The choice to work with a solo real estate agent or team is based on your needs as you go through the homebuying and selling process. (Getty Images)

When Tim Heyl ventured into real estate, instead of doing it alone, he wanted to establish a real estate team. As a solo agent, he reasoned, he would have to focus on the many chores of an independent business – an obligation that would take him away from clients. A team, however, would absorb many of those daily, office-bound duties.

Hence, he hired a sales manager to work the phone. Then an administrative assistant joined. Later came licensed agents to hold open houses and showings. Heyl spent most of his time on advising and negotiating, tasks he described as priorities for clients.

“Eventually, there was so much consistency in the operation that I had so much time to focus on the customer that we had a machine going,” says Heyl, whose team, The Heyl Group within Keller Williams, operates in several major cities throughout Texas, as well as in Denver and Atlanta.

Today, Heyl’s team consists of 30 agents and as many administrative staff, from transaction specialists to marketing professionals.

“I do not look at a real estate team as a group of agents,” he says. "A real estate team is there to do the back-end work so that the agents can focus on the most important work for the customer.”

[Read: The Guide to Selling Your Home]

Teams on the rise

While the definition of a real estate team, a relatively novel arrangement, varies, their popularity seems to flourish. In the 2018 Teams Survey of the National Association of Realtors, its inaugural such study, some 26% of respondents belonged to a team. Of those not on a team, a third have considered joining one or forming their own.

“We have heard from our members anecdotally that there seems to be a growth in teams,” says Jessica Lautz, vice president of demographics and behavioral insights at the NAR, adding that because of the newness of the report, no prior data exists to statistically measure shifts.

Teams usually form around an agent or broker, whose reputation attracts more clients than he or she could alone handle. Employing support personnel becomes a means to offer more services, clinch more deals and hone industry specialties.

“Real estate became much more transparent with Zillow and the internet,” says Jason Friedman of The Friedman Team at Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty on Long Island, New York. “A lot of the bigger agents were being contacted more and were taking on more inventory. So, in order to service everyone, we started to need more support.”

Real estate, nonetheless, remains an industry packed with solo agents at brokerages, which, in some cases, may provide them as little as an office. Yet, operating alone does not imply worse customer service than what teams can offer – far from it.

For real estate buyers and sellers, the choice between a single agent and a team encompasses a myriad of considerations that could tip the scale in any individual situation. Here is what you need to know about the team-versus-agent distinction:

  • Cost
  • Rapport
  • Communication
  • Service
  • Competence

What Is the Cost?

Expense often crowns the list of concerns in real estate transactions – especially for home sellers, who shell out commissions.

Whether a solo agent or a whole team lists a property, the cost to the homeowner is unlikely to differ much. This is because, in general, team profits do not arise from higher home prices and commissions, but from larger sales volumes, spurred by the ability to take on more business.

“We pool our databases together,” Friedman says. “We have probably 50 to 100 (potential buyers) who are prequalified and are looking for something in (a seller’s) price range and area.”

Moreover, with a team a seller often benefits from in-house services such as home staging, personalized marketing and financial counseling – the type of activities that a solo agent might outsource.

“If it is done right, a team can support a seller really, really well,” says Dennis Cusack, downtown sales manager at New York-based real estate company Stribling. “But on the buyer’s side I would argue you might want somebody who is more focused, more of a singular (actor) because they can pay more attention to you.”

[Read: The Guide to Making and Accepting an Offer on a Home]

What Type of Relationship?

Residential real estate is an anchor for a lifestyle. Thus, customers often seek agents who will not only secure the best financial deal but will also grasp their worries, needs and wishes. The latter requires a level of intimacy that may be harder to achieve as the number of involved real estate professionals grows.

“You get me and I am all yours,” says Peggy Moriarty, a solo agent with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. “I am not a machine. I get personally involved with every single one of my clients.”

Tory Ketter, an independent agent with Keller Williams in Austin, Texas, says he affords himself to be open about his own family with clients, a natural trait that earns their respect and trust.

This does not mean, though, that team agents cannot foster rapport. Customers may pick a team because they prefer an individual agent on it – often the well-established owner.

“I hear from colleagues that they might lose a listing or get one because some of the sellers really want a relationship with that rainmaker agent,” Ketter says. “That cannot work for every team business model.”

What Agent to Work With?

What works, nonetheless, is education, says Sally Forster Jones, owner of SFJ Group, a Compass-affiliated team, and a U.S. News & World Report contributor. Helping clients realize the benefits of relying on team members – as opposed to solely on her – presents the key to a rewarding transaction.

While every team boasts a disparate structure, a leader is seldom to house hunt with every buyer, a task delegated to showing agents. Such separation of duties allows clients to tap varied expertise during a process standardized by the team leader.

Solo agents may not flaunt a staffed office – aside from an assistant – but, today, they regularly leverage outside specialists and brokerage-wide support, as well as digital tools.

“If you know the right experts in every field, then, I guess, that is my team,” Moriarty says.

Still, a referred-out task may stretch for days. This harks to the broader need of time and accessibility. Teams, for instance, almost always have a member responsible for swift, general customer assistance. Agents who operate on their own may be harder to reach. Hence, the most respectable of them usually rely on an assistant and a healthy breakdown of availability.

So does Moriarty, whose work ethic and industry acumen recently delivered a house outside of New York City to media executive Daniel Mandell.

“It is easier to know what you are dealing with working with a single agent versus a team,” Mandell says. “There is no trying to understand each individual's perspective on a piece of property.”

[Read: Why You Should Sell Your Home in 2019.]

The sale of Mandell’s Manhattan apartment, though, was brokered through a team representative with knowledge of prewar construction. For both transactions, the agents’ expertise took priority over their affiliation – or lack thereof – with a team, Mandell says.

