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How do Real Estate Agents get paid…Where the commission goes in a real estate transaction

There are many questions surrounding how agents get paid, what they get paid, etc.  It is a common curiosity of the general public and I think that it is important to inform folks of what we make, how we make it, and where it all goes.  These are largely examples and of course there are exceptions to the “rule”, but here is my best shot at laying it out there.

How a Real Estate Agent gets paid:

First, real estate agents are paid commission only.  That means no salary, no benefits (health insurance, etc), no company car, no expense reimbursement.  Additionally, we are not employees of a company, we are independent contractors, so that means higher taxes (self-employment taxes are higher) and quarterly taxes must be filed.

Second, in most cases, agents commission is split in some way with their broker (the agency with which their license is affiliated).

Lastly, to a varying degree (often depending on how much they pay their office in the way of fees or commission split), agents pay for all or nearly all of their own business expenses and marketing.

Where the commission goes:

In general, agents have some sort of commission split with their own broker and with the cooperating broker (this would be a buyer’s agent if one exists in the transaction).  What that means is when a listing is taken at (for example 6%), 3% stays with the listing side, and 3% will go to the selling (buyer’s broker) side.

The 3% paid to the listing broker is then divided between the brokerage and the listing agent…to the tune of anywhere from 50-50 to 90-10…in some cases an agent keeps 100% but pays a large office fee to the agency. To split the difference, we will use the example of a 70-30 split (70% to the agent and 30% to the brokerage firm).  That 70% to the agent is what is used towards marketing, operating expenses, insurance, taxes and then profit for services rendered (the amount the agent takes home for their family to live on).  Of the 30% to the brokerage, much of it goes to their own operating expenses, and the large scale national marketing that it takes to properly market listings through syndication partners.

If on the buyer’s side, the 3% will be split similarly as to the listing side, but the agent expenses are more for time (often outside of normal business hours) expended, gas and other operating expenses just to be able to legally operate.  So actually, the listing agent spends more money, but makes the same amount as the buyers agent.  But often the buyer’s agent expends more time.

So while to a seller, 6% may be a large amount of the total sales price that they are paying, when you break it down, most of it goes towards the cost of doing business and the marketing of their home (if done properly and by a professional).

What are some of the expenses a Real Estate Agent has?  I’m glad you asked…

Licensing Fees, Continuing Education Expenses, Association Dues/Fees, Multiple Listing Service Fees, Lock Box’s and fees to have lock box access, Signage, Fliers, Post Cards, Postage, Desk and/or Office Fees, Fuel costs, Websites, Online Marketing, Services such as photography, sign installation, in many cases an administrative assistant and/or showing/buyer’s agent, paper, ink, toner, all technology, and the list goes on.

What do agents actually do?

Open houses, calling prospects, following up with agents and potential purchasers or listing agents (depending on what side you are on), preparing (and paying for) marketing, meeting with clients to go over offers, feedback, etc, driving clients around to look at homes, preparing contracts, negotiating contracts, keeping timelines, knowing the laws that protect and govern the process, put out “fires”, manage the process, refer (and often pay for or at least coordinate and/or meet with) contractors and service professionals, know the market to properly price, show and sell homes, prepare comprehensive comparative market analyses and more…

And what does all of this offer a buyer or seller?

A professional who knows the process, knows the market, has the access and ability to show the available homes or market the home in a way that attracts as many purchasers as possible and advocates on your behalf for your largest investment (in most cases).

**Not all agents are created equal.  There are agents who stick a sign in the front yard and you never hear from them again…those also happen to often be the ones who are willing to discount their commission.   But this is why hiring an agent should be based on more than just the commission, it is what they will do to sell your home.  At the end of the day what is the difference in a percent or two in commission if your house ultimately sells for less.

Hope this provides some helpful insight!

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Investing, Real Estate

Home, Investment…or both

Purchasers are often concerned about home prices…is it the right time to buy….will the value go down, will it not gain as much as they had hoped…what about resale…etc.

Understandably, people do not want to throw money away or invest it unwisely, especially after what our economy has seen; however, a primary residence shouldn’t be considered only for it’s investment potential because often what you would consider a great “investment property” isn’t necessarily where you want to live or doesn’t necessarily meet all of your needs.  With those two interests competing, you will have a very difficult time selecting a home.

If you wanna buy a house strictly as an investment, your considerations are much different and much less emotional, it is about the bottom line.  If you want to purchase a home to live in, make memories in and it be in a place where you want to be, your considerations will naturally be different.

