Role of the Agent - A Discussion with Hill & Co's Lani Sipe Curtis

San Francisco is home to hundreds and hundreds of real estate professionals and there is seemingly one agent for every type of situation or personality type. The "Brain" recently caught up with Lani Sipe Curtis of Hill & Co to get her thoughts on the role a real estate agent plays for the home buyer/seller. Lani's real estate expertise, investment banking experience, and engaging personality make for a unique mixture of analytics, common sense, and client empathy. Thanks to Lani for chatting with us!

What are the key factors a home buyer/seller should consider when choosing an agent?

Work with someone who you are comfortable communicating with, and who can consistently articulate back to you what it is you are hoping to accomplish. Your agent is representing you in all aspects of this really important transaction, so you need to be really confident in their ability to execute in your best interest. In my opinion, professionals with oustanding people skills, intelligence, common sense and integrity make the best agents.

San Francisco home buyers/sellers have a plethora of choices when it comes to choosing a realtor. There are big firms, small firms, independent agents, and everything in between. What differentiates one from another?

You want to work with an agent that has the tools and resources to operate effectively in our very competitive market. Agents who are associated with a reputable firm are best positioned to do that. I think Hill & Co is the perfect balance between big firm experience and reputation, and small firm customer service and attention to detail.

What is the single best piece of advice you have for first time home buyers?

Jump in! I think of owning your principal residence much like a long term investor views the equity market. Timing the market is nearly impossible, the most important investment decision you can make is to get invested. Over the long term, it pays off. There are so many benefits and incentives to owning your principal residence, the sooner the better.

What are the biggest mistakes you see buyers make?

Buying property they can't really afford. I'm a big proponent of making the finances work for your individual financial portfolio.

What are the biggest mistakes you see sellers make?

Not taking their agents advice on pricing. List price is paramount in this choppy market.

Buying/selling a home is one of the most stressful decisions a person can make. Share with us what you do as an agent to help your clients through this process?

Encourage open and constant communication. Set realistic expectations. Explain everything, especially when it needs to be signed. Explain again if necessary. Be available before, during and after close.

What are the common misconceptions people have regarding real estate agents?

That we want to close deals at all costs (to the client). It is a commission business, but being short-term greedy never pays. My business is 100% referral and repeat so not only do I look out for my clients interest above all as a personal principal, but it is the only way I can expect to stay in business long term.

San Francisco is notable for its unique neighborhoods. Is there a specific neighborhood in which you know particularly well or specialize?

I tend to specialize more in client profile than neighborhood, and that was by accident. My clients tend to be young professionals who are buying their first property, or growing/evolving families that need to upsize, downsize, or just want a change to accomodate their changing circumstances. San Francisco's unique neighborhoods provide endless opportunities for clients to do this. That's part of why it's such a fun city to work in.

What's your opinion on the San Francisco real estate market for 2007? Buyer's or seller's market?

By any 'normal' standard, San Francisco is always a seller's market. There is simply not enough property available for the number of people that want to own in this city. So while buyers may be able to relax a bit versus market conditions 2 years ago, I always advise my clients to be competitive and strategic when we identify the property they want to own.

TIC ownership is increasingly more common. What are the mistakes to avoid for people considering TIC?

The biggest mistake I see is the assumption that TICs are easily converted into condominiums. They are not, and should not be priced as such. The laws are complicated and -even if a building qualifies- it is a lengthy, time-consuming and expensive process. I know this first hand!

Your thoughts on owning real estate as rental property?

Sounds great if you can pay a price that takes into account the risks you are taking on as a landlord in this city. San Francisco laws favor tenants in most every way imaginable.

Fill in the blank: The best part of being a San Francisco real estate agent is............seeing my clients settled into a home that they love (and being invited over for dinner).


To contact Lani Sipe Curtis:

Firm: Hill & Co.
Phone: (415) 321-4290