Thursday, April 18, 2024

Smooth Criminals Strike Again

The ugly issue of brokerage transaction fees has come up again. While it's legal to charge anything you can get a client to agree to, the practice of adding a fee on top of the commission being paid is, in almost every situation, a distasteful and dishonest practice. As I've described it in the past, it's robbery by a smooth criminal. In discussions with other agents who charge these fees, the almost unanimous justification is that it's to pay the personnel who handle the paperwork and shepherd the transaction through to closing. Most have convinced themselves that what they're saying is true. It's not. As Jeff Goldblum's character Michael in The Big Chill famously said, "I don't know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations." This one is as juicy as they come.

I wonder how the many brokerages that don't and have never charged transaction fees, like Walker Bagwell, manage to pay for the cost of handling their transactions without the fees variously called "regulatory", "brokerage", "transaction", "compliance" etc. The simple answer is, that's what the commission is for, to pay the brokerage for selling or helping you buy a property. These fees are often used by brokerages to offset high commission splits they offer to attract agents. Most of the time, when an agent charges their client a transaction fee they are having the client subsidize the higher split they are receiving from their broker. The rest of the time, they are simply profiteering at the expense of their client. Both of these reasons stink to high Heaven and are dishonestly presented to clients as a routine cost in a real estate transaction. Most people have not done enough real estate deals to know the truth. An ethical agent will eat the few hundred dollars out of the thousands they are receiving in commission rather than pass it onto their client if the brokerage will not waive it. An agent who will not drop a compliance junk fee when asked does not deserve anyone's business. Even trying to charge a transaction fee is evidence that the agent should not be trusted. There are plenty of agents like myself who find the practice abhorrent who will not rob their clients of an extra few hundred dollars. I would advise all sellers and buyers of real estate to refuse to pay these junk fees when presented with them. It is not normal practice and it is not done by the agent you want representing you. No agent is going to walk away from the thousands of commission dollars they are already being paid over a few hundred. As Nancy Reagan said, "Just say no." The junk fee will disappear.

There may be situations where the commission being paid is so low that a fee is called for, however, these types of deals are rare. Don't be fooled. With the changes proposed by NAR coming soon I expect junk fees to become more widespread as agents and brokerages position themselves to take advantage of the new rules whatever they turn out to be. 

Key takeaway here is that there should be no extra fees of any type paid to a brokerage for buying or selling a property beyond the commission being paid. An agent may tell you it's non-negotiable and must be paid no matter what. They're lying and will pay out of their commission when the client refuses, every single time. Don't be robbed. I will close out this rant with another brilliant quote from The Big Chill that perfectly applies to this practice;

Nobody thinks they're a bad person. I'm not even claiming that people always think they're doing the right thing; they may know that they're doing something dishonest or insensitive or manipulative but they almost always think that there's a good reason for doing it. They almost always think it will turn out for the best in the end, even if it just turns out best for them, because by definition what's best for them is what's best.” _Jeff Goldblum as Michael in The Big Chill

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Doubled and Rising

The inventory of residential properties for sale in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral continues to increase. This morning there are 283 MLS-listed condo and townhome units and 41 single family homes for sale in our two cities. That total is over twice what it was last April. There have been 87 new condo listings in just the last 30 days while a quarter of the units for sale have been on the market for over six months without a sale. 

Sales activity so far in 2024 has been slow. The number of condo units sold in the first quarter of 2024 was the lowest in eleven years continuing last year's downward trend after the peak sales years of 2021 and 2022. April looks to follow the decline with 24 units closed so far at a median selling price of $460,000. Half of those units sold in the first 34 days on market with six of them selling in the first week. Three of those first week sales closed for over a million dollars and sixteen of the 24 sold for cash. Median condo fee of the sold units was $755 a month. Over a quarter of the remaining condo inventory has monthly fees exceeding $800.

Our market is noticeably different than a year ago. Sales didn't begin to slow down until mid-summer last year and that slowdown is continuing. The 126 listings that are older than 90 days are not listening to the market. Recent years' prices are not working now except for exceptional properties. Sellers that are clinging to what their neighbor got in 2022 are likely to see their listings continue to languish.  Sellers that bought before 2021 are probably in a position eek out a profit but those that closed in 2021 and 2022 are unlikely to be able to recoup their purchase price in today's market should they want to sell. There are quite a few listings that were just purchased last year and year before. Unfortunately for them, buyers are once again in the driver's seat in our market and can afford to be patient and selective with rising inventory and declining comps.

Just when we thought the season was over a huge wave of visitors rolled into town this past week. Traffic on the roads, sidewalks and at Publix has been thick and nine holes at the Cocoa Beach Country Club might take two and a half hours if your timing is unlucky. You won't know until you're on the course. Either way, the weather has been superb and rockets have been launching at a rate we've never seen before. Cocoa Beach is a special little surf town sandwiched between the river and the ocean and spaceships are a common sight. Not a description that applies to many places. Cheers, all.

"The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity." William Butler Yeats