While it is often the largest purchase most individuals will ever make, and it is no doubt a great investment to purchase real estate; it is a LONG TERM investment…that if kept long enough has historically yielded a return much larger than any other type of investment.  If you are buying a home only because you expect a certain percentage increase over a short amount of time, you may be disappointed.  It is an average percentage over periods of time that we look at…which means that some years will be less and some years will be more…some years will be flat.  Overall though, real estate appreciates…there will always be demand for it, because the population grows and we have a finite amount of land.

The key to being comfortable with your investment is to consider the intangibles…growing your family there, making it a home, making lasting memories and friendships, pride of ownership as well as the tangibles, paying in to something that will help you build long term wealth through long term equity build up and appreciation, provide tax advantages, provide a consistent monthly payment (as opposed to rent which steadily increases yet provides no payoff).  What other investment can you actually enjoy while you are investing money in it?  You get something out of it while you are putting money in!  At the end of the day…if it isn’t an “investment property” you are purchasing, it is a home that also happens to be an investment in your future.

This is not to say that you should make frivolous decisions, pay way over market value or ignore serious defects, consistent declines in a particular area or problems that could affect selling in the future, I just mean that it is a home first and an investment second.

Just my two cents…

Financing-home loans, Real Estate

Mortgage Process…What to expect!

house questionIt is critical to get your “ducks in a row” before even beginning to look at homes.  First so that you are fully aware of what you can afford and how much a lender will loan you based on their lending criteria.  And second, so that you truly understand what the purchase will cost you out of pocket…this is something that you really need a Good Faith Estimate (GFE) for and a lender is usually very happy to provide a preliminary GFE based on a specific purchase price.  Additionally, selecting the right lender goes beyond simply finding someone with a good rate.  You should consider other things in addition to the rate, such as fees and points charged, do they apply excessive risk “overlays” in addition to standard guidelines that could make it difficult to get full loan approval for certain types of properties and how accessible and responsive the loan officer is.  Credit Unions often have good rates, but you will almost never get the same person on the phone to discuss your loan status…they do not worry about contract deadlines as much, nor do individual agents have much visibility into the full process of the loan…this can delay settlement or worse, cause default.  It is important to deal with a lender that has great rates AND provides great customer service, availability, is very knowledgeable and has a number of loan products so that they can help you select the right one.

All that said, below is a (basic) description of the mortgage process (note: this is not the overall purchase process…more on that in another post 🙂 ):

1) Pre-Approval: Crucial first step and a necessary document to provide sellers in the offer process.  This is relatively easy and gives you great visibility into the size of mortgage you can afford and what the purchase will cost you.

2) Loan Application: You will actually apply for the loan once your offer is accepted…in Virginia, this step is required to be completed within seven days of ratification of the contract.  As part of this application you will need to provide income documentation and other important asset information.

3) Processing: The processor verifies that the information that you provided is correct and all supporting documents are in tact.  For this to go smoothly and quickly, it is critical that you provide ALL information requested in a timely manner.  As the sales contract says “time is of the essence” and this holds true with getting the lender your documentation as well.  If all items are in place and verified, the processor will prepare your loan for underwriting.

4) Underwriting: An underwriter compares your loan to standard guidelines.  If the guidelines are met, an approval and loan commitment are issued.  Note: additional documents may be requested by underwriting at this time

5) Closing: At closing, you will sign the mortgage promissory note and other required documents transferring ownership (title) from the seller to you.

Hope this is helpful and as always, don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions.  I am always happy to help!

Financing-home loans, Real Estate, The Market

The cost of waiting to buy…

rent_buyI recently read an article in the Washington Post regarding “millennials” and home buying titled “Studies find now is the time for millennials to buy”.

I found it very informative and interesting, so I thought I would share the highlights, weigh in and provide a link to the original article for your viewing pleasure 🙂

Basically, the article sited studies done by Zillow and the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Zillow looked at how interest rates and rising home prices will affect purchasing power and discovered (shocker)  that waiting even one year, could cost you more money (approximately $189/month in the DC area) based on the assumption of home prices staying the same and interest rates increasing.

The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies looked at why first-time buyers weren’t buying even though affordability is at an all time high.  They looked at 25-34 year olds who do not own a home and looked at how many earned enough to afford a median-priced home in the top metro areas.  The discovery was that in 42 of the 85 metro areas, more than 50% of the renters can afford the monthly payments of owning a home if purchased with 5% down. 

See the Full Article Here

Here are my thoughts:

Affordability IS at an all time high, for all age groups because of the drastically low interest rates that WILL at some point increase.  But for millennials, it may be their greatest opportunity to get in with very little invested and the ability to borrow money at a historically low rate. 

