But it’s Family! (or Why to Think Twice About Hiring your Family Realtor)

“I’d love to use you as a realtor, but my brother is a Realtor in another part of the state and to not use him would not make much sense for me. It makes viewing houses a bit more inconvenient, but it’s family!” or … “She’s my sister; I have to use her!” “I didn’t need to look for representation; my uncle is a Realtor”

Could you/would you fire your aunt?

Candidly and respectfully, “he’s/she’s family” is one of the worst reasons to hire buyer representation I have heard.

Hiring someone to represent you in what is likely the largest financial transaction you’ll ever make warrants asking some questions other than, “what did you get me for Christmas last year?” (hint: here are quite a few questions to ask if you’re interviewing buyer or seller representation)

Buying and selling a home can be extremely emotional, sometimes volatile, and the process necessitates complete faith, trust and competence.

1 – “Family” doesn’t = competence. He might be the best damn agent in that market, but that market isn’t this market. I would *never* try to represent someone in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads or Blackburg. While my Virginia real estate license says I can work statewide, but I’d likely be practicing malpractice if I were to do so. (besides, the Realtor Code of Ethics says I can’t**)

2 – This market is sooo much different than that market. And this market is different than the one he used to practice in; competence demands practice and practice demands productivity.

3 – How many homes are going in that development? What are the traffic patterns? How is the commute? Are those woods always going to be there? Where can I find out? If he’s not from here, he likely doesn’t know.

4 – Who are the good builders? Who are the bad ones? If he’s not from here, he likely doesn’t know. My clients get a lot more information than do my customers; one aspect of this is builder quality.

5 – Which house/neighborhood is going to be best for resale? This is an almost impossible question, but knowing the market certainly helps guide appropriately.

Look, I know it’s family. When I bought my first house, my mother represented me … but she was (and is) an active Realtor in this market. When my sister bought a house in Falls Church, she and her husband hired their own buyer’s agent … they might have run things by my mother and me, but they had their own representation.

1 – Do they work with a buyer broker agreement? (depending on “family’ doesn’t necessarily mean “it’s confidential”)

2 – Will they adequately explain the process of buying a home in Charlottesville? (things are different in Cville … which is an upcoming series)

3 – How many buyers have they successfully represented* in the past 18 months? (if it’s less than 3; I’d be inclined to say they’re not experts in today’s market.

4 – Having a license and access to the MLS does not equate competence. While this is clearly applicable to any and all Realtors, it’s especially relevant when evaluating a family hire.



* The definition of “Successful” is not necessarily “represented to closing”; sometimes it’s successful representation is telling a buyer when to walk away.

** From the Realtor Code of Ethics, Article 11 -

REALTORS® shall not undertake to provide specialized professional services concerning a type of property or service that is outside their field of competence unless they engage the assistance of one who is competent on such types of property or service, or unless the facts are fully disclosed to the client. Any persons engaged to provide such assistance shall be so identified to the client and their contribution to the assignment should be set forth. (Amended 1/10

While I don’t think the Realtor Code of Ethics has any teeth of enforcement (it’s up to Realtors to report each other … ) it is something.

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  • Heather Mullen

    I would argue that this applies to hiring friends who are Realtors, too, even if they ARE in your market. When we first started working with you, I was solicited by a friend’s spouse who is a local Realtor and knew we were going to be listing our house. Aside from the fact that we’d done our research and felt that you were the best person to represent us :) , I wasn’t comfortable giving someone with personal connections to us such intimate insight into our financial situation, as well as the other personal details revealed during the selling and buying process – and I didn’t want to deal with the awkwardness of having to express dissatisfaction with the person’s performance and/or fire them, if that situation had come up; that would have strained my relationship with my friend. It’s a great thing when a business relationship evolves into a friendship, but to start out as friends (or family) creates potential for disaster, I think.