Are real estate agents really necessary anymore? If so, in what way?

I'm sure the vast majority of my fellow agents think so.  But I think the question is at least worth exploring.  And any agent who has not asked this question of themselves at least once is either completely naive or is drinking way too much of the cool-aid.
Is it possble that the whole industry is going the way of the typewriter?
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January 23 2011 - US
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Answers (28)

Profile picture for hpvanc
Christine,

I would agree that professional assistance is desirable.  However when I was looking for a house I could not find what I considered a professional in real estate.  For starters, I don't know of any professionals who are paid on commission.  I found it to be impossible to make professional fee for services arrangements with an agent on the buyer side.

Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your point of view, there are brokers on the seller side attempting to setup what looks like a professional business model, there is a lot of resistance from the real estate agent community, but they are gaining traction.  Can you tell me how you can make that same kind of arrangement as a buyer and remove the price fixing and unethical setup where the buyers agent is paid a set % regardless of level of service to the buyer by the seller.  As I understand it, it is a requirement that the % be set in the MLS (I assume it can be 0, but agents push very very hard to keep it between 2.5 and 3%).
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January 25 2011
Profile picture for SoCal_Engr
Really? Really? Aren't you just a little full of yourself?

"Maybe if we had less do it yourself-ers in our market in 2003-2005, we wouldn't have as many ill home owners today."

Most of the people I have heard about, read about, or know had to have lots of help to get into their situation. REAs pushing "real estate as a can't miss buy-flip opportunity", LOs writing up loans they knew had a huge potential to go belly up - all hoping that escalating housing prices would continue to mask the lunacy. That is an incredibly arrogant and head-in-the-sand statement.

"Last but not least.  If a Realtor goes to school to be a career Real Estate professional, shouldn't they have the opportunity to use their knowledge to earn their living."

School? School? You mean "takes a class"? No problem with a REA trying to earn a living, but my job is to make sure you don't take more of my money than you earn. That's the gist of this discussion. Not "can we try to make a living", but "has the market changed and obsoleted many of the traditional REA services, especially access to information?"

"Let professionals do their profession and stick to yours."

I could be really snide and petty and observe that there is a difference between a "profession" and an "occupation". However, I'll let that one go. But, I will observe that more than a few in your occupation are not very professional.
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January 25 2011
Profile picture for the_country_hick
Christine, lets say for the sake of argument that you could do your own ball joint removal and replacement shouldn't you pay a real mechanic just so you can keep your hands clean?

Or should you pay a plumber when a pipe springs a leak that you could fix yourself?

How about explaining that it takes 2 weeks or so of classes to become a realtor? I could do it myself if I saw an advantage to it.  

As far as realtors having the pulse of the market look here.
Has our housing market hit rock bottom?

How much more wrong could those realtors with their professional knowledge and understanding of the market have been? Notice it was posted in 2008. The prices have changed since then opposite what most realtors said then. Why should any of us believe a realtor today when they all say their crystal ball is broken or missing?

Here is what my crystal ball shows.
Peter Schiff: Here's Why Home Prices Have To Decline At Least 20% And Probably More

As far as a real estate saleswoman being able to use what they studied about 100 hours for sure, go ahead. But do not be surprised if people decide they can do the job themselves. It is a good thing when people do for themselves. That includes you cooking food at home instead of eating out so the professional cook can use their knowledge to make some money. (oops) you are hurting the cook, eat out more often like every meal ok? It is the same logic after all.
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January 25 2011
Profile picture for sunnyview
"Maybe if we had less do it yourself-ers in our market in 2003-2005, we wouldn't have as many ill home owners today."

Give me a break. The industry pushed their agenda pretty hard in those years and the commissions were something to behold. I think you need to take a step back an take some personal responsibility for selling houses that were destined to go underwater.

Let's take a look PREDICTION: The national median home price will rise about 6.1% in 2006. Over a full year, it "has never declined since good record-keeping began in 1968." — National Association of Realtors, Dec. 12, 2005

Ooops. Throw that one back. It's rotten. Too bad for the homeowners who believed it.
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January 25 2011

Oh man.

This could be ugly.

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January 25 2011
Professional or Amateur?  

A good real estate professional that is full time with a pulse on the market is living real estate, training, studying, researching and marketing property and themselves.  

Iet's say for the sake of argument that the average person can do a real estate transaction.  Isn't it worth handing over the headache to someone who is doing it every day.  Doesn't it pose a risk for an amateur to handle it themselves and potentially mess things up?  

