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May 21, 2017

The amount of information you can get scanning the internet for a new home is incredible and is rapidly eroding what was once the exclusive domain of the real estate agent.  So, what are the skills that the agent needs to focus on to remain relevant?

Today is the second in a series of conversations that I am having to drill down on the dramatically changing landscape for the residential real estate industry, particularly as it pertains to the agent function.  My guest today, Paul Anglin, is professor in the college of business and economics at the University of Guelph in Canada whose research into the relationship between listing price and time on market first drew my attention.  There are some key findings that he discusses that are consistent with other findings I have discussed in prior podcasts at – such as the percentage difference between target selling price and list price.  But as my conversation with Professor Anglin progressed we migrated towards the question of agent contribution to the sales process. 

Incidentally, in future episodes I speak to several other experts who have conducted similar research, each challenging the idea that the status quo can be maintained – in fact challenging the idea that the real estate sales agent role is relevant in its current form.  Just think, if you will, of what happened to the travel agency industry.  Subscribe to the series at the national real estate forum dot org website, or , to be sure you do not miss any of the provocative conversations coming up.

We tend to think of the relationship between time on market and price primarily in the context of setting the asking price – if we set it too high, it’s going to take longer to sell, or maybe not sell at all, OR if we set that price too low and a buyer pops up immediately maybe we set the price too low.  In fact it never fails to astonish me that brokers brag about having sold within a week… doesn’t that just mean they underpriced the house?  I don’t get it.  There’s this built in conflict, that I discuss in future episodes, that while it may be in the Seller’s best interest to wait longer for a higher price, broker’s prefer to sell quickly because the increase in commission that they get just isn’t worth the wait…

But the question of when to say Yes to an offer – is now too soon, or should I wait longer - is not unique, of course, to real estate transactions.  The background to this quandary from an analytical perspective helps to set the foundation upon which we can better understand the problem…

So let’s review… we hear that the optimal list price is between 3-4% above market and this is consistent with other studies, most notably that conducted by Darren Hayunga, my guest last week.  Tying into this is the apparently intuitive finding that the higher the list price, within limits, the longer it takes to sell - less intuitive, and certainly more pertinent for agents, is that the higher the list price, the higher the sale price is also likely to be – even if it takes longer to sell.  So, while Professor Anglin and I did not discuss this, the question of incremental income for the agent in squeezing out the last dollar for the client – isn’t that a fiduciary responsibility? – comes into focus.  Are agent and client interests aligned if the extra effort to maximize sales price results in a really small commission increase for the agent?   

In an upcoming episode I discuss a study that examines this idea directly and that reinforces the idea that agents are motivated to sell quickly and for less than they would otherwise yield for their clients, if only they were to persevere and market the property longer.  What do you think about this?  I would love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment on linkedin book, or contact me directly at

My takeaway from Paul Anglin’s research is that it sheds light on the idea that the agent skillset has changed in the sense that they must now be more media and internet savvy.  They have to understand how to stand out online, rather than being just the gatekeeper of information about a property as they used to be.  Nowadays online accessibility to information is plentiful and almost provides a full enough understanding of a property for a buyer without actually having to visit the property itself.   Not only that but the key components of what go to making up the agent role – provision of photographs, legal paperwork, market information, staging, appointment setting, even pricing and negotiation – each of these are being offered independently of the agent.  And as each component of the agent function becomes more easily accessible to the home seller or buyer, the pricing for those functions goes down. 

The challenge to the agent system as it currently exists is that the sum of the costs of buying each component of the sales process is very significantly less than the commission the agent charges and so it becomes inevitable to start to ask:  how relevant is the agent role – especially at 5 or 6% of the total sale cost – in an age of technology and increasing access to information?  Isn’t it just as easy to do it yourself now, for less money and, as the research seems to be suggesting, with a better financial result. 

As the millennial generation comes of age and starts to demand housing in greater numbers, they are going to start buying and selling real estate without agents if agents cannot redefine themselves to accommodate the tsunami of changes that are sweeping over every other industry. 

Food for thought, and fodder for future episodes at the ,  Listen in, subscribe, and let me know what you think by using the contact form at the website.