Home buyers rely on real estate agents for information about their local market that they can’t get anywhere else. In fact, real estate agents are home buyers’ most important source of information about new homes after the Internet. Last year, 33% of buyers learned about their new homes via a real estate agent.
Agents’ influence is not declining despite consumers’ use of the Web, and for most new home transactions, Americans still prefer to have a Realtor. Last year, 87% of buyers purchased their home through a real estate agent or broker—a share that has steadily increased from 69% in 2001, according to the National Association of Realtors.
In the course of helping their clients find the right house, these buyer agents meet a lot of builders and walk through an untold number of houses. This means they see where builders are making the grade and where they are slipping up. While many of them compliment builders for doing a great job even during tough economic conditions, they have also have strong opinions about what building pros could do better. Here are 15 of the top things they wish builders did differently.
1. New vs. Existing
Realtors say builders undermine sales by not playing up their biggest advantage: New homes are preferred to previously owned ones. They urge builders to market the value of a new home, which comes with warrantees, energy efficiency, and up-to-date design that older homes don’t have.
Buying a new home is especially ideal in markets where there’s a lack of inventory in certain price ranges, especially in entry level and move up categories, they say. In her Edmond, Okla., market, Realtor Jennifer Fields says new homes are highly sought after, especially in popular school districts. Builders in her area are working to design and customize homes that rival the price point of existing homes. “This makes new homes the obvious choice for many buyers,” she says.
In addition, new homes also offer flexibility on closing times, says Dana David, an Amherst, N.Y., real estate agent. “The hardest thing in this market is for my sellers to sell their home and also buy in a timely fashion,” she says. “Building a new home allows them to know where they are going before we list their existing home, and also gives me the ability to negotiate in time to rent back or for an extended close.”
Even though buyers prefer new, in the end it all comes down to price, says Susanna Madden, a Tampa RE/MAX agent. “If the HOAs and CDDs and add-ons are cost prohibitive, buyers will look at a ‘lovingly maintained’ resale that the seller has kept up.”
2. Model Homes
A model is often a prospect’s first impression of their future home, and it should entice them to visualize living there, says David Rice, founder of New Home Star, a Chicago-based real estate sales management firm. “It’s a hugely meaningful thing to be able to conceptualize the next chapter of your life,” he says.
Models need to be fully complete, says Houston agent Bill Baldwin, because ones that are not finished give a bad impression. Moreover, agents are dismayed to walk into a model with a client and find that it isn’t in working order or is dirty. “They should be equipped with everything including light bulbs, working sinks, and door knobs,” says Seattle-based Keller Williams agent Matt Parker. “And they should be cleaned every other week.”
Realtors say that no matter the style or size the model home, it should always be staged. It’s one of the most important steps to selling a home, says New York Realtor David.
“I've taken on expired listings of vacant model homes... once staged, buyers can picture themselves living in them and usually they sell in record time,” she says.
But many agents caution builders and their designers not to take staging too far because overdecorated models can look cluttered and confuse customers about what is standard and what is an upgrade. “Sometimes they are set up with lots of bells and whistles that don’t come standard, says Coldwell Banker agent Missy Stagers of San Antonio, Texas. “Make sure to clearly notate what is an upgrade.”
Models need to strike a middle ground between overdesigned and plain vanilla, says David. “It is hard for clients to walk into a fully loaded model home and picture it at the base level,” she says. “While I realize builders need to showcase their ‘best stuff,’ it would be great if there was a way to have a model with every upgrade, and also one available to see with just the basic offerings.”
Stagers has a good idea: “Offer some nice things in the basic package so everything is not an upgrade,” she says.