Monday, March 04, 2013

May The Bell Toll For Realtors

There was a time when elevators, gas pumps, and telephone switch boards needed some "body" to operate them. Technology effectively replaced those jobs. We are now bearing witness as technology does the same for cashiers at store checkouts. Unless you're a cashier, there isn't much lament and the biggest reaction is a shrug of indifference.

Futurists tell us that someday robots will replace taxi and bus drivers, computers will be our chidlren's teachers and professors, and drones will do the work of farmers and soldiers. It's all very wondrous and not hard to imagine.

If we can contemplate a world without farmers, teachers, and bus drivers where the most mundane tasks have fallen to technology, do we really need real estate agents? Their primary function after all is to simply "marry" a buyer in a specific market who has a list of wants and is willing to pay a certain price for those wants with a seller who can meet these criteria. It sounds like a dream job...for a computer.

A quick Google search of "Do we need realtors?" or a similar query will return thousands of bits and blogs mostly written by those who rely on this racket for their livelihood extolling the virtues of the profession. From my search, here's a quick list of the most common reasons for which we still need to rely on realtors:

Showing: Really? Wouldn't the best person to show a home be the person who has lived there? Only they would know why the Lazy Susan squeaks and how to unstick the bedroom window.

Advertising: If I can effectively advertise my car through a medium that is well accepted by the masses (ie. Auto Trader), then I'm sure the same could be done for a house.

Paperwork: It all needs to be vetted and approved by lawyers anyway and no one is suggesting replacing them (although that would be a nice corollary), so I don't see the value that a realtor adds here.

Price Negotiation: No one will look after your health better than you. No one will look after your kids better than you. No one will look after your money better than you. To argue that a realtor has your best financial interests in mind when they are being paid a commission on the sale is laughable.

Market Knowledge: Stop it. Do what they do -- a Google search. Can anyone really make the "access to information" argument anymore?

If a real estate agent received $500 for their work I think I'd be fine with it. To "earn" 5% of $380 000, however, to accomplish some tasks that could easily be done by a homeowner with a computer and an internet connection will spell the demise of this profession.

And when the bell tolls for the world's last realtor, I'm sure we'll collectively shrug.