I went to work full time the day after taking my last exam at UC Berkeley. I had my salesperson’s license since graduating from high school but had not worked full time. Like every real estate agent, I have accumulated opinions about nearly everything. Some opinions are based on anecdotal evidence; some have been statistically confirmed.

• Commission rates have become negotiable. “Recommended” rates violate anti-trust laws.

It used to be commission rates agents would charge were “recommended” by the larger Associations of REALTORs and everyone else went along. In a class action lawsuit against the Los Angeles Realty Board the practice was declared an anti-trust violation. Individual offices, however, were allowed to set their own rates. As a result, most offices raised their rates.

• The residential sales contract has gone from one page to twelve with another five pages of required addenda.

Maybe it was my mistaken perception, but the single page California Residential Deposit Receipt seemed to result in fewer lawsuits. It seemed every time more verbiage to “interpret” something added to the form, it only encouraged more efforts to “clarify” wording that was already adequate. In turn, adding more wording only encouraged more interpretation – increasingly through the courts. When a standard form contract includes everything for all occasions, much of it becomes irrelevant.

• License qualification and continuing education has become easier.

Gone are the days when the license applicant had to write legal descriptions and write their own contracts. Examinations had to be corrected by machines when the license population grew into the hundreds of thousands.

• The average real estate office has become several times larger.

At the beginning of the 1960s real estate offices in general had from five to 25 sales people. But since then, offices bring on more sales staff on the theory that the each agent will have some family members or friends that will provide listings of homes to sell. So they’re not really hiring salespeople, they’re hiring people who can bring listings.

• Franchises have made real estate careers more attractive and real estate marketing more effective.

With the economies of scale that franchise operations brought, advertising, marketing, training and branding became more effective.

• The rise of the rent-a-desk office.

Salespeople paying for their telephone, advertising and errors and omission insurance created an incentive for real estate offices to hire more warm bodies, which in turn changed the nature of how such associates were managed.

• Properties have appreciated 800 to 1,000 percent.

With a few temporary bumps along the road, real estate became a sure bet for American investors from 1960 to 2007. Even then, values only imploded because banks started making $400,000 loans to people making $25,000 a year. In other words, it wasn’t the real estate; it was the people who made loans that created the problem. Otherwise much of the appreciation was justified. So now, here we go again. The same players are waiting to find the next flaw.<h/5>

• The use of errors and omissions insurance by agents has become more widespread.

Unfortunately, some offices simply regard litigation as a normal line item expense.

• Real estate websites like Realtor.com can identify new listings to the public before the REALTORS. Most buyers now approach REALTORS educated as to what’s available.

There are conflicting opinions by REALTORS on whether this makes the job easier or not.

• As a rule, attorneys in Kern County will hire real estate expert witnesses in Los Angeles before hiring them in Kern County. Attorneys in Los Angeles typically won’t hire real estate expert witnesses in Kern County.

I know of only one real estate expert in Kern County and he is retired. This cycle seems to prevent experts in smaller population centers from getting the experience they need to become proficient. This could also mean rural counties don’t litigate matters as much.

• Multiple listing technology allows REALTORs to work a broader area.

But working outside your area creates other problems.

As a leading real estate expert witness in Southern California, I’ve learned that the trial attorney, the fact finder and the expert witness all have to take the foregoing into account in their decisions. Knowing background and history can be pertinent in many ways – often subtle – in evaluating facts.

– A. Scott Herd