"There is no way I would do a deal without a realtor now," says one unhappy Calgarian after her recent experience with a residential real estate deal gone bad.
She and her husband say the legal release they signed after the deal went sour brought the experience to a bittersweet end that precludes litigation or public finger-pointing.
Having stared homelessness in the face, however, she agreed to talk about the experience so others can learn from it, even if the release means her name can't be used.
In brief, the story goes like this: Last month, the couple thought they'd inked a deal to buy a home in their northwest community of Citadel. The home was being marketed through a do-it-yourself company, which appealed to the couple.
|Dave Olecko, Business Edge|
|Vanessa Woodman says some companies provide little more than a lawn sign and advertising.|
They'd hired a real estate agent to guide them through the paperwork of a formal offer, but they enjoyed being able to deal directly with the homeowner. They'd even introduced three of their four kids to the vendor - and thought that was a key factor in his decision to tell them the house was theirs.
It wasn't long before the good feelings were mostly gone.
Suffice to say the whole deal ended when it turned out another offer was on the table. Although the vendor verbally accepted the "first" offer, then signed the papers, he'd also signed another offer; and it carried an earlier date.
By the time the error was discovered, the couple's first home had been sold, leading to another stress-filled week of house hunting. That quest culminated in a purchase outside of Citadel, where three of their kids attend school.
Her husband's morning routine now includes bus service.
It's the kind of story that makes Vanessa Woodman cringe. She holds the southern Alberta franchise to ComFree, a do-it-yourself (DIY) real-estate firm that bills itself as the nation's "largest commission-free real estate company."
ComFree, which was started by Woodman's late father 11 years ago, was not involved in the deal outlined here.
Indeed, Woodman insists these kinds of problems don't arise with a company such as hers. Whereas some DIY firms do little more than provide a lawn sign and some Internet advertising, ComFree costs more - and delivers more, says Woodman. (ComFree's deluxe service would run you about $650. Others launch their services at about $100.)
In addition to vendor education, lawn signage and magazine and Internet coverage, ComFree stresses the importance of legal assistance with contracts and offers 24-hour support to their vendor clients.
They also offer free legal advice to buyers, although buyers are encouraged to then hire the lawyer referred to them by ComFree if they close the deal.
Edmonton lawyer Darren Richards of Richards Wood Toogood says DIY deals can work, although complications arise if someone experienced in real estate deals is not involved until after a deal is signed.
Whereas a typical deal involving real estate agents tends to cover all the legal bases, key points are missed when amateurs do the job. "What ends up happening then is that we pick up the pieces," notes Richards.
"My experience is that probably 70 per cent of people that do their deal on their own still seek out professional advice at some point in the process.”
Based on that statistic, his advice is pretty straightforward. Get that assistance early.
Typical problems include issues regarding the need to renegotiate changed possession dates, financing timelines and expectations regarding who pays for the real property report. All of these are easily covered as conditions of the original offer. But they need to be set in place (not assumed) before the offer is signed, says Richards.
Given the reality of contract law, which focuses on what's actually been written down, buyers proba'-bly take the bigger risk in a DIY deal, adds Richards.
As long as the vendor gets an appropriate deposit and the right conditions for the deal, the worst that can happen is the deal falls through because the buyer can't qualify and remove conditions. If that happens, the seller gets to keep the deposit - and move on to the next offer.
The vitality of the residential real estate market in much of Alberta means "the sellers aren't taking a very big risk," says Richards. "They can try it on their own for a bit and if it doesn't work out, they can list it later. But it will get sold."
Russ and Bonny Rasmussen view the vendor risks a little differently. Real estate agents with Century 21 The Professionals Ltd. in Calgary, they say professional real estate agents are required to know what they're doing when they guide clients through the sale or purchase of a home. That training protects vendors from problems such as the one discussed earlier.
Agents hooked into MLS also give buyers access to the lion's share of homes on the market, a service that offers a distinct advantage over the DIY-market's focus on the Internet or drive-by viewer, says Russ.
He's convinced the DIY market's focus on the "commission-free" sale brings out the bargain hunters, which translates into an off-the-top deduction of what the buyer is prepared to pay.
As well, professional real estate agents typically pre-qualify potential buyers before they take them into someone's home. "We separate the lookers from the buyers," says Bonny. As she sees it, a lawn sign with a DIY phone number invites people you don't know into your home.
Mandatory training courses also bring agents an up-to-date perspective on the issues of the day, including the risks involved with buying a home once used to produce street drugs, or the need for vigilance regarding mortgage fraud.
In the end, buyers don't pay real estate commission - and vendors get a welcome hand in selling their homes, a process that even in Calgary's booming market currently averages about 40 days, says Russ. Besides that, "it doesn't cost anything to list your home."
The Rasmussens say they realize interest in the DIY-sale market is growing.
They're also convinced consumers need to ask more questions about what a real estate agent actually does to make a sale - and that most agents would welcome questions.
Russ says he's heard that 75 percent of DIY sellers end up using a professional agent. If that's true, the decision to go pro at the beginning of a sale might even save you some time.
(Joy Gregory can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)