The advent of the computer has changed real estate sales in profound and permanent ways.

The information that had previously been guarded in a sales office is now online for anyone to see. Buyers sometimes know more than their agent about the specifics of the market. At its worst, the agent's role may appear to the client as little more than an overpaid transactional intermediary.

Despite these recent trends, a good agent, especially a buyer's agent, should add significant value to a purchase or sale transaction in the following ways:

Negotiation skills: Not everyone is good at negotiating; it is a skill often acquired over time and through experience. Reaching the desired outcome often requires more than just numbers with dollar signs being batted back and forth. Understanding of interpersonal dynamics, recognition of issues of respect and notions of fairness can be key components of a successful negotiation. Knowing the personalities of other real estate agents is an important piece of the landscape.

Problem solving: Obviously failure to agree on price dooms many deals but others don't come together because of the failure of imagination on the part of the agent. The ability to craft language that addresses the concerns of one of the parties in a way that the other can understand and accept is invaluable.

Expertise in related areas/access to professional consultants: Some agents have an expertise in a field related to real estate, such as law, construction or architecture. This knowledge can give them enhanced credibility in the context of the transaction. Many agents also have extensive contacts with professionals in related fields; access to these experts can help avoid problems before they arise or easily resolve problems that may appear insurmountable to the less informed.

Judgment: Perhaps most important of all is a refined judgment and discernment about such elusive questions as "what is a 100% property?" One deserving top dollar? Or what is a "100% location" versus a flawed location that warrants a reduced price or even rejection out of hand?

Often firms talk about all the dozens of other agents in their office than help sell your property. Though technically they can, they are no more helpful than the thousand plus other agents in San Francisco that will also see you property as being for sale when it appears in the computer system that all real estate agents can access.  Unless the transaction goes awry and the office manager intercedes, you are essentially alone in the hands of your agent; the 5 or 75 other people in the office are not there to help you. Selecting an agent is a little like selecting a restaurant, it is better to go where the service is good than where there are the most tables.

Most agents will admit that advertising spreads in glossy magazines or prestigious newspapers whether foreign or domestic rarely sell property though such marketing efforts appeal to many sellers and serve to promote the firm's image which in turn helps it get more listings.

Some agents promote themselves based on how many listing they have. An eager agent with just a few listings sometimes provides better service than an overextended salesperson who can't accommodate showing requests by other agents with live buyers.

The last word you want to hear from a prospective listing agent is "I may have a buyer for your property". It is hard enough for any agent paid on commission to scrupulously represent a client. Being paid double for representing two clients with diametrically opposite interests seems like an especially bad idea.

Tony Oltranti

Tony Oltranti is a native San Franciscan who has been a real estate broker in the city for over 25 years. He grew up in the Cow Hollow neighborhood where he learned many aspects of the real estate business – construction, management, sales - through his involvement in his family’s real estate business and holdings. Tony started his professional career at Pacific Union Residential Brokerage where he was one of the youngest brokers ever hired at the time.  He was a top producer there, receiving many awards, including the prestigious “Agent of the Year”.  He also helped found Pacific Union’s Estates Division.   Tony joined Willis and Company in 1994, drawn to the company’s enterprising spirit and it’s dedication to innovative development projects, architectural integrity, solid construction values and creative use of materials.

Tony has guided and helped buyers and sellers all over the city, in every neighborhood and beyond.  Because of his background and experience, he understands all aspects of real estate transactions – from code issues to design concerns to neighborhood dynamics, financing and legal issues.  Tony’s clients include apartment building owners, developers, family estates, high-end property owners, investors, single-family homeowners and condo/TIC buyers and sellers.

Like many Italians, Tony loves to cook and eat with family and friends. Gourmet magazine chose him as a national home cook of note.  He and his recipes were featured in their January 2009 issue.  Tony travels whenever he can.  Most of his trips focus on places and cultures where good ingredients and authentic cooking methods can still be found.

Tony Oltranti: