Home Buddies: Realtors variously represent sellers and buyers, charge commissions or flat fees - but all tout personal touch

Clara Hahn of AgentOwned Realty parlayed a popular costume at a Halloween party into advertising on her business card (Provided).

The blue haired lady with an apron labeled The Cook was a hit at the AgentOwned Realty Halloween costume party.

Guests took photos of the bespectacled gourmand, who turned out to be long-time agent Clara Hahn. "Everybody went crazy," she says.

Hahn, who threw on the garb at the last minute, was so keen on the interest and exposure that she's incorporated the look in her advertising.

Examine her business card, and the front includes the boiler plate information such as name, agency logo, phone number, e-mail address and web site. Then flip the card over, and customers see a photo of Hahn with The Cook apron in blue - an AgentOwned color - and an accompanying ditty, "Let Clara stir up a recipe for your successful Real Estate transaction."

Hahn says the business card get-up speaks to real estate agents' eagerness to provide a personal touch. Anyone who knows real estate can sell real estate, but that doesn't mean they are good agents, she says. "The most important thing is the rapport" between seller, buyer and agents involved.

From a competitive angle, "You have to be on your toes," Hahn says.

She's hardly alone. Charleston Trident Association of Realtors counts 4,800 members, or an agent for every three transactions or pending deals. That's based on 5,739 homes listed as active in November, and the 10,076 sales that closed as of the same month last year.

With hundreds of associates chasing less than 50 deals per day, the market can be rough-and-tumble.

In this environment, Realtors offer advice on what they think clients should look for in choosing someone to represent them in buying or selling a home.

"There's an idea you should jump on board with a real estate team," says Bryan Thompson, associate with AgentOwned in Charleston. "That's problematic; who owns the team? That can be an issue."

Another question involves all the people moving into the metro area, a host of whom hold Realtor status.

But if they're from, say Texas, "They have no idea of the (Charleston) market, for example, if certain neighborhoods are prone to flooding." Thompson says customers should be careful with associates who don't have at least three-to-five years experience as local Realtors.

Agent business approaches can vary, too. While the vast majority of Realtors in metro Charleston are "seller" agents representing homeowners trying to unload their residences, some such as David Kent with The Real Buyer's Agent in Mount Pleasant focus exclusively on the interests of home buyers.

"One thing that's easy to say, we only represent buyers," he says. That way, the agency avoids potential conflicts faced by sellers' agents representing buyers.

Kent, who has an eight-agent staff, holds an Accredited Buyers Representative designation. "I tell people all the time you need to interview the listing agents. How many deals have they done?"

He says his agency's clients are "typically very conservative." They likely deal with a financial planner, accountant, attorney. In the end, they want to get the best purchase price possible, Kent says.

Behren Kittrell, who heads up Charleston Flat Fee Real Estate, says she charges 1.5 percent for a transaction, which is half as much as a typical commission.

The Realtor says she can do this by holding down overhead. "My costs are very low," she says. "It gives me a competitive edge. I might not have all the resources, but I'm cognizant of that."

Kittrell says she makes up for the resouce limitations by bulking up on continuing education courses and handling as much as she can in a listing, from taking photographs to showing the home. To cut down on travel time, she typically doesn't list properties any further than 15 miles from her home.

Gina Brammer, with AgentOwned Realty, says customers should deal with experienced Realtors. "Make sure they've been in the business for years, are well connected and have information at their fingertips, only the client's best interests at heart," she says.

The Summerville area agent believes she fits the bill. "I am born to be a Realtor," she says. "That's why real estate comes natural for me: My clients nicknamed me 'The Fixer.'"

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.