Here is an example of how interest rates effect affordability.  In 1981, the typical house payment was around 31% of a person’s income…in 2010 (even though homes are much more expensive), it comprised around 14% of individuals income.  One reason is because the interest rates in 1981 were around 19%.  In 2010 they were around 5%.  Now the rates are around 4.25%

To illustrate the affect interest rate has on affordability, here is an example:

  • Home Price: $400,000
  • 5% Down: $20,000
  • Loan Amount: $380,000
  • Monthly Payment with a 4% Interest Rate @ 30years: $1814.18 (principal and interest only)

Scenario 1: Home prices decline 5% but there is a 1% rate increase

  • Home Price (same home): $380,000
  • 5% Down: $19,000
  • Loan Amount: $361,000
  • Monthly payment with a 5% Interest Rate @ 30years: $1,937.93 (principal and interest only)…this is a monthly increase of $123.75

Scenario 2: Home prices increase 5% (which is +/- the current rate of appreciation depending on the area) and there is a 1% rate increase as well

  • Home Price (same home): $420,000
  • 5% Down: $21,000
  • Loan Amount: $399,000
  • Monthly Payment with a 5% Interest Rate @ 30 years: $2141.92 (principal and interest only)…this is a monthly increase of $327.74

We live in the monthly payment, because realistically, most of us do not keep our homes for 30 years.  So really the monthly payment and, more importantly, the interest rate will affect us much more than the total home price in terms of affordability. Don’t let marginal price differences cloud this reality.

Of course now may not be an option for some, and everyone needs to evaluate where they are financially and personally and determine what works best for them.  Simply put, for those who are in a financial and personal position where buying makes sense, now is one of the best times to jump in…and simply waiting due to fear or hoping prices will drop, may not be the best over-all financial decision. 

Hope this was helpful and please feel free to reach out with any questions!

area info, Dining, LOCAL INFORMATION/NEWS, Things to Do

London Curry House Grand Opening in Cameron Station today!

london-curry-house-logoOver the last few months, Cameron Station has been buzzing about the new tenants of the restaurant space, London Curry House.  There was certainly a ton of curiosity surrounding the massive transformation of the space that took place over a relatively short time.   Well…they opened today and here is what I think…I LOVE them so far!

Some Highlights:

1)  They gave us FREE food.  Free lunch and dinner were offered today.  Admittedly, it was chaos, but the staff was nice and any restaurant who gives free food get’s an A in my book…

2) They put down carpet to reduce the acoustics…anyone who went to the old restaurant knows how loud it would get in there.

3) There is a fun vibe and the warm reds make it feel more comfortable.

4) They have  an AWESOME kids menu…we didn’t get to try it today because they did buffet style (since it was free for anyone who showed up…and pretty much everyone in the neighborhood did).  But it is nice to know they thought about the kids.

5)  The Butter Chicken they served was super yummy.  My 2.5 year old scarfed it down…that is saying a lot.

6)  They deliver!!!  Yay!

7)  The manager/owner seems genuinely friendly and like he really cares about the restaurant doing well and pleasing the customers…which is great!

Honestly the atmosphere today was a bit of a madhouse (understandably), but I appreciated the good-will gesture and his marketing strategy of getting people in on the first day by offering free food.  Any time you have to make mass quantities, it can be a bit challenging, but I thought the food was very good considering they had to prepare enough for a small army today.  I  am really looking forward to trying it again when it is a more normal atmosphere and we can order off the menu.

All in all, I am really pleased with the change and wish them lots of luck!  I hope others feel the same way.

Thank you London Curry House for the free meal today…we look forward to eating there again!

Real Estate, Tips and Tricks

Moving Tips

movingMost people have moved at least once in their lives, but for some, it has been quite a long time OR the thought of moving is so overwhelming (either because of a bad experience or because moving all of your life’s treasures is just difficult by nature) that they just don’t even know where to start.  Here are a few tips for a successful and less stressful move:

*A quick note: Some Moving expenses are tax-deductible, so save receipts and check with a tax professional for details

1) This probably goes without saying, but plan ahead.  Do not make the physical move and packing the last item on your list.  You will need time to get on a mover’s schedule and determine your timeline for packers, etc.

2) Considerations for Moving within the state vs. out-of-state.  Moving out-of-state is a little more complex and requires more coordination.  Moving charges will be calculated differently depending on whether or not you are staying within the stave or leaving the state.  Within the state, charges are usually based on an hourly rate plus any additional services.  Between states, will often be calculated by weight and other factors, so it is helpful to get a specialized moving consultant/coordinator to lay out your options and help you determine what the best course of action is.  Many interstate moving companies include this service as part of their initial quote.

3) Make sure the company you are interviewing sends someone to the house to give a quote and do not accept a quote over the phone.  The last thing you want is to expect one price and get another on the day of the move.  Some companies will guarantee their price quote…this gives you assurance that you will actually pay what you have been quoted, regardless of unexpected factors such as whether the move took longer than expected because of traffic or bad weather.

4) Make sure that the company insures the goods for damage or loss and find out how much coverage you receive per item.  In many cases, you pay an additional fee for full coverage but basic coverage is only a percentage on the dollar or weight.

5) Get the kiddos on board: we all know that moves are difficult, but kids (who love routine, can get especially upset by a move if care isn’t taken to prepare them).  Help them feel more comfortable by keeping open dialogue about the move, introducing them to the neighborhood and maintaining as much of a normal routine as you can.   Try to get them involved in the packing by allowing them to pack their toys and favorite belongings in their own special box.

6) Make a plan for the pets…either to stay with a friend or family member during the move to reduce anxiety and/or keep them out-of-the-way.  If flying or driving a long distance, make a plan for how you will keep them comfortable.  If flying, it is a good idea to take them to the vet first to get copies of vaccinations and other health records, and determine if some sort of sedation is needed to get them through the trip.   Also check with your airline for their guidelines on moving animals.  For long car rides, get them accustomed to riding in the car ahead of time if they are not already.

7) Finally, the moving consultant you meet with can give you all sorts of options and tips on how to make the move successful, such as how to properly pack certain fragile or special items and what to expect from the moving team, so listen to their recommendations.  If they have none, you may want to consider interviewing someone else :).

*And a little reminder…don’t forget to coordinate utilities in the new house and the home you are leaving ahead of time.  It is important to transfer utilities out of your name as of the closing date or to be safe, the day after and have the utilities put into your name as of the closing date in your new home.  This can sometimes take coordination between buyer and seller so that there is a seamless transition and there is no interruption in service or undue paying of reconnection fees.

Happy moving all!

Real Estate

Sellers Closing Costs Breakdown

I thought I would write a post to sellers regarding their closing costs because often, when considering selling your home, it is overlooked that you will have costs when selling your property (in addition to real estate commissions).  Here is a list of items that could be on your side of the HUD1:

  • Broker’s commission as stated above as something you probably already considered, is a full-service fee and will cost anywhere between 6% to 8% of the purchase price BEFORE any subsidies offered to the purchaser.  These services include: marketing your property to potential buyers and other agents through signs, print marketing, online marketing through the MLS and other sources, brokers opens and calls to brokers and network, taking calls from, qualifying and showing your property to potential purchasers and holding open houses, (often) staging, giving professional recommendations for a quick sale at the right price and terms, coordinating showings and other contractors, negotiating on your behalf and protecting your interests through the contract negotiation and contractual process…and more… (MORE ON WHAT WE OFFER IN ANOTHER POST…TRUST ME, THE GOOD REALTORS EARN OUR PAYCHECK AND ACTUALLY SAVE YOU MONEY, TIME AND HASTLE)
  • Local property transfer tax, county transfer tax, state transfer tax, and state capital gains tax (if applicable) are the charges that you’ll pay for the privilege of selling your home. Credit to the buyer of unpaid real estate taxes for the prior or current year are variable and depend on when you close and when your taxes are due.
  • Prorated Fees if applicable: credits to the purchaser for condo or HOA fees, rents, etc.  These are items that cover the period of time that you owned the property but haven’t yet paid that the purchaser will end up paying (when they are due) on your behalf.  In the case of rents, rent is usually paid in advance, so I you close during the month, you will owe the purchaser the portion of rent for the number of days of the month that they own the property. Similarly, if you have paid anything up front and the purchaser takes ownership during the that time, the purchaser will credit you.
  • FHA fees and costs are now negotiable between a FHA buyer and seller.  Typically these are paid for by the purchaser.
  • Home inspections fees, while in most instances are paid for by the purchaser, are in some circumstances paid for by the seller and include pest, radon and other inspections.
  • Miscellaneous fees can accrue from correcting problems noticed during the home inspection.  These you will typically fix and pay for prior to closing, but some sellers offer a credit at closing intended to be used for correcting problems.

Your Realtor should provide you an estimate of these costs, so if he/she haven’t,  ask for one so that you can prepare accordingly.

Hope this helps and happy selling!