“There is a strong element of matchmaking when you are helping someone find a house, a strong element of surprise.”
Have you ever wondered what a real estate agent does, exactly? Now’s your chance to find out! Ali speaks to Rachel Saunders, our Marketing Manager, about her job, what she brings to clients, the ins and outs of lenders, and how she came to real estate. Read Rachel’s full interview below!
What do you do for The Gunderman Group? I am a Buyer Specialist, which is a fancy name for a real estate agent who works solely with buyers. I am not distracted with listings. I am able to really focus in on the hunt for the perfect home for each of my clients. I get to put my energy into having a comprehensive understanding of the ever-changing East Bay real-estate inventory.
Is this job what you thought it would be? It is, although I think I was unprepared for how much heartbreak there could be in the buying process; though it usually works out for the best, it can take a couple of times before someone’s offer is accepted. I’ve always been interested in counseling psychology, and that interest plays well in real estate because a huge part of my job has to do with reading my clients and knowing how and when to give them the time and space they need. I love working with buyers because I get exposed to so many different neighborhoods and price points. I now feel that I have intimate insights into each East Bay micro-area; their pros and cons, and what makes each unique.
Also, there is a strong element of matchmaking when you are helping someone find a house; it’s kind of a scavenger hunt. One thing that always amazes me is how often what people end up with is not at all what they initially told me to help them find. This definitely speaks to the intangibles of the home-buying process. There is a strong element of surprise. Buying a home is so much like dating; you may think you know what you’re looking for, but then when the right thing comes along, all your preconceived ideas about what you thought you wanted might go right out the window.
How did you initially connect with The Gunderman Group? I’ve known David for 25 years. We met in New York way back when we were both performers. David and Andrew actually introduced me to my husband. When I joined their team, I was in between careers and looking for what was next. I needed flexibility because I’m a busy mom with three children. Andrew and David really encouraged me; they saw my strengths as an easy fit.
What does your day look like? Every day is different, which is one of the things I most love about my job. I do at least two brokers tours a week. Brokers tours are essentially open houses just for agents, and they give me a chance to see what has just gone on the market in different areas. Most days, I am either preparing for an offer or I am juggling escrows or both. I always have a lot to do, but it’s ever-changing. I spend a lot of time going through disclosures, helping to make sure my clients understand what they might be buying. My number-one job is to support my clients and look out for their interests.
Every relationship with a client is a bit of a dance, because each person is different and has a different way of working and different criteria. Some clients are really independent and barely want me there until they have found the home they want. Some don’t know the East Bay at all and really depend on me to help them to learn the different neighborhoods. They may want to know about the schools, the amenities, the geography, the commute, or just the general personality of the neighborhood… everyone is different. Nothing is cookie-cutter. We always make sure to ask in our initial interview how hands-on the client wants us to be.
When you work with a buyer, are Andrew and David involved? If so, what do you do and what do they do? They are definitely involved, and their involvement is super-important because they have twenty-plus years of expertise! I am the eyeballs out in the field, looking at houses and staying current with inventory. I set clients up with lenders. I lay out successful strategies that we have honed over time. I explain every step of the process. I order disclosure packets and analyze them. I run comparables and look closely at sales in the neighborhood if a client finds a home they like. I help clients to be smart about their purchase price. I also manage the escrow period once we are in contract. Andrew and David are the strategic masterminds when it comes to the offer-writing moment. They have tons of experience, which really bolsters what I do. Sometimes they also have information that isn’t public yet because one of their listings just went into contract in the same neighborhood as a home one of my clients is about to write an offer on. They also share off-market opportunities with me. Over the years, I have built a lot of my own relationships with lenders and agents, but I also rely on Andrew and David’s long-term relationships with people.
What is your favorite thing about your job? Getting to call someone and say “you got the house!” I find particular satisfaction with first-time homebuyers. There is nothing like getting the keys to your first home!
What have been your biggest challenges? Have there been problems you couldn’t resolve? The East Bay is such a large geographic area, and we have people looking for houses all over. When I first started as an agent, I was a bit intimidated by the fact that I had to become an expert on every area – Oakland alone is huge! – but I learned quickly. I’ve never run into a problem I couldn’t resolve. That is what is so special about having such a strong team: we each have a great net to fall back on if any issues arise.
What would be your number-one piece of advice for a first-time homebuyer looking for a starter home in the East Bay? Work with a local lender! So many people don’t realize how important this is. When listing agents are reviewing offers, it helps so much to have someone familiar that the agent recognizes and trusts. People want to work with people that they know will get the job done. Another piece of advice is to amass the largest downpayment that you possibly can, because our market is so competitive. Also, be prepared to be tenacious; enter the process ready to really engage with it.
What could go wrong if someone does not work with a good lender? A bad lender or an out-of-town lender doesn’t understand the fast pace of our market. In our market, there is no wiggle room; if a loan doesn’t go through, the deal will implode. If the lender sends an appraiser who is not local, it can be a disaster, because the appraiser really needs to understand the dynamic nature of our market. Also, non-local lenders tend not to understand that they HAVE to adhere to a tight timeline in our area or the transaction will not go through.
How do you provide more to clients by being part of our group rather than simply an agent out on your own? There are the obvious things, like being able to cover each other in the event of a scheduling constraint. Having Suzanne and our project management team is also a huge plus because it enables me to be a resource; I can recommend all kinds of workmen, plumbers, and other people to my clients. Having a transaction coordinator that knows our team and our process inside-out is also a major advantage because it streamlines the entire process. I am able to focus on my strengths.
What do you do in your off hours? I like yoga and hiking with my dog, Mr Magoo. Also, I’m a mom of three, which basically means I chauffeur my kids all over the place. I don’t get to see my husband enough, but we do carve out time for family dinner every night. I am a bookworm; right now, I’m reading a book about Thomas Jefferson’s daughter. I’m a cutthroat scrabble player; I am a word nerd!