I read an article a few weeks back in the Wall Street Journal about selling real estate as a career, and one thing that stuck out to me was the quote from the senior vice president of a large real estate brokerage, Laura Ellis:

“We do not see the part-time housewives [real estate agent] stereotype any more.”


Part time eye-surgeons? Image courtesy of Stanley Kubrick

It strikes me that if I had a choice between using a full-time eye surgeon or a part-time one, I’d probably go for the one who cuts open eye balls all day, every day, or at least has spent several years doing it full time. In my twisted view of the world, I want them to make all their mistakes on other people’s eyes before they get to mine.

The same goes for me with Realtors. If I hire one, I want a full time one. There’s an article written by real estate broker Teresa Boardman in Minnesota that puts forward arguments that defends part-time agents. It says that there are experienced agents on their way out of the business who cut down their hours, and still make a valid contribution. I see that. And it says that there is value in part time agents who have high level of skill. I see that, but I’m starting to shake my head. She also puts forward the idea that some full time agents are incompetent, and I hear what she’s saying.

But if I had to choose between a good part time agent and a good full time agent, I’d go for the full time one personally. I’m not so full of myself that I think real estate is as complex as surgery. A bad real estate transaction can lead to untold and sometimes expensive misery though.

Why do I feel so strongly about this, if after all the “part-time … stereotype” is going away?

There’s a lot more to being a buyer’s agent than driving around in a car looking at homes. Each purchase has its own set of subtle nuances and tricky parts that have to be navigated. No two clients are the same, and neither are their negotiations. It’s a raving, screaming lunatic sellers’ market here right now, so buying a home in Austin is challenging for everyone. So experience really counts in an agent.

I’ll give you an example. I listed a home for sale in Southwest Austin last year and received the usual stream of offers. So I worked with the seller to figure out which one was best for them, and how we could improve it through a series of negotiations. There are many signals that go into the “best offer” process. And one of them is the quality of the agent. And one agent showed us that with all other things being equal, their offer was definitely not. I’ll tell you why.

The offer came through with a few pages missing. [Warning sign!] So I called the agent to see if they could resend the pages. I left a voicemail and patiently waited for a response. The response came, and it said, “Sorry for the delay, I can’t take calls at work.” [Warning sign!]. The agent was a part time agent.

So not only was the agent unable to respond in a timely manner – pretty important in the bull goose lunatic market here right now – but he was also busy doing something else most of the time. How on earth did his clients expect him to be able to represent them effectively?

So why do people work with part time agents, sometimes the equivalent of having a hobbyist take a pallet knife to your eye balls?

I get it. You work all day with someone who is an agent “on the side”, and you trust them. And trust is a huge thing. Working with someone you know in what will probably be a harrowing experience (if your agent doesn’t know what they’re doing) might make the experience feel better.

But really? If you’re part-time agent friend really represented your best interests, they’d refer you to someone who was both full time and experienced. If they didn’t know the right person as they were too busy at their day job to network with other agents and attend broker events, then they could go into the MLS and do some searches to figure out who the best person for the job was based on whatever metric they chose – best list-price to sales-price ratio, most contracts in a neighborhood.

So that’s my rant about part time real estate agents. Sure, you might trust them. But can you trust them to do the job correctly? If you want to talk to a team of full time agents, call Sherlock Homes Austin at 512 215 4785


Fatima K · January 15, 2015 at 5:41 am

This article is unfair to agents like my brother. He works by day in an office, and since most of his clients work in the day too, he meets them in the evenings and weekends.
He tells all of his clients he has another job, and he gets referred by word of mouth to new people all the time, especially the people he works with for his day job.
He helped me buy my first home in 2014 in a very difficult market for buyer, and I can’t imagine working with anyone else.

    An Austin Realtor · January 30, 2015 at 7:53 am

    I’m glad you had a positive experience with your brother, and that his day job didn’t get in the way. I understand that trust is a big part of the relationship between an agent and a client, and the bond you and your brother has probably outweighs any potential downside.
    Congratulations on your new home.

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