The Real Truth about Free Home Evaluations (And Why I Only Give them to Clients Now)
The banker adjusted his glasses as he looked over the couple’s finances.
“You’ll need an appraisal,” he said, setting the papers down, “every mortgage requires an appraisal be done.”
The woman asked, “Where do we get that done? And how much does that cost?”
“Appraisal companies charge a few hundred dollars,” he said. Then he leaned forward and smiled. “But you don’t need to bother with that. Just call a real estate agent. They do them for free.”
The couple left the bank, delighted to have saved a few hundred dollars. They did not ask or wonder why one person would do hundreds of dollars of work for free and the other never, ever would.
Somewhere, moments later, a REALTOR’s® phone rang…
Real estate is this weird industry where people expect highly trained professionals to work for free (or less). It’s not just family and friends either, like you might experience in your job – it’s this broad expectation from all of society – bankers, lawyers, buyers, sellers – that real estate agents can and should work for free.
For over seven years, I was that REALTOR® getting the call for a free home evaluation. (thank you, Mr. Banker, sir. May I have another?) I’d eagerly take the call, invest the hours, drive all over tarnation, and tromp through snow and mud – and all for free. It took me a while to realize I don’t actually have to do that to myself.
Why It Used to Be a Good Idea
In fairness, free home evaluations are a valid way of drumming up business. It was a great way to meet people who were interested in buying or selling houses, and start a conversation about their needs and how we can help. We could even demonstrate how reliable and effective we were before asking to represent them.
Why It’s Not a Great Idea Anymore
Things have changed. (They always do)
What was once unique and creative is now commonplace. That means a few things:
- It’s so common it’s actually an expectation. Why pay when you can get the milk for free? It makes a person wonder if it undermines the level of professionalism realtors could otherwise be known for. If realtors were a house on a city block, would their being free make them the cheaper house, or the high-value, more desirable house, for example? Something to think about.
- People who have REALTOR® representation will still use another agent’s free home evaluation offer. Why? Because they don’t want to “bother” their own agent who they’re paying. It’s more courteous to make some other random agent work for free for no benefit. I know it doesn’t
make sense. I also know it makes no dollars.
- Marketing is about standing out. Doing what is common does not stand out. I’m learning that the more I do things others don’t, the more I set myself apart. (Blogging, going mobile (instead of the brick-and-mortar office, offering 3D Virtual Tours of my listings, Professional photos (oh, the number of people that don’t do that, but really, really should…), and charging for home evaluations to name a few) The more attention I (and my listings) get. Which is kind of the point, no?
Why I Only Give Free Home Evaluations to Clients Now
I’ve learned my lesson. I will not work for free for strangers for no benefit. I’ll work like a Clydesdale for my clients though, and it’s for them I reserve my resources, energy, and time. To give it away to anyone else is to take it away from them. Priorities, you know?
A few other reasons I don’t offer free evaluations to any Joe Blow are:
- Clients like it.
I can’t tell you how often people have called me up asking for a straight-up evaluation.
“I’m calling you because you’re known to be professional” they’ll say.
“I want a home evaluation, but plan to sell privately. Can I just pay you for the evaluation and not have to have the conversation about representation?”
The answer is yes. They respect my time, and I respect their needs. It’s an awesome arrangement. And, often times, that speaks to my professionalism more than offering the service for free. (Counter-intuitive, I know, but it works)
- I don’t work for the bank or the mortgage broker. When they send people to take advantage of me, (er, I mean use my services for free), they get paid, their clients get a mortgage, and I get nothing. It puts no food on my table. No, sorry. I do not work for the bank. (Not at those prices!)
- I’m Not New at This.
I’ve invested thousands of dollars in my professional training to become the best at what I do. My multiple Specialist certifications came at a price. My edgy technology and professional team members come at a cost. And my years of experience are priceless.
None of this is offered by a new kid on the block. It’s unreasonable to expect I’d work for newbie wages. (Would you?) And the adage is true – you do get what you pay for. That’s why I pay, and why you should too.
- To Raise the Perception of our Industry Real estate agents are professionals. We are resented for our seemingly large commissions (here’s a peek at how our commissions work), we’re presumed to be rich, and are expected to work for free as penance. (Just ask the stranger who asked me for thousands of dollars out of the blue) It’s an unfortunate, and unjust perception.By charging for my professional time and service, I hope to communicate the respectability of being a REALTOR®. It is a profession, and one that ought rightly to be paid for.
I have no grand notions of changing the industry single-handedly. Free evaluations have always been done and they’ll continue to be done. And, especially in the beginning when one is eager to connect with people and get their face and name out there, it can still be a viable prospecting method. But I do think there comes a time when a person needs to shed old ideas and embrace new ones.
Tina Plett, Sutton Group-Kilkenny Real Estate
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