Real Estate and Travel Agents — Not the Same

November 28, 2014

As a real estate investor, I’ve learned a lot about the business of real estate, transactions, and how the buying and selling game is played. I’m definitely not in the real estate agent-bashing camp, as investors get a lot of value from their relationships with real estate professionals. Sure, many of our deals never get close to an agent, and that’s just the way it works with distressed properties and motivated sellers. Our buyers are frequently other investors, so we connect a lot without real estate representation.

A recent independent poll commissioned by Discover Home Loans provides insight into how consumers use technology in the real estate buying and selling process, and how they view it as a resource. A few key findings point out how much consumers use technology for real estate activities:

89% of homebuyers use some form of technology to help them with the home buying process.
47% of all homebuyers report using technology helped them save money
92% of homebuyers say technology helped them save time
90% of homebuyers report an overall positive experience when using technology
83% of homebuyers feel technology helped them stay organized
93% percent of technology users say technology allowed them to do things remotely they otherwise would have had to do in person

Surveys like this one always bring out the viewpoint of many that real estate agent futures are going the way of the travel agent. I disagree, as there are differences in their relative services and their complexity. One other interesting data point from the survey is that 83% of the responding consumers used a real estate agent’s services in their transaction along with the technology tools.

Investors and consumers have somewhat different valuation criteria for real estate agents because we don’t necessarily use them in the same ways. The consumer usually has more process and transaction questions, needs more help in document review and negotiations, and relies on their agent for expertise gained from constant activity in the market. The investor tends to value the contacts, lead sources, and the transaction management services more. We let the agent take care of the details, even though we could do it ourselves; it’s more efficient.

The travel agent business model has definitely taken a major beating from technology, and a lot of the more common booking and research functions can be done online with sites like Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Kayak, and others. Travel agencies that still flourish seem to be providing packaged upscale services for convenience, niche destinations and themed travel. Agencies put together trips with themes like food, history, books, movies and more. The key seems to be that there is more research and expertise involved to pull these themed destinations together than to just book a trip to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower.

Real estate transactions involve a lot more detail, legal pitfalls, and liability issues than putting together a trip itinerary. Many deals are simple, but others can have some tricky property restrictions, liens, encroachments, and other title and ownership issues. Even if there aren’t major problems, the average buyer or seller gains comfort from an agent who goes through the documents with them, such as title insurance and surveys, to make sure there aren’t any nasty surprises. Help with home inspections and negotiating repairs is another example of agent value to the consumer.

Articles from doomsayers that the real estate agent is going the way of the dinosaur are premature and overstated, at least until bigger technological advances come along. Does this mean that the full service brokerage and current commission levels are safe? Hardly. Real estate is really more of a service business than a sales business, especially since the Internet has made it easy to market a home to the world online.

The sooner real estate companies, franchises, and agents as independent contractors recognize where their value lies in the new tech-oriented process, the sooner they can adapt their service offerings and costs of doing business to meet consumer needs and price concerns. Flat rate service models are gaining ground, as well as discounted commissions for reduced service packages. Real estate agents will be around for a while, though they will definitely be doing some things differently.
Dean Graziosi

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It’s Not Too Late to Add Real Estate to a Retirement Plan tracks home foreclosures and a lot of other real estate market sales and price data. In a recent report, RealtyTrac says that distressed residential properties sold for a median 37 percent below market prices in September 2014.

Sure, there are far fewer foreclosure properties on the market today than there have been in recent years, but there is still opportunity for investors. This discount is based on a median distressed property sale price of $ 130,000 nationally as compared to $ 205,000 for non-distressed properties. We can see from this data that there are still some great bargains out there for the investor who is willing to overcome poor property condition and other pitfalls.

Generally, these homes are in less than stellar condition, some in really poor states of repair. However, 37 percent leaves a lot of room for corrective action, even for the aggressive flip investor. For the rental property investor who wants to keep the property as a long-term investment, there is still a lot of opportunity. Rehab of a distressed property that comes in under around 90 percent of current market value results in a purchase that locks in an investment profit at the closing table.

It’s the long-term positive cash flow that seals the deal for rental investors though. When a property can be purchased below market value, it’s easier to keep expenses of ownership below what the property will rent for in the current market. This monthly positive cash flow can be used for other living expenses or reinvested in rental property. If you’re investing inside an IRA or 401k, keeping the cash flow profit in the account allows your investment to grow with pre-tax dollars. These are called “self-directed” retirement accounts, and your choices of account custodians is limited. There are also some strict rules, so if you check into this do a thorough job of it.

The point of this article is to show the potential for retirement account building with rental property, and to let you know that it’s never too late to start. The RealtyTrac report tells us that there are still bargains. Of course, real estate should only be a part of your overall retirement plan, so discuss your allocation of assets with someone you trust. Single family rental home investment isn’t the only avenue to invest in real estate. An interesting article over at titled “Why Mobile Home Parks Are Wowing Wall Street” describes one alternative investment avenue.

We’re talking here about mobile home parks that charge rent for the space where a privately owned mobile home is parked. A very interesting statistic in the article tells us that 98 percent of mobile homes never move from the original spot to which they were delivered and set up when purchased. Turnover certainly doesn’t seem to be a problem. When you compare this to vacancy rates in even the best of rental portfolios, it’s impressive.

Several other data points in the NuWire article help to illustrate the opportunity in mobile home park investing:

Recession resistance — Because the tenants in mobile home parks are for the most part in the lowest income demographic, they continue to work and earn through the ups and downs of the economy. It also costs thousands to move a mobile home, so they aren’t going to leave on a whim.
Rents are flexible — Mobile home space rents are low, generally around a quarter or less than the rent for an apartment, so there’s room to push them upward when the need arises.
Low maintenance costs — Land and installed utilities are the major costs involved in operations. Land requires little or no maintenance (landscaping maybe), and utilities are also low maintenance items over the long-term.
Double-digit cash-on-cash yields — The combination of all of these factors produces a great yield on money invested, particularly if you can buy a park at a discount to value.

I’m not recommending buying into a mobile home park for all investors, just pointing out an overlooked investment opportunity that may appeal to some investors, particularly those living where mobile home parks are common.

The point is to think about diversification into real estate in a long-term retirement plan. Single family homes are still a great asset, but getting creative can provide alternatives that involve less competition and at far higher yields than other investment types.

Dean Graziosi

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