I compare this to anyone who can do doctor themselves up and postpone going to see the doc until they messed up treating what's wrong with them.  Now I know we're not talking about health issues but this purchase whether it be your home or your investment into your future is a big purchase and if not done correctly can cause you a lot of grief.  Don't you think that the doc has been there done that way more than you.  

Leave the nursing and doctoring to the Doctor, and leave the real estate transactions to the professional full time realtor.  

Maybe if we had less do it yourself-ers in our market in 2003-2005, we wouldn't have as many ill home owners today.

Last but not least.  If a Realtor goes to school to be a career Real Estate professional, shouldn't they have the opportunity to use their knowledge to earn their living.  

Let professionals do their profession and stick to yours.  Thats what make the money world go around.









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January 25 2011
Profile picture for SteadyState
Barnes and Noble, Borders, etc did not ask this question in time. As a result is the corner bookstore really necessary anymore? I am afraid the value of the services provided by REAs does not match the dollar amount they receive.
10-12% for total transaction costs is too much given that prices are still high; incomes have been mostly stagnant; and much of the information that only REAs originally provided is now freely available. For example,
- List of open houses
- History of property
- Mortgage rates
- Market trends
...
Consider the following:
Buyer buys home in 2005 for $1M - REA commission paid $60K
Buyer sells home in 2015 for $1.5M - REA commission paid $90K
------------------------------------
Total cost for round trip in commission $150K
These are signs of an inefficient market. An efficient market keeps sales/transaction costs to be around 2%.
Right now the government is encouraging home ownership - low rates, mortgage tax deduction, tax credits, etc. These have to disappear soon so can REA survive with the current compensation structure but without incentives? I do not think so.
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January 25 2011

A good agent offers far more than just a search and fill in the blank forms.  You could ask the question of many professions, plumber, CPA, lawyer, doctor etc.  but if you run into a snag with your plumbing, taxes, estate documents or having a baby and you're doing those things without the assistance of a professional it will cost you a great deal more than it would have if you started with the professional in the first place.  same goes for licensed agents. 

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January 25 2011

It all depends in what your agent has to offer you as an expert.

There are agents that want to just nail every buyer and seller to the first house they come cross and who cares if it was wise investment as long as they get the highest amount of commission in the shortest amount of time.

God help these buyers and sellers if it is their first time through the process. We all learn from our first experience through, only to be very aware the next time.

Now there are agents that do earn there commission and more. If an agent gets you either into a house or out of one that never comes back and bites you in the future and you are able to look back on the experience without getting sick to your stomach; that agent probably rightfully earned their commission. This is especially true if you find yourself referring family members to them in the future.

May want to ask yourself that next time and think that someone out there turning and burning sales is really out there in your best interest.

If an agent questions what they have to offer you and they believe you can basically do everything yourself, that agent needs to get out and educate themselves because I would break out in hives if my client knew more than I did and I asked that question of myself.

That is why the military has ranks... A private will charge a tank wth a rifle, a seasoned military professional will have a game plan already planned out.

Ask yourself, do you like a cheap beer or a fine wine?

Good luck out there :o)

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January 24 2011
Profile picture for SoCal_Engr
"Why would anyone spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and not ensure their purchase with a professional?"

Are you saying that REAs stand behind the values of the transactions they participate in? That having a REA involved provides an implicit warranty of value?
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January 24 2011
Realtors provide great consultation. Why would anyone spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and not ensure their purchase with a professional? The problem is value? Many times a transaction can occur without really all that much work and if they are good at their job they make it look easy. But 6% adds up when all you see them do is answer some questions and fill out some forms. Similarly, an electrician is an expert and sometimes they can come in and charge you standard rate for them to flip a switch.
The one thing you should know is that an inexperienced real estate agent charges the same as a green one but their value is very different.

Trey
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January 24 2011
Whit, if you really think that the only real purpose agents provide is information that we use to have a tight control on and don't anymore, then I find that somewhat sad.

I don't know, maybe its the difference between someone who has been in the business for quite a while and someone like me who has been in it since that information was easily accessible to the general public. I never knew it any other way.

What you are saying is that people's need for us depended on our access to information they didn't/couldn't have and since most of the information is currently available to people, we are obsolete.

Really?!

And by the way, there was no sales pitch in my response and your question wasn't that complicated- I got it.  I simply feel you are focusing on the wrong thing.  Its true that agents need to change their methods and perhaps their focus and most definitely the industry is long overdue for an overhaul, especially regarding compensation and the business model of almost forcing people to use an agent whether they like it or not.

However, saying that we are obsolete because we no longer have a stranglehold on information is just missing the mark.  Lots of jobs change with technology and information is easily accessible for almost everything that people previously depended on others for.

