Not Many Yelp Reviews, But We Hired Him Anyways! - Review from Melanie & Michael
Below is a review from one of my recent clients that she posted on Yelp (in a three part series). The depth she went into with this review blew me away, and I truly appreciate Melanie wearing her heart and agent selection process on her sleeve. Her review brings up all sorts of issues and topics that will provoke new thoughts and questions from you if you are in the buyer agent interview process. The flat fee that Melanie mentions below is something that I do with some clients, but not all. Many of my clients do not come out of pocket to pay me, so if that part of her review bothers you I encourage you to first meet with me for an interview before you make a decision. - Justin
I am a frequent user of Yelp reviews but had never written one myself. I recently joined Yelp specifically to write a review of Globella Buyers Realty, because of Justin Gramm’s exceptional work as our real estate agent. My husband and I hired him to help us buy our first home, and after our experience with him, I can’t believe he had only one Yelp review before this one.
I found Globella, which currently consists of one real estate broker (Justin Gramm), two ways simultaneously:
1. On Yelp. He had only one review. It was a glowing, very compelling review, but still: only one.
2. By contacting NAEBA online (National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents**) for an exclusive buyers agent in San Diego.
**(How did I learn about NAEBA, and what is an exclusive buyer’s agent? Some simple searches on tips for finding a real estate agent will quickly reveal the intricate web of conflicting interests that almost all real estate agents must navigate. Let’s assume your agent is an honest person who works for a real estate brokerage full of honest agents, and he--I’ll say he, in this case--wants to do well by his clients. Which clients? Most brokerages list properties for sale by clients selling their homes, while the brokerage will also represent potential buyers of those homes. Within the same business, agents are working on behalf of the conflicting interests of buyers and sellers, perhaps negotiating with themselves, while hopefully trying to temper their own interests in getting paid top dollar, because both buyers’ agents and sellers’ agents are usually paid a commission based on the home price; the higher the price, the higher the commission. These conflicts arise in the best of circumstances with the best of agents. Suppose the agent representing you isn’t honest or doesn’t aim to represent your best interest. Then it gets even murkier...)
I found that a true Exclusive Buyer’s Agent works for an agency that represents only buyers. There may be others, but Justin Gramm’s Globella Buyers Realty is the only exclusive buyers agency I came across in San Diego--out of about 16,000 real estate agents citywide. This was the main reason we chose to meet with him, and we crossed our fingers that his one very compelling Yelp! review was a representative review of his work. It was; in fact, he was better.
Justin sets up his payment to avoid the conflict of interest, in our case negotiating a flat fee, paid on closing. A typical commission is around 2.5-3% of the home price, and the seller usually pays both the buyer’s and seller’s agent. In our agreement with Justin, if the commission brought in less than our agreed upon fee, then we would pay him the difference. If the commission brought in more, then he would give us the extra amount over his fee. See more about this on his website; he explains it much better than I do here. In our case, we actually negotiated a fee that was likely to be more than any commission in our price range would cover. Impressed with our first meeting with him, we were comfortable paying extra for him and to avoid hiring an agent who had an interest in finding us the most expensive house we could afford. He also felt that he would be able to make up the difference in negotiations. With our transaction now complete, I’m confident that he did, but more than that, I feel that the service he provided made him easily worth the extra cost, even if his negotiating skills hadn’t saved us money.***
***Note: We did not have money to throw around in the home buying process, so paying Justin more than we would another agent was not something we took lightly. We could barely afford to get into the market in San Diego, purchasing our 800 sq ft house in Normal Heights--a 1937 house not yet remodeled and not to be remodeled any time soon. But hiring Justin was a strategic move, our most important resource in this complex process, we hoped. And it turned out, he really was.
What’s great about Justin Gramm’s Globella Buyers Realty?
1. His well-planned process. At each stage, he provided us with clear information and clear next steps. He calls the first meeting an interview appointment, an opportunity for us to share what we’re looking for and for him to present what he is and is not. He’s very up front about this. Since we knew we wanted to hire him, we negotiated his fee right then and signed an agreement. Having researched the practices of some agents, I was very reluctant to hire anyone with whom we needed to sign a contract. We met with another agent who was very slippery and who almost had us sign a contract saying that we would pay him regardless of whether we bought a house, regardless of when, where, and whether it was a house he helped us find. When we said we were shopping for agents and wanted to think on it, this other agent pressed us to look no further and sign on the spot. We’re glad we didn’t. In contrast, Justin’s contract was well reasoned, very clear, fair, and thoroughly explained. We felt very comfortable signing it at the time, though he provided no pressure for us to do so, and that sentiment never changed at any point later on.
What else about his process? Little things. Once we reached an agreement, he sent us a sort of orientation email, outlining how we’ll use the property search website, how we can best reach him depending on urgency, and reminding us that we’re the boss. At various stages, he directed us to pages on his website that were accessible only to his clients--pages that provided links to help with making an offer or to navigating the investigation period, for example, or simple checklists for the immediate future. These ended up being clear, concise points of reference that we often returned to. Whenever there was paperwork to sign (such as in writing an offer or negotiating repairs), he encouraged us to read it carefully on our own time first (instead of hovering over us as we read complex real estate docs), always walked us through it (unless we declined to do so), and then provided several opportunities to ask questions.
No time was wasted. While driving house to house together in one car, he encouraged us to ask questions and used the time to explain relevant parts of the buying process.
2. His website. This is an excellent resource. Look at it, use it,...even if you don’t hire him. But chances are that you will look at it, seek out comparisons with other agents, and decide that you not only want to use his website; you want this guy as your agent, too. And once you hire him, more pages of his website, not to mention the brain that created them, become accessible to you as well.
