Op-ed | Behind the hype, you still want a real estate agent

Real estate agent with couple shaking hands
Photo via Getty Images

Buying a home is serious business,  and requires the sage advice of someone who understands all of the complexities involved in the transaction and can offer step-by-step guidance through the process.

Owning a home is sewn into the American Dream. Most people strive for it and take tremendous pride in achieving it. Buying a home is one of life’s biggest investments which is exactly why the value proposition of having an experienced professional matters. Unfortunately,  reality real estate TV has been contributing to a narrative that is deeply misinformed and harmful to what real estate agents go through on a daily basis.

Show after show, the agents present themselves as the center of the universe. In actual reality, good real estate agents are focused on the agency of others, not themselves. 

Let’s be clear: real estate agents set out into the world with no guarantees of compensation. They take a chance with their time,  their most valuable resource,  and commit to working with people in pursuit of finding their homes.  There is uncontainable hope tethered to what agents do on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, our media portrayal is one of excess and luxury, which is absolutely not the case for the vast majority of real estate professionals.

Roughly 62% of real estate agents are women,  many of whom are single moms who are supporting their families. It is no coincidence that so many women choose real estate as a career as it allows them to have the flexibility they need to raise their families and make a living. 

Being a real estate agent is not a job for the meek or thin-skinned and requires you to  to work with no assurance that your efforts will be compensated. For most agents, there are no weekly paychecks. No bonuses. No employer supported healthcare, 401k, or W2 forms. Essentially, you are the CEO of your own business, and it takes  “hustle muscle” to really be successful. Agents are paid on commission – and despite what clickbait headlines might portray, real estate commissions have always been, and will continue to be, negotiable! 

In real estate, when you put your clients needs first and work hard, you build relationships that deepen and expand over time. One of the most valuable things in real estate is your reputation because it  arrives in the room before you do.

If there was a real reality show that portrayed what real estate agents do, no one would watch. Why? Because it isn’t sexy and dramatic. It’s business. Hours are spent on the phone and computer, attending and hosting multiple daily open houses, photographing a home, writing descriptions, filling out tedious board packages, and helping people get their financial documents in order.  However, TV  would have you believe that real estate agents are super models who simply get out of their chauffeured luxury car and unlock a door to a $50 million castle. Not quite. In NYC, most agents take the subway everywhere, run from appointment to appointment and work nonstop. In fact, the nationwide average annual income of a real estate agent is around $52,000 – that’s not private jet money.

Even with all the new technology and listing aggregators out there, 87% of home buyers still choose to work with an agent. A buyer’s agent can explain the process of what is involved, how much money will be needed, where to get a mortgage, what the timeline is, what the building will be like, the neighborhood character, transportation options, and more. They bring actionable knowledge to the table. And let’s not forget, agents can work with the same client for many years with nothing to show for it if a deal doesn’t happen.

Contrary to the misinformed narratives, there is an indisputable  value proposition in what good real estate professionals do.The vast majority of real estate professionals will continue to work quietly outside of the spotlight with the utmost commitment to their buyers needs.

Bess Freedman is CEO of Brown Harris Stevens Real Estate.