Defining a real estate “local expert”

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There is a lot of hype circulating in the real estate industry about local experts.   A recent post about the topic was posted by an agent on Long Island…Paula Hathaway “Chaff….Schmaff!  A bad attitude or just a better way of doing business.”  With all due respect to the author – I felt that the emphasis on being a “local expert” implied that agents who were not already established in the area were merely chaff – while the established area agents were actually the “wheat.”     We all start out as chaff  – and chaff has no opportunity to become wheat if they aren’t given a chance.  That appears to be a bit too convenient for the very local agents in any area.  Because it implies that they are the only game in town…

Real Estate is Surprisingly Competitive:

There is a saying within our industry that you can’t swing a cat without hitting a real estate agent.  It is also paired with “you can’t throw a rock without hitting a real estate agent”….Well you get the idea.  There are a lot of agents out there.  Many good, many not so good and separating the wheat from the chaff is a tough task for the average consumer.  Many think we are all created equal and anyone who can stick a sign in the ground or unlock a door will do.

That is as far from the truth as it gets – but it  gets to the heart of this blog – and that is that the real estate industry manufactures agents on a conveyor belt with little regard to quality. Its all about quantity.  As a result – the confused public that is supposed to do the wheat vs. chaff determination is totally confused and disappointed in the quality of agent they encounter.  Agents, for their part, try to separate themselves from the crowd by indicating that they are “special.”

“But I am a ‘special’ agent!

One way we do this is by becoming “local experts.”  What on earth does that mean?  Well, and agent does have to have knowledge of the local market in order to be truly effective in listing and selling.  However, taken to an extreme – some agents use the fact that they live or work for a brokerage in a specific town or village as evidence that they are a “local expert.”  Seriously???? Seriously???? I don’t think so.   This is an incredibly weak argument for differentiating yourself from the crowd.   In many ways its a straw man argument.

Personally, I cover on small city in depth, sections of another city  and about 10 towns/ villages.  I tend to focus on areas that are commutable to Manhattan – so I do have a niche – but that type of niche extends my geography somewhat.  I know the inventory, I understand the pricing in all of these areas, I know about the local politics, if there are any large changes brewing in zoning, taxes, subdivisions and other relevant issues.  This is necessary information and any agent working in a given town should have decent local knowledge that goes well beyond the MLS.  But implying that an agent has to be hyperlocal to be a valuable asset is over the top.


Abusing the “local expert” label.

Some agents – particularly in small towns and villages – use their storefront brokerages and the fact that they live/work within the town as leverage against agents who they deem as outsiders.  This is merely stifling healthy competition that may be more innovative and a breath of fresh are in a market dominated by locals.  Still they have a point that I do agree with – to a point.   I say local knowledge is essential – but being local is optional.    Sometimes the breadth is an advantage.  If a buyer wants to go beyond one town into another, I can continue to help them.  My broader knowledge  helps me see trends in the general market before other agents might that can help my buyers and sellers alike.


I’m not talking about “Nomad Agents”

Don’t get me wrong… I don’t think agents should be practicing  in 20 counties with a radius so large that covering their territory results in a   gasoline bill resembles the national debt .    Some agents with large footprints built up their territories over 20-30 years – so it is difficult to generalize – but  the need for up-to-date local knowledge  does place limits on us all.  If you find an agent that is selling farmland upstate and lofts in Brooklyn – I would have to question whether they can possibly cover all their bases adequately.

© 2011 – Ruthmarie G. Hicks – – All rights reserved.

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