In Defense of the Neighborhood Expert: A Steven Cohen Rebuttal
Mr. Miller begins by stating: "Just as walking through the kitchen doesn't make you a chef, living in a neighborhood doesn't make you a neighborhood expert." This statement as a standalone observation is absolutely true. However, he erroneously concludes that NOBODY who walks through the kitchen is a chef and by implication that NONE of the real estate agents who reside in a particular neighborhood offer greater value for the fact that they are intimately acquainted with a neighborhood and often many of the homes within its borders. True neighborhood experts can let you know which developers are among the easier with whom to work and which ones tend to deliver quality. They can tell you which locations are prone to flooding and whether the property you are considering is next to a noisy rooming house. They can offer you a read as to which lenders are currently delivering on their promises in the marketplace. They can advise you as to which home improvements will return the greatest amount when you go to sell. One would be lucky to find all of this information anywhere and a good agent is the only source from which you can get it all in one place.
Further, he fundamentally misunderstands the information age by suggesting that consumer access to MLS negates the benefit of engaging a real estate agent. While the abundance of information now freely available in all fields has indeed diminished the role that the dilettante practitioner has to play, it has actually increased the value of the local expert. The effect of today's information overload has been to raise the bar above which all professionals must rise in delivering value to consumers, by discerning which information is relevant, how it should be interpreted and conveyed to customers.
It is ironic that Mr. Miller is in the appraisal business. Though Zillow and other sites estimate property values, he would probably agree that a licensed appraiser can usually do so more accurately. Perhaps his perspective that neighborhood specialization is not important is borne of the fact that appraisers often conduct their business in a variety of locales. From my perspective, however, appraisers frequently rely upon neighborhood agents for information that they are somehow not able to obtain online or elsewhere. I know this because I receive numerous calls monthly from appraisers inquiring about the condition and relative merits of specific properties.
Mr. Miller impugns the integrity of real estate agents by suggesting that they will always tell you it is a good time to buy. If he were privy to the many conversations we have with clients regarding the timing of a home purchase, he would understand the many factors that influence purchasing decisions. Neither agents nor economists cannot identify the exact time that markets peak or bottom out. Many agents can readily point to multiple purchases made within their markets in any given year that have stood the test of time and have appreciated every year notwithstanding the movement of the broader market. For those buyers who have purchased in markets that have depreciated, good agents have assisted them in selecting properties that are relatively insulated against the downturn. People purchase homes for many reasons and among them is to actually find a home in which to live. When the time is right for one to buy a home, the key decision is often not whether to do so, but rather which home will best meet the buyer's needs and is likeliest to retain its value and appreciate over time.
It is not clear from where Mr. Miller's personal bias against real estate agents comes, but it would be more honest of him to admit that he has one. Suggesting that a neighborhood agent whose career has been spent living and working in a specific market adds no value to the real estate transaction seems based in prejudice rather than reality.