There's a huge difference between saying that the real estate profession needs to change and the real estate profession is osbsolete.


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January 24 2011
Profile picture for SoCal_Engr
Truth be told, I think you give the consumers - as a whole - too much credit.

Is the information out there on the Internet? Yes. Do the majority of the consumers have the intelligence or willingness to do their own homework? History say "no".

My opinion is that there is a very vocal voice from a smaller group of informed consumers about the cost/value/role of REAs in RE transactions. Then, as is usual, there is a larger contingent who seize only on the cost perspective (what I refer to as the WalMart-syndrome). They still expect all the same services (i.e., including researching the MLS), but at discounted costs. However, these same consumers are the ones who buy blindly - and therefore need the most handholding through a RE transaction.

Is this really going to matter greatly in the long run with-respect-to REA costs? Probably not. Wal-Martians shop by price only (which the Internet is fairly good at providing), and marginalize the fee-for-experience professionals - to the overall long-term detriment of the entire market.

It happened first in the large appliance/electronics industry, and then exteneded into the auto industry. The "big delta" is that these are consumables - so I'm less sure how the WalMart effect will play out in the RE industry. Some of it is showing in the simple-listing services, and other single-fee services targeting FSBOs. Toss in "CMAs for a fee" and "we'll handle all paperwork for a small fee" and you've got a cradle-to-grave WalMart solution.
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January 23 2011
"And one thing that is pretty scarry is the clearly and most obvious important thing we offered 15 yrs ago is hardly even mentioned anymore."

"What is that?"  from SoCal

answer: Information.

Back in the day we controlled the information. If a buyer wanted to know what was for sale, they had to ask us.  If they wanted to know what recent sales prices had been, they had to ask us.

As you (SoCal) and Dan and Dunes have pointed out, we don't control the information anymore.  Once, it was clearly our msot valuable asset.

And you just pointed out, with our most valuable asset now worthless, what are we worth?  "considering the cost"  That is the ultimate question regarding the profession.  It's the ultimate point of the whole post and its no surprise that it's the non-agents on the board that get it. 

While the agents post laundry list of the little things we do, they are completely forgetting that they are the LITTLE THINGS.  The big thing, the information, we no longer control.

And I've got even scarrier news; we starting to lose control of the little things too.
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January 23 2011
Profile picture for SoCal_Engr
"And one thing that is pretty scarry is the clearly and most obvious important thing we offered 15 yrs ago is hardly even mentioned anymore."

What is that?

"But the bigger questions is, do they need any of us?  Is it even smart to use us considering our costs?"

As said by others, I believe the key phrase in today's market is "considering our costs". I have asked the question before if the cost issue is a REA/consumer issue, or a REA/Broker issue. Others have asked about the general concept of services-a-la-carte to address the fees issue.

Either way, the general RE industry is long overdue for a review and overhaul of how it provides services, and how those services are priced.
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January 23 2011
What I find so interesting is that most of the answers from agents consists of sales pitches I have always given to as to why they should hire me as opposed to some other agent.
But the bigger questions is, do they need any of us?  Is it even smart to use us considering our costs?
When I started 20+yrs ago it was hardly a question of whether we were necessary.  FSBO'ing was very difficult and they were place in a clear and obvious disadvantage.  That disadvatage was; nobody knew their house was for sale.  My old sales pitch to FSBO's was "unless your buyer happens to drive by your house, they'll never know it's for sale."   Well today, we are all logged into the site that changed all that for good.
20 yrs ago even the most stubborn of FSBO's knew they were at a disadvantage.  20 yrs ago there was no functional world wide web, there was only a web of local agents who pooled our knowledge and information together in order to help each other and help our clients.  It was our most important and invaluable function.  Today, it's meaningless.
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January 23 2011
I think the crux of this issue has less to do with the necessity of agents and more to do with choice.

Agents should not be necessary.  Plenty of people are capable of doing what is needed in order to complete an RE transaction.

However, a good agent can provide a great service which people should be able to choose to use and pay for or not.

I think the issue a lot of people have is that RE agents (and their brokers) are built into the cost of the transaction no matter what and there is no choice in whether or not to use them. 

I have often likened RE agents to general contractors.  Many people are capable of doing their own general contracting but many, like me, chose to pay someone to do it because the extra cost involved was personally worth it to me.  I didn't feel I had the connections or expertise involved for a project as large as building a house.  If I had wanted to, I could have done the research and spent the time.  Certainly plenty of people do, some successfully, some not so much.

The real estate business should be like that:  people should be able to decide for themselves if spending the time and effort to go without an agent is worth it or if they would rather pay someone for the