This sentiment should erase any ambivalence about doing business with a solo agent or a team. Both arrangements tout advantages and drawbacks but, ultimately, the dynamics and competences they carry should match a client’s preferences.

The Best Apps for House Hunting

Browse for homes – and maybe even close a deal.

Woman on smartphone

(Getty Images)

The days of picking up a real estate book at your local grocery store are long gone, and house hunting apps are growing in number and sophistication. As the online real estate marketing industry becomes increasingly competitive, mobile tools are getting better at helping consumers find accurate housing information. Check out some of the most popular and helpful apps to use when searching for your next house.

Updated on Dec. 12, 2018: This slideshow was originally published on Dec. 9, 2015, and has been updated with new information.

Zillow: Houses for Sale & Rent

Zillow: Houses for Sale & Rent

(Courtesy of Zillow)

The most downloaded real estate app for both Apple and Android phones, Zillow’s app includes an interactive map and home value estimate that are signature features offered by the brand. With more than 100 million homes in its database, Zillow's app is the most popular method by far. In fact, Zillow reports that more than two-thirds of its usage takes place on a mobile device, jumping to more than three-quarters of traffic on weekends.

Pro: The app’s dashboard includes a Your Home tab that allows you to store your property’s information and see how its value estimate changes over time.

Con: As much as you may want it to be, the Zillow Zestimate isn’t a guarantee of what your home will sell for.

Realtor.com Real Estate Search

Realtor.com Real Estate Search

(Courtesy of Realtor.com)

Filters on the search function in the Realtor.com app allow you to include some of the more specific details on your must-have list, such as multiple floors, fireplace, central air and even community swimming pools or security features.

Pro: With the Sign Snap feature, you can take a photo of a real estate sign you see in a neighborhood and get details about the property right away.

Con: The more specific filters rely on listing agents using all the right keywords, so if you’re struggling to find everything you want in a house, you may have to widen your search and keep an eye out for the details you want in listing photos.



(Courtesy of Trulia)

Another of the most downloaded offerings, Trulia's app gives users the desktop site experience in a mobile platform, with a focus on design that makes it easy to use for everyone.

Pros: On each property profile, Trulia lists local legal protections, noting whether there is legislation in the area to protect against discrimination for gender identity or sexual orientation in employment, housing or public accommodations.

Cons: On any property profile, you’re prompted to call or email an agent about the property. While this is convenient if you’re serious about buying but don’t have an agent, it can get in the way if you’re just browsing.

Redfin Real Estate

Redfin Real Estate

Stock image of someone holding a smart phone.

(Getty Images)

Since Redfin utilizes an out-of-the-box business model with agents and professionals specializing in different steps of the process, the company's app serves as a way for users and Redfin agents to communicate. In addition to indicating which properties are listed by Redfin or another broker, the map feature will also note homes that are likely to sell fast through its Hot Homes feature.

Pro: You can schedule a tour with a Redfin agent directly through the app. The app even lists the next available tour time, so if you’re crunched for time, you know what’s available.

Con: If you don’t live in one of the 80 markets Redfin has agents located in, the app simply serves as available listing information.

Homesnap Real Estate & Rentals

Homesnap Real Estate & Rentals

(Courtesy of Homesnap)

Homesnap gives house hunters the reins on its app, especially with its signature feature where you can take a photo of a home and the app will identify the property and provide details about it from the local multiple listing service or public records.

Pro: The start of each property profile includes a property history, including previous sale prices and when it last went on market.

Con: The property details come in list form, which you can expand to see everything from the architectural style to number of bathrooms to homeowners association fees. The amount of information is helpful, but the long list can make it easy to lose focus and miss key criteria you’re looking for.

Homes.com For Sale & Rent

Homes.com For Sale & Rent

(Courtesy of Homes.com)

Through the Homes.com app, you have multiple options for searching based on your needs and desires, including buying versus renting, home value information for properties on the market and what neighborhoods work based on your preferred commute time.

Pro: Sometimes you just want to see what houses are for sale in a completely different city – and Homes.com gets that. When you open the app, it asks where you want to search, with the option to search based on your location, where the weather is nice or even a random destination.

Con: While the app offers property profiles with ads to get prequalified for a mortgage, which may be helpful to some, mortgages are best shopped for separately.

Estately Real Estate

Estately Real Estate

Upscale modern house for sale

(Getty Images)

Estately markets itself as a service that's focused on connecting consumers with the right local real estate agent, and its app follows that mission with multiple ways to get in touch with agents, whether it’s scheduling a showing or reaching out to Estately-affiliated agents listed at the bottom of property information.

Pro: The app has icons on the property profiles for information on taxes, utilities, appliances, schools and more regarding the property, making it easy to look at the details you consider most important without having to scroll.

Con: Estately only covers markets in 39 states, and while the most populous places are taken care of, residents looking for homes in Iowa, Kentucky or Maine, among others, are out of luck.

Century 21 Local

Century 21 Local

(Courtesy of Century 21)

As a longstanding national brokerage, Century 21 is in the app game by providing consumers with access to home listing information pulled from local multiple listing services. The tool can particularly come in handy if you plan to use a Century 21 agent, as that’s who you’re put in touch with if you would like to inquire more about a property.

Pro: If you start searching for homes in a different city, information about the local Century 21 brokerage you should contact changes accordingly.

Con: Photos and property information load slower than many other house hunting apps.

Read More

Tags: real estate, housing, existing home sales, pending home sales, new home sales

Dima Williams is a reporter and editor who covers the residential real estate industry with an emphasis on economics, policy as well as luxury. As a managing editor for a national real estate website and magazine, Williams extensively collaborated with top producing agents across the country to develop expert opinion pieces and advice articles. Connect with Williams on LinkedIn.

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