We know what to expect from a real estate agent. Prompt responses, promotion, and the sale of your home (or the purchase of the home of your dreams). Unfortunately, all of us in the field of real estate have been asked at one time or another to do things that are above and beyond our line of duty. For the most part, we are friendly people and want to help our clients. However, there are many times that requests go way beyond our field of expertise or are just ways of getting things for free that the correct professional would charge for. Doctors and lawyers get to charge for each visit. Real estate agents are expected to receive nothing beyond the commission from the sale. Unfortunately in Costa Rica real estate, where non-exclusive contracts rule, an agent might be lucky to actually complete a sale on one in ten listings. So a lot of work goes in on properties that the agent will never receive a cent on. That’s okay, it’s part of the life of anyone on commission. It’s an accepted fact. But there are many things that are not part of the responsibilities (at least for free) of your agent.
1) Official translations. Of course, an agent should try to translate anything that you need to understand your sell or purchase. However, if you want an official document translated with official power, you need to hire an official translator, a bilingual lawyer, or at least pay your real estate agent if he/she has the capacity to serve as an official translator. This includes documents before a sale/purchase, but ESPECIALLY afterwards. Months after a sale or rental, a real estate agent should not be expected to continue translating documents for free.
2) Real Estate Management. If you hire and pay an agent to manage your property, perfect. But, just because you list a property for sale, your agent is not expected to maintain your property, pay your bills, and get your home repaired for free. An agent is expected to report to you if they see a problem in your home that needs to be corrected, such as a leaky roof, and they can recommend someone for you if you don’t know who to call. But if you expect the agent to call the repair person, oversee the job, and confirm that all is done well, you need to pay them for that time.
3) Rental oversight. An agent is hired to find a renter (or buyer), not to oversee the whole duration of the rental contract. Once the contract is signed and the commission for the rental is paid, the working relationship is finished. The owner and renter need to communicate directly to resolve issues or go to a lawyer if there are problems. It is not the agent’s responsibility to collect rent, collect money for bills, and resolve issues between the two parties. Again, we like to help, but please do not overstep your bounds. If a translator is required, hire a translator.
4) After the sale—transfer of utilities. The agent is not responsible for the transfer of all utilities into the new owner’s name. Of course, the agent will try to assist as much as possible to make sure that all of the new information is gathered and delivered to the new owners and point them in the right direction, but he/she should not be expected to sit for hours in offices walking through the whole process and translating the whole time, at least, not for free. If your agent is willing to do this for you, at least buy them lunch.
5) After the sale—continued negotiations between buyer and seller. After the sale is complete, your agent’s job is done. The buyer and seller have each other’s contact information and they can communicate directly. Of course an agent will do his/her best to make sure that there is whatever contact needed, but again, it is not the agent’s job to spend the next six months translating between the new and old owners.
6) Banking and residency. An agent wants to help you get set up in your move down or your preparation for a purchase. Getting a bank account and residency is part of this. However, if you want your agent to go with you and translate and help you maneuver every step of the way, you need to pay him/her for this.
7) Collection of bills. When closing occurs, the agent should have confirmed with the municipality that all taxes have been paid and are up to date on the property. The owner also confirms that all bills are paid and up to date. However, if someone appears months after the sale of a property and says that the owner didn’t pay other bills (private trash pickup, pool maintenance, etc), it is not the responsibility of the agent to collect these bills, nor pay them out of the commission received. The agent can give contact information for the owner, but is not responsible for bill collection.
8) Babysitting, dog sitting, or plant sitting. If you want a recommendation, great. If you want to pay for these services, fine. But to ask an agent to do these for free is not acceptable. Can you imagine watering plants for 250 houses that are up for sale at a time? When would we have time to do our jobs of trying to find buyers for your homes?
I know everyone is thinking is that agents get paid a large commission on the sale of a house and they should do anything needed for the client. Please keep these things in mind:
a) Buyers and sellers are not locked in to one agent, so for all the work that an agent does to sell or help with the search of a property, the buyer/seller may be working with 5 or more different agents and so it’s very possible that the sale/purchase will end up going to another agent in the end. All of the gas, time, and advertising money spent does not get reimbursed as there is no commission. It’s part of the commission game and agents do what they can to keep the client and make the sale happen for that reason.
b) Commissions are very rarely kept by only one person. Usually, there are two companies involved, then there is the split among the office, so the final commission passed along to the agent is relatively small.
Agents understand that the majority of costs will never be reimbursed and that is what the job is about. However, what this blog boils down to is…if you were to call the appropriate parties to do a job and you would be charged for it, then don’t expect your real estate agent to do it for free. It’s not fair. There are limits.
Tina Newton has lived in Costa Rica for over 18 years and is part-owner and real estate agent with Tristan & Newton Real Estate. You can contact her with any questions about life in Costa Rica, moving abroad, or buying a home here. She highly appreciates her fabulous clients who do pay for the extra services she provides. Cecilia Tristan is her partner in the business and is a bilingual attorney who specializes in residencies, property transfers, and transitioning to Costa Rica. The Tristan & Newton blog tries to address many current issues in Costa Rica and the website and Facebook pages have all of the current homes in the area listed for sale or for rent.