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2008/03/01 Our Experience with Chen-Chen from Help-U-Sell/Happy Choice Realty
π 2008-03-01 22:50 by Merlin in Public

A few months ago, I wrote about our search of an agent we not only felt comfortable working with, but also one that would be realistic in what they charge for their work, and not the outdated, unrealistic 2.5-3% (especially in the case of higher priced homes)

So, several months later and finding the right house, I can share our experience.

Executive summary

The best deal is to go with (half fee on the buying side, i.e. 1.25% or 1.5%, and a set $7k-ish on the selling side).
The agent we ended up with, Chen-Chen Wu ( / 650.269.5996) was fantastic. In my opinion she provided better service than the average full fee agent.
For that matter, she helped us present an offer that let us win the house even though we didn't actually have the highest bid. Right there, she already earned her entire fee back (and she provided more service than that).

How we picked an agent

I ended up avoiding redfin because of warnings that their agents weren't necessarily good at making "close" deals (i.e. multiple offers and/or a picky selling agent), and that some selling agents would also boycott redfin since they see them as a threat.
I do like the redfin idea, but I was just a bit too nervous about using them, especially on somewhat higher end homes and in multiple bid situations. At 1% fee on the buying side, they were the cheapest though.

Our perks team at work had a deal with clickhomes, which charges a set 2% on the buying and selling side. It's a bit better than 3%, but still too high, especially on the selling side where it's easier to get close to 1%.

We also interviewed several agents to see what you could talk them down to, and what they were offering in return, but we found that many did not want to lower their fee significantly, even if they didn't have to drive us around every weekend (we can look for homes and do open houses ourselves). One eventually did agree to slash his fee in almost half, but considering that this is not what he was hoping to charge, or charges his other clients, it just didn't feel very right to go with him since it could have stressed the relationship by making us lesser worth clients.

In a nutshell, we found that most "legacy" (i.e. full fee) agents were kind of bullies hanging on to their overpriced, outdated and fairly monopolistic pricing scheme. They are obviously good salesmen and all used some amount of fear, uncertainty and doubt tactics to justify their higher fees, but this just further turned us off from working with them.


In the end, we found
The franchise actually means that each agency may not offer the full range from basic to full service, although the one we picked, Happy Choice Realty, did. Basic service is what you'd want if you're an reasonably independent person, need limited hand holding and you are able to go visit open houses on your own.
For that, they charge a reasonable half fee, and refund you the difference (i.e just .25% or .5% more than redfin). Some Help-U-Sell franchises can also provide more time and help for first time buyers, but of course, they have to charge a bit more for that. The main point is that you pay for what you need and use, and not a flat 2.5-3% whether you're an undecided first home buyer, or a reasonably experienced independent buyer. Note however that not all Help-U-Sell locations offer full service, but the one Chen-Chen works at, does, should you need it.
Anyway, the way it worked with Happy Choice Realty/Help-U-Sell is that they have one of the better online MLS aggregators (they all suck somewhat :) ), you get the Emails as soon as a property in your search area and within your criteria (sq ft, price, # of rooms, etc) shows up.

When you start, you go through all the houses on the market, review the ones you'd like to see, and the agent takes you see them, like a regular full fee agent. Two reasons for this:
  1. most of those houses already had their open house, so you need an agent to get in.
  2. this gives a chance to the agent to see what you like and what you don't and help make better recommendations later.

After that, you get the mails with new properties throughout the week and depending on the property, the agent may or may not be able to see it before you at an agent tour, and you can ask your agent before going. Basically, you go see the properties added that week and that peak your interest, by yourself at the open houses.
If for some reason, you can't go to an open house, the agent would then make time to go with you, although you obviously can't do this every week, unless you want to pay a bit extra for the agent's time.


Long story short, after many months of searching, we ended up finding the right place, which Chen-Chen actually found and suggested for us, as it was just outside our search radius (it ended up being in Cupertino, across the street from one of the areas we were looking in). Without her, we would likely have missed that house.
She also did a great job negotiating for us, guessing the right educated guess of what amount to submit in our offer, and working the other agent and sellers to make us win :) Another lesser agent could have blown the deal there, or made us overpay.

And of course, it was very valuable throughout the process to have an agent who could tell us what prices should reasonably be, let us know if what we were looking for even existed, and where. Chen-Chen even twice made the difficult recommendation that we pass on a property we did consider seriously, because she thought we could get closer to what we wanted (and while that decision cost her more time and effort, she was also right).
Last, but not least, she had more than one opportunity to get us to get a bigger commission by getting us to pay for a more expensive house or offering more than what was necessary on the one house we got, but never did anything close to that. Unfortunately some other agents will in those situations.
In our case, Chen-Chen, without our having to ask even negotiated the agreed upon price down to lower it by the portion of the fee she wasn't going to charge (this is dependent on the seller agreeing, but most will since they gain on the taxes side too).

While I'm a hard critic, and hard to please when big money is involved, I really have to say that in general Help-U-Sell is the way to go: you pay a lot less on the buying side, a flat fee on the selling side. You're not paying for some big firm with three levels of overhead and fee splitting you don't need, or fancy buildings or the countless dead trees and expensive marketing material the big firms spam everyone with.

And within Help-U-Sell, we've obviously been nothing but delighted with Chen-Chen's work: superior work and ethics without paying more than necessary.
The least I can do is recommend her:
I would not have spent the time to write this much for someone's work, had it been just adequate or average.

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