through the self-fulfilling prophecy of lowered prices as the only solution to a sluggish market. This is the time to reject the bigger firms whose size and power made them attractive in the past. Today bigger is not necessarily better. Larger firms are among the least flexible and creative, least willing to negotiate brokerage fees or to "unbundle" services to reduce consumers' costs.

Smaller firms with lower overhead often have much more to offer real estate consumers in a sluggish market. The sellers' main need is for agents they can trust to negotiate on their behalf to get the highest price they can for their homes -- not those who say here's the price we say is the right one. "It's good for you. Eat it or else."

Buyers suffer equally from the arrogance of brokers who tell them, "Legally we represent the seller -- but we're also watching out for you. This is what we say the house is worth. It's good for you. Eat it or else." Hogwash. Buyers are getting wise to that flummery by learning the advantages of hiring buyer's agents accountable only to them, working for them and in their best interests, loyally and legally negotiating the best price and terms for the buyer.

The best way to assure buyers and sellers that home prices are fair and truly reflect market conditions is to provide them with the equality of services which the real estate industry, driven by the largest brokerage firms in the country, denies them.

Single agency provides the level playing field where each party to a real estate sale is represented by a single professional loyal to them, who can be trusted to put the client's interests above their own in earning a commission. Real estate consumers should demand no less in return for their brokerage fees than an agent they can trust to be totally on their side.

Consumer confidence in the market will return when home buyers and sellers can trust real estate providers to treat them with respect, rather than to bully them into eating their spinach.


McTighe is president of the Single Agency Realty Association.

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