Consumer Conversations

 Lauren B. Hubbard  |    May 05, 2016

A handful of buyers and sellers got together to discuss their real estate transactions in a focus group held at the WRA’s Management Conference.

The consumers who participated in the focus group all recently purchased and/or sold property primarily in the Milwaukee metropolitan area. Topics like rental payment increases, inaccurate online listing data and legal ramifications came up in the conversation; the participants discussed experiences that ranged from good to bad and everything in between.

Many REALTORS® today embrace and use modern technologies — like social media marketing or CRM software systems — to find and connect with consumers. But the insight from the focus group fell back to the basics of what makes a good REALTOR®: ethics, honesty and open communication.

Reasons for buying and selling

Consumers noted a variety of reasons for buying or selling, including commutes and travel time, investment value, increasing rents and quality of schools. 

What prompted you to decide to buy or sell, or both?

Nina: I had to get closer to work. I had an hour or hour and a half commute, and I was dying. I was wasting so much money on gas and so much time. Now I have a 15- or 20-minute commute, and I was used to an hour and a half. So this is amazing.

Dani: I was driving my son to school in Lake Country from Waukesha every day, back and forth. So we had to pick a school district and decide on that, and Brookfield works conveniently. We chose that, and I just started to look for houses in that area.

Mike: I decided to buy a house to get out of paying somebody else to rent and also getting into the real estate market for investment purposes.

Amy G.: Our rent was going up 30 percent a month. We were already paying probably more than what the apartment was worth, so it was a no-brainer. We went and put an offer in the next week.

REALTOR® search and selection

Many consumers began their search through friends, REALTORS® they knew, or in search of quality schools for their kids. Some further explained that they interviewed and “tested” various agents in their search to find the right match. 

Did you have somebody who helped you with the process, or were you on your own? 

Mike: I began searching out my friends who work with buying and selling and looked at the perspective of what kind of REALTORS® they are. I found one friend who is a REALTOR® who is primarily investment-focused. 

Nina: I knew a mortgage guy. He gave me a couple names, and I asked which name he preferred. I called her and we found a house in less than 10 days, so it was perfect. 

Isaac: We worked with a friend who my wife’s family has known for over 25 years. 

Gina: We ended up going through my old coworker’s husband. He was our listing agent, and it was a terrible experience. I think sometimes when you mix friends or family with business, you just can’t be assertive. 

Jason: I used an agent I worked with in the past and went from there. 

How many of you met with multiple agents before skimming down to the one that you worked with? How did you decide on a particular agent?

Nichole: We narrowed it down to two REALTORS® to see if they could figure out what our likes were without us telling them. And we did find one REALTOR®. Granted, we did nine months of searching with houses, but they found us the house that we were looking for.

Gina: We met with multiple agents, and there were some I instantly clicked with. Our “niceness,” if you will, took over when we decided to give business to an agent starting out. And it was hands down the worst financial decision my husband and I have ever made. I can honestly say I don’t think we’ll ever use a REALTOR® again after our experience. We were to the point that we were catching mistakes that the REALTOR® made on the documents. We would tell him that it was not correct. He said, “oops!” Everything was always “oops”; I must have heard “oops” a dozen times. Those “oops”es every single time cost us $1,000 here or $2,000 there. 

Online tools

When it comes to searching for properties, the Internet still reigns supreme. But consumers have become cautious of some websites because of inaccurate information as well as pending sales still showing as available online. In the end, the consumers noted that online searching still doesn’t compare to the insightful and necessary knowledge that REALTORS® provide in a transaction. That discussion about online searching, which included several questions, went as follows: 

What tools or resources did you rely on during the process? 

Isaac: Websites. 

Mike: I had my agent set up an MLS notification whenever a duplex within a certain block, radius or area would pop up. So I would get notified the day that it went up as a listing. A lot of properties in that area got snatched up even within hours. I would get notified that morning, then I would tell my REALTOR®, and by noon, we’re drafting an offer. 

Craig: Google Maps are always good. I would take the address of the house I was interested in and check Google Maps to see if there were power lines or businesses next door. 

Melissa: We used Waukesha County Tax ID to look up the address and can see the assessed value and what the taxes are. We would also use Wisconsin Circuit Court Access because we wanted to know if the homeowners were in the middle of a divorce or if we could find a reason why they were selling.

Isaac: On, you can search by county. I found it easier because it didn’t have as many pictures right away, but it had all of the details of the land and room sizes. 

Brigette: Our agent told us that is more up to date than lots of the other sites. We would look on, and then discover there was already an offer. 

How did you balance the online searching? Did you feel disconnected from your agent? 

Amy G.: No, I went online first. We were in a time crunch, and I found listings online and then sent those MLS numbers to the REALTOR®

Gina: I didn’t use a REALTOR® for the purchase. I would find a house I wanted to see, and I called the listing agent. 

Do you think you can get all the information you need online when buying or selling a home? 

Amy G.: No, because I think you can get all the facts, but you can’t get the feeling. You can either make something look really great in a picture, or a photo cannot capture how great the room really is. 

Isaac: We liked having the professional opinions of the market. Is it worth what they’re asking? Is it not? Should we try and put in an offer lower? Or if we want the house, do we really need to go where the price is at? 

Amy G.: Our REALTOR®’s advice was important to us because her son put in an offer on this house a few months earlier — a low-ball offer. She knew that if we low-balled this guy, he wasn’t going to play ball because he basically just flat-out rejected the offer. 

