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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)

Luckily for homebuyers, house hunting apps are growing in number and sophistication. As the online real estate marketing industry becomes more competitive, mobile apps are getting better at helping consumers find accurate housing information while offering features to help users narrow down their search. Read on for some of the most popular and helpful apps to use when searching for your next house. All apps are available on both iOS and Android.

Updated on Nov. 6, 2019: This slideshow was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Zillow

Zillow

(Courtesy of Zillow)

This is the most downloaded real estate app for both Apple and Android phones, and it includes Zillow's signature map and home value estimate tools. With more than 100 million homes in its database, Zillow's app is the most popular method for users to explore the platform. In fact, Zillow reports that more than two-thirds of its usage takes place on a mobile device, jumping to more than three-quarters on the weekends.

Best feature: 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.

Pro: You have the option to filter your saved searches by property listings that have recently changed, so you don’t have to scroll far to see if a house's asking price dropped.

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 this app's search function allow you to include specific details on your must-have list, such as multiple floors, a fireplace, central air and even community swimming pools or security features.

Best feature: 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.

Pro: You have the option to connect with a real estate agent who can represent you as the buyer in a deal, but you can also see the contact information of the listing agent if you want to talk to him or her directly.

Con: The more specific filters rely on listing agents using 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 details in listing photos.

Trulia

Trulia

Fascia and Ridge of Gable Roof

(Getty Images)

Trulia’s app gives users a desktop-like experience in a mobile platform, with a focus on design that makes it easy to use.

Best feature: Trulia polls its online users who live in specific neighborhoods and includes the results on the app. For example, you might find that 93% of one neighborhood's respondents feel comfortable walking alone at night or that 76% say kids play outside regularly.

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 homebuying and selling process, the company’s app serves as a way for users and Redfin agents to communicate. A map indicates which properties are listed by Redfin or another broker and also notes homes that are likely to sell fast through its Hot Homes feature.

Best feature: You can schedule a tour with a Redfin agent directly through the app. The app even lists the next available tour time.

Pro: You can click the heart symbol to keep a property you like on your radar, and you can also nix properties so they don’t keep popping up in searches.

Con: If you don’t live in one of the 80 markets where Redfin has agents, the app offers local listing information pulled from the MLS, but you won't be able to utilize the features that connect you with Redfin agents.

Homesnap Real Estate & Rentals

Homesnap Real Estate & Rentals

(Courtesy of Homesnap)

Homesnap gives house hunters the reins with this app. A signature feature allows users to 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.

Best feature: The beginning of each property profile details the property history, including previous sale prices and when it last went on market.

Pro: Each home has a section that allows you to determine your commute route and time and see both map and street views of the property.

Con: The property details are in list form, which you can expand to see everything from the home's architectural style to number of bathrooms and homeowners association fees. The depth of information is helpful, but long lists can make it easy to lose focus and miss key criteria.

Homes.com

Homes.com

Woman on her phone

(Getty Images)

On this app, you can search based on your needs and desires, including buying versus renting, home value information for properties on the market and what neighborhoods are ideal based on your preferred commute time.

Best feature: An exclamation point in the corner of a property profile lets you know that it’s a new listing, which can help you move quickly to avoid competition with other buyers.

Pro: If you'd like to get in touch with a local agent, the bottom of a property's profile often lists more than one option, making it easier for you to shop around for the right agent.

Con: While Homes.com has much of the same property information as other house hunting platforms, the app doesn't offer much in the way of neighborhood information.

Estately Real Estate

Estately Real Estate

Mature businesswoman at cafe

(Getty Images)

Estately aims to connect consumers with the right local real estate agent, and its app offers multiple ways to get in touch with agents.

Best feature: Users can click on icons on property profiles for quick information on taxes, utilities, appliances, schools and more. Profiles also include scores on things like area noise pollution and internet speed – details that aren’t always considered but could be deal-breakers.

Pro: The app encourages you to see houses in person, with multiple opportunities on a property profile to schedule a day and time to visit.

Con: Estately only covers markets in 40 states, so those looking for homes in Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky and several others are out of luck.

Century 21 Local

Century 21 Local

(Courtesy of Century 21)

A longstanding national brokerage, Century 21 provides consumers with access to home listing information pulled from the local multiple listing services. The app can particularly come in handy if you plan to use a Century 21 agent, as that’s who you'll be in touch with if you would like to inquire more about a property.

Best feature: The app provides a notes section for every property, so you can keep track of your impressions as you compare homes.

Pro: If you start searching for homes in a different city, information about the local Century 21 brokerage you should contact changes accordingly, although you can still see listings from brokerages outside Century 21.

Con: This app pulls from Zillow to provide home value estimates, but occasionally lists "unavailable" even if the property has a Zestimate available on Zillow.

The best apps for house hunting include:

The best apps for house hunting include:

A row of detached homes in an idyllic community in Fredericksburg, Virginia

(Getty Images)

  • Zillow.
  • Realtor.com Real Estate Search.
  • Trulia.
  • Redfin Real Estate.
  • Homesnap Real Estate & Rentals.
  • Homes.com.
  • Estately Real Estate.
  • Century 21 Local.

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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