It’s time to relocate, AGAIN. You are getting all the details at your current location sewn up; packers, movers, last doctor appointments, school and medical records. You have researched your new area; the best restaurants, schools, an orthodontist for your pre-teen. Now it’s time for one of the most important decisions of your move… you need a real estate agent to help you sell the home you currently own, and another to help you navigate the home-buying process in a new town. How on earth do you decide who to trust to help you with such an important decision?
With all of the programs and advertisements out there, it can certainly be a daunting task. Who’s the best? Is it the gal who sent that flyer to you in the mail? Or is it the big company that has the Super Bowl ads? Maybe it’s one of the 50 websites painted red, white and blue that promise they love the military? Is it the first search result on Google, or the real estate agent your friend swears is awesome?
Here is a quick rundown of some of the most popular ways to find a real estate agent, and why you may want to consider another alternative.
The Big Guys
We’ve all seen the ads on TV and probably do some banking or insurance with some of the larger military friendly banks, credit unions, or insurance companies. Certainly, these companies offer some great services to military personnel and their families. But are they really the best fit for finding a real estate agent?
The good part is that if you decide to use one of their programs, you will get an agent, and you may get a little bit of money back. Here’s the potential downside: The sole purpose of these programs is to generate lending revenue for the big guy, and many times those mortgage programs are NOT ideal. You’ll likely pay a higher rate and might even have problems at closing. Big bureaucracies, military or not, often have the same problems, and it very well might take you 60 days or longer to close on a loan.
Furthermore, the big company will often charge the agent they send you to 40% of their commission as a referral fee. What does this mean? It means that you might not be put in front of the best, but rather someone who is brand new or not exactly motivated about growing their own real estate business. Most good agents realize they can provide great services and shouldn’t have to work for pennies on the dollar.
The biggest downside? Of that referral fee the big guys charge the agent, you get only a small fraction back, if any at all. Ten states currently restrict them from sharing any of this back with the buyer or seller. Going with the big guys is by no means a guarantee of a good experience. It could mean you don’t get a great agent, and probably means you are not getting much of a rebate.
The flyer in your mailbox or first hit on your Google search
This is a great option if you really love to gamble because this method is honestly a crapshoot! You may luck into a great Realtor, or you might not. In order to avoid getting a “not-so-great” one, this method requires you to do some extensive research. You want to know what their experience is, if they are trustworthy, and what recommendations they have from other clients. Unless you specifically negotiate a discount or rebate, you will probably be stuck paying the full 3% commission. If you’re looking at some of the traditional rating websites, WHO KNOWS who is writing those reviews? Reviews could be written by the agent themselves, their sister-in-law, or some guy in India for $5 bucks a pop. Gambling might be fun at a casino on a long weekend in Vegas, but it’s not ideal when making a large purchase like a home.
The “military real estate” organization
Depending on who you go to, this might be a good or a bad thing. The first thing to be aware of is who owns the network. A lot of these programs may be fronts for either larger real estate brokerages or lenders simply trying to grab the “military dollar.” We’ve seen plenty of these programs using old or incorrect stock footage with either messed up uniforms, long hair, or other oddities that are telltale signs they are not actually in tune with the unique needs of the military family.
Some of these programs cater exclusively to veteran or spouse real estate agents, and that can be a positive. But the truth of the matter is, while we have inherent trust in our fellow military members, we all know that just because someone or their spouse wore the uniform doesn’t mean they are the best person to handle your real estate transaction.
While some of these organizations or websites offer cash back, (subject to the limits mentioned before), others just ask for your information. They then refer you to someone in their network while pocketing referral fees they charge their participating agents. Either way, you might not know if the real estate agent they put in front of you is any good or not. In many cases, they are taking 25% of the real estate agent commission.
Here are some simple questions to ask
- Do I have any say in who this company or website sends me to?
- Does this real estate agent have any reviews, and if so, who made them? Can I trust them?
- Will I get any sort of rebate (and am I in a state where that’s prohibited?)
- How much of a rebate will I get?
- Is there a larger corporation behind this group, or agents who stand to get a big slice of the sale I’m paying for?
If you can answer all of those questions, you’ll have a much better chance of having a good experience with the real estate agent you choose!
The BEST Choice
The best choice in the market by far is PCSgrades.com. Here’s why. PCSgrades is run BY and FOR military families with a team comprised almost entirely of veterans, and spouses. The goal is to bring transparency to the process of helping military and veteran families solve problems related to moving.
All of the real estate agents on PCSgrades are reviewed and graded by VERIFIED military members, veterans and spouses. This takes the guesswork out of whether or not the review is fraudulent or trustworthy. PCSgrades allows only current or former military families to rate and review real estate agents (and other services), then lets you pick who you want to work with based on their reviews. This means it’s not a company promising its real estate agent is the best, or arbitrarily giving a stamp of approval, but rather other military families vouching for the services.
One of the best parts of this service is that no real estate agent can be featured on PCSgrades without a review from a military family. This weeds out the newbies, or wannabes, and leaves reputation-based professionals who’ve already helped other military families. The agents on the PCSgrades website are also not just from one real estate company or brokerage. Agents from any brokerage are welcome to participate with PCSgrades, as there are great professionals working at different companies all over the country.
The other great part of PCSgrades is that every agent who participates on the site agrees to give 20% of their commission back to you as a rebate (reference restrictions above…sometimes VA loans will limit rebate amounts too.) The average rebate amount back to military members through PCSgrades is just under $2,000!
PCSgrades also offers a concierge service for areas where the review database needs more information. What does this mean? This means we will do some vetting for you and find military-friendly real estate agents who agree to be reviewed AND give you the same 20% rebate.
Finally, relocating your life is never easy. With all of the brands competing for your hard earned money, finding the perfect, trustworthy real estate agent shouldn’t add stress to your next move. The key to cutting through the noise is to do your homework and be aware of the different individuals or companies competing for your business.
We look forward to helping you make a decision that is best for your family and your wallet the next time you PCS.
Tony Straw is an Air Force veteran, instructor pilot, and licensed REALTOR. He lives in San Antonio, TX and is a Major in the Air Force Reserves.