3. He’s exceptionally patient and generous with his time. He was very low pressure, even under circumstances when we took more time than we really should have. He repeatedly lent himself as a resource and seemed truly to be guided by the goal of helping us buy the right house for us, which takes a lot of deliberation and a lot of steps that can feel much slower to any bystanders not spending the money.
From the beginning I remained aware that there’s one conflict of interest our payment agreement didn’t avoid: time. If we’re paying him a fixed amount upon closing on a house, then he gets the same amount regardless of how many houses we see, how many offers we make, and even how many deals we back out of before we finally close one. That being the case, it seems that it would be in his interest to get us into a house ASAP, the first one we like, spending as little time on us as possible to get the highest hourly rate for himself by the end of it all.
However, having worked with him, it seems to me that there are two big reasons he doesn’t maximize his hourly rate this way: a) He’s the sort who doesn’t just want to get paid, he wants to do his job well--and he’s a smart enough businessman to know the long-term pay-off here, too. He said several times that he wants to exceed expectations, and he did. (Examples? I’ll try to be quick. We had a low appraisal. Normally it’s up to the seller’s agent to argue for the purchase price when it’s higher than the appraised value, but Justin submitted a thorough and well-reasoned document on everyone’s behalf because the seller’s agent was unavailable to do so. The document was several pages single spaced and demanded hours of research. It wasn’t his responsibility, but he took it on expertly and with a smile on his face and covered his bases in his communication with the seller’s agent in a way that still protected our interests for negotiations later on. He blew us away. He put so much time into a task that was arguably not part of his job, and he did it very well, shrugging off our apologies for the time-consuming transaction. He always made us feel that he was happy to be serving us so well; although I can’t imagine that he always felt so eager and energetic, there’s nothing about his behavior that ever suggested otherwise. He also was the sounding board on two or three time-consuming occasions of our intense indecision.) b) He has integrity. It’s very hard to mostly have integrity; you really basically have it or you don’t. He has it. Ethics and treating people well often came up implicitly and explicitly as top considerations.
4. More about his integrity. There are several example of this, but I will pick only one. We reached a point when we almost backed out. We fretted about wasting Justin’s time if we backed out, but he insisted that his interests were not a consideration and that he wanted to help us find a house that we love and could afford. Then he worked tirelessly to protect our deposit, even though this demanded more time from him for a job that would pay $0 if we successfully backed out. He could have just as easily convinced us that our deposit was on the line and not even tried to protect it, applying subtle pressure for us to continue with the deal. In our fragile stressed out state, it probably would have worked, especially since he already had our trust. Instead, there were many times like this when his actions and words allowed us to think about what was right for us, independent of his interests, which is exactly what we needed to do in buying a home, while also making use of his expertise guilt-free. This was exactly why we hired him. Ultimately, we did not back out, and felt good about making that decision, too.
5. His expertise and professionalism. This guy is well-educated, well spoken, friendly, ALWAYS punctual, exceptionally reliable down to the smallest task, and very competent. You’ll see on his website that he’s also a trained teacher, and this interest and skill comes through in his work as an agent. He enjoys educating you about the process--only to the extent that you want to know it, as he won’t go on at length to deliver unsolicited lessons--and we did want to know. Whenever we asked advice that was beyond his expertise as an agent--such as advice on prioritizing specific repairs or determining a legal question like how to hold title--he was very clear about the limits of his role, suggested other professionals, but willingly offered “amateur” advice if we asked for it anyway. When helpful, he also applied his past experiences as an agent and seemed careful not to exaggerate his past experience with unusual circumstances as they arose. He’s close to us in age, so as we worked with him longer, we found ourselves inclined to get chummy with him, saying jokes or asking about his family. We weren’t testing his professionalism; we liked him. He was always great about connecting with us, while maintaining the boundaries you need to remain productive. A very impressive individual.
6. Ultimately, we could trust him. The number one reason I would hire Justin Gramm again in a heartbeat, and willingly pay him more than most agents would charge, is that we could completely trust him to represent us. He strived to understand our position and desired ends so that he could communicate and negotiate on our behalf, and sometimes suggested creative alternatives with the same end in mind. We could trust that he understood us. We could trust that he knew how to engage with all parties professionally and think and speak well on the spot--better than we would have represented ourselves. We could trust that he knew the business well enough to have appropriately considered risks and benefits of potential next steps for us. And we could trust that he was going to look out for our interests. He assumed the best of others unless otherwise given reason but was not naive; he was savvy in helping us avoid potential legal or financial traps along the way.
This is another glowing review, and I imagine it will eventually blend in with many others. Justin is an excellent real estate agent. In addition to serving his clients, he clearly soaks up each transaction as a learning experience, educating himself and fine tuning his practice at every opportunity. This great attitude about his work comes through. Justin is a gem in the real estate business--and dare I say, would be in any business he chose, because he’s trustworthy, competent, and diligent--and once you work with him, you’ll find him to be just the sort you want on your side through this very important process. Hire him; you won’t regret it. Good luck!
~ Melanie & Michael
Justin Gramm is the founder and principal broker of Globella Buyers Realty, your San Diego Exclusive Buyer Brokerage.
Exclusive Buyer Agents do not list homes for sale and never represent sellers. They have no "inventory" to try to sell you. They can represent you in purchasing any home. They are specialists at representing buyers only on the buyers' side of the transaction. Exclusive Buyer Agents work to get buyers the best price and terms when they buy a home.
If you have excellent credit and plan to buy a home or condo in San Diego County within 90 days, contact Justin Gramm to hire an agent on your side of the transaction. More about Justin Gramm on Google+. Call Justin at (858) 437-2662 or E-mail.