Real estate changes boost consumer options

On the surface, selling your home independently seems like a no-brainer.

You can potentially save tens of thousands of dollars by forgoing a real estate agent and you have complete control over when showings happen.

But buying and selling a house is, for most, the biggest transaction one will make in their entire life. And in recent years, this transaction has become more complex with all the options available for those looking to sell or buy.

Ten years ago, it was relatively uncommon for someone to sell his or her home independently. However, today’s real estate landscape is dramatically changed from what it was 10, or even five, years ago.

The impact of the net

The huge popularity of the Internet has contributed to this change, as it has allowed for the rise of Internet-based real estate companies that act as a search engine for houses on the market.

In the last four years alone, Grape Vine Home Marketing Consultants, one of the largest for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) websites in Ontario, has increased its market share in Ottawa to 20 percent from 10, according to part owner Craig Osborne.

Grape Vine offers customers packages that range from around $250 to $750 that, at the most basic level, provide home sellers with a sign for their lawns and ad spots on Grape Vine’s website.

“The cost savings alone are huge,” says Osborne. “The average house price in Ottawa is $340,000. If you’re using an agent with a five per cent commission, you’re spending  $17,000 plus the HST, which is an additional $2,000.”

Grape Vine also offers clients an add-on for $199 to have a licensed agent come out to the home and fill in the necessary paperwork to have the home listed on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

Only licensed real estate agents have the ability to access and input listings onto the MLS, which is the list from which an estimated 90 per cent of the homes in Canada are sold, according to the MLS website.

This list has, until recently, only been open to traditional agents who offer full-services to their clients. However, websites like Grape Vine are now able to give their clients access when a licensed agent partners with their business.

This then begs the question: Why go with a traditional agent if a service like Grape Vine appears to give the same service at a fraction of the cost?

Licensed or not?

There are many reasons to do so, according to Ansel Clarke, president of the Ottawa Real Estate Board.

“Someone that is licensed certainly helps in a variety of ways,” says Clarke.

Licensed real estate agents must continually attend courses to keep their license, which means they are consistently kept aware of changes in the market. Their skills are always being upgraded so they are aware of all changes in the market and real estate law.

Clarke says real estate agents offer their expertise in exchange for commission on selling a home, which is typically five per cent of the final sale value. They either split this commission with an agent who brings a buyer or, in most cases, reduce the commission to four per cent if they introduce the buyer to the home as well.

“They are also legally required to work in the best interests of their clients, whether it is a buyer or seller,” he says.

Another benefit to using real estate agents is that in addition to their expertise, they help the seller or buyer through the whole process, which can be confusing. An agent takes potential buyers through the home and answers any questions, says Clarke.

Changing real estate

Many real estate agents say they don’t fear the trend towards for-sale-by-owner websites, but these sites are changing the way real estate works. Some real estate agents say to stay competitive, they have had to change to be more aggressive.

“We have had to change what we charge for commission,” says Leanne O’Donnell, an agent with RE/MAX Metro City Real Estate in the west end of Ottawa.

“We used to charge five per cent, but we have dropped to four on a few listings,” she says.

O’Donnell says she has also had to spend a lot more money on extra services, such as staging and virtual tours of the homes they are selling.

Although the real estate market is changing, the change is allowing for more options and better service for consumers. The best way for a seller or buyer to come out on top is to research and choose a method that is best suited to his or her needs.