Mike: The REALTOR® I chose knows a lot of the listing agents in the area, and he talked to the listing agent and asked how far we could go down off the purchase price before pursuing anything formal. The MLS notification gave me a lot of data that helped me make my decision. It also included the “previously sold for” price and what year the property was actually sold. I might have seen that on Zillow or something, but I didn’t really trust that information. 

What makes you not trust the information on Zillow?

Mike: Because the MLS is exclusive. That’s all the hard data, and it’s all through the database. And Zillow just pulls information off of different websites.

Gina: When we sold our house, Zillow had all of our information incorrect. I remember buying our house 11 years ago, and that’s not what the taxes were, and that’s not what we paid for it. We thought maybe it was a glitch with our house.

Mike: You can also see the price increases or decreases on that MLS report. You can see if the seller reduced the price five grand on this date, and another five grand on that date. 

The open house debate

Are open houses a thing of the past? Very few consumers in the focus group raised their hand when asked if they attended an open house. Those who did explain their experiences with open houses did not have positive experiences to share. 

How many of you attended an open house? 

Gina: There aren’t many open houses. Our REALTOR® said no one does open houses. We had to beg him and say, “no, we want an open house.” He kept saying that REALTORS® don’t do open houses, they’re a waste of time, and no one comes through. 

Nichole: We had a prior house in another state, and we insisted on an open house every other weekend because we were trying to get rid of it and were living in Wisconsin. Of the seven months we had it up for open houses, we maybe had a total of 10 people [attend the open houses]. We’d pick up the Sunday paper and look for open houses, and there weren’t a lot of listings for open houses. Open houses are not advertised well, but when they are advertised, it’s just a sign at the end of the street. 

Real estate summed up in one word

The participants’ answers describing the real estate process ranged from good to bad. The words included: stressful, comfort, efficient, frustrating, easy, great, simplify, knowledgeable, tedious, experience, hands-off, professional, knowledge and exhausting. 

Write one word that describes the process of working with an agent to buy or sell a home.

Angela: (“Simplify.”) My husband has the mind that thinks 100 times faster. Our REALTOR® was always on call. If he had a question that was spinning through his head, she would answer her text or email right away. 

Nina: (“Great!” with a smiley face.) My REALTOR® was always responsive. If she couldn’t do it right away, she would let me know. And I really appreciated that.

Craig: (“Hands-off.”) My wife thought things would be a lot more complicated. It was hands-off for us. I knew the REALTOR® was taking care of things for us, and we didn’t have to keep asking for things. We just knew things were happening in the background. 

REALTOR® knowledge and value

The focus group participants voiced several different responses when discussing what they felt was the appropriate value of working with a REALTOR®

What sort of value do you think your REALTOR®'s commission provides? What do you receive for that?

Angela: I didn’t look at the percentage my REALTOR® was getting as long as she did her job.

Dani: My REALTOR® managed things that would have taken me a long time to figure out. It was invaluable. I didn’t have the time or knowledge to know what to ask or how to ask. She provided a service that was specialized, so that was worth it to us. 

Amy O.: Our REALTOR® did a lot of research and took us to a lot of showings. In the end when all was said and done, we don’t feel like our REALTOR® got what he gave us. 

Isaac: We were paying for relationships between agents. Our agent knew another listing agent. And based on that is why we got our house — because of the relationship she had with the listing agent. 

REALTOR® follow-up and future business

Less than half the consumers in the room had heard from their REALTOR® and/or another person involved in the transaction, such as a lending agent. Furthermore, when asked if they would use an agent again for their next transaction, almost everyone raised their hands in response to this question. Two participants explained why they did not raise their hands. 

How many times have you heard from your agent after closing?

Nina: Multiple times on my end. My REALTOR® texted me to ask how things are going. I heard from her a week after closing and two weeks after that. She sent me a text around the holiday and said, “I hope you’re doing okay and hope you like your drive.” My agent was awesome! 

Melissa: It’s more me reaching out to the agent. I wanted to educate her on some things that came up. She said, “I’m so sorry.” She has not reached out to me, but she does respond when I reached out to her. 

Amy G.: I heard from our lender. 

Isaac: We got a couple of emails asking how things are going. I also reached out looking for a contact in a specific field. There was a little dispute about the border lines of our property with the neighbors. We reached out to see if there was anyone we could talk to about that, and she was very helpful with that. 

How many of you would be willing to use an agent again for your next transaction?

Brigette: This was the first home we bought, so we were so unknowledgeable about the whole process. The REALTOR® made it a little easier, but I think we would have shopped around a little more. She told us to just do our research and send her homes, but it would be days before I would hear back from her. Two days later, the homes weren’t even on the market anymore. In the future, we would shop around for someone who would work harder. 

Gina: The people who bought our house had an amazing agent. He knew what he was doing. The people who bought our house ended up really scoring. He just fought for them, and our agent just didn’t fight back. And when you don’t have the ability to interact, you just sit on the sidelines. There were so many times I wanted to pick up the phone and just call the seller and say, “let’s just deal with this between the two of us and without the agents.” 


Is technology the way of the future? Of course, but it doesn’t look like technology will replace the role of a REALTOR® anytime soon. The focus group discussion eased this fear since nearly all participants utilized online searching yet voiced the importance of REALTOR® knowledge in the real estate process. And while taking advantage of new technologies as a way of connecting with potential leads is useful in today’s techy marketplace, the more traditional components of quality customer service — like strong communication, ambition and honesty — are still the most valuable characteristics that you as REALTOR® can provide to today’s consumer.

Lauren B. Hubbard is Editor for the WRA and of Wisconsin Real Estate Magazine and is responsible for developing and conducting the annual reader survey and the subsequent planning of editorial content.

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