- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

The competition for your business has become even more furious in recent years, with real estate companies offering various levels of service for the multitudes of customer-client types out there.

Whether you want bundled full service from a preapproval mortgage, home purchase or sale and settlement or to get your home in the MLS (multiple listing service), it’s pretty easy to find the company that would provide you the level of service you desire.

However, state legislatures — which govern real estate license laws across the country — are starting to bring the hammer down on licensees to ensure that consumers receive at least a minimum level of service.

A recent report in the Realtor Association Executive publication has addressed many of these issues for its members, who are the local and regional trade association representatives for the industry.

In the article, F.P. Maxson, an associate counsel for the National Association of Realtors, says limited service agreements “in which the listing broker offers no services other than placement of the listing in the multiple listing service, have left many real estate professionals in an ethical quandary.”

It usually goes something like this: A homeowner wants to sell his house himself. However, recognizing the power of the regional MLS, he wants his house listed there. Therefore, he solicits the assistance of a limited-services broker. This is generally a broker who uses a menu-based business model: You get what you pay for — nothing less, nothing more.

The consumer pays for each step of the process he wants: MLS entry, contract negotiation, signs, marketing, buyer follow-up, contract performance or monitoring fair-housing compliance.

The challenge in the industry, the NAR asserts, is that “[h]omesellers who employ these limited-service brokerages are essentially representing themselves in the transaction. … Often, when they encounter difficulties in the transaction process (such as an uncertainty regarding how to handle multiple offers), they ask the buyer’s broker for free advice.”

Mr. Maxson writes: “Real estate professionals say they frequently are asked to assist the sellers in completing the transaction. To do so could leave them exposed to claims of dual agency. On the other hand, choosing not to assist the sellers places the transaction in jeopardy.”

It’s a Hobson’s choice — and several legislatures are weighing in on it. Illinois, Texas and Michigan have been the first to begin a minimum-service challenge to their licensees.

All three require that if an agent is going to list a property, at least three points of service must be provided. Agents must:

• Accept and present all offers and counteroffers.

• Assist client in developing, communicating and presenting all offers and counteroffers.

• Answer the client’s questions relating to the offers and counteroffers.

The concept of a minimum level of service is growing. Missouri’s Realtors are now considering authoring legislation modeled after Michigan’s.

The rationale behind a minimum level of service is all about raising the bar of professionalism, according to George Stephens, 2003 chairman of the board for the Texas Association of Realtors.

“This is purely a consumer issue that has nothing to do with commissions or fees,” Mr. Stephens says. “Whether a broker is charging a flat fee or a commission, he or she should be required to deliver at least those three services.”

M. Anthony Carr is the author of “Real Estate Investing Made Simple.” Post questions at his Web log (https://[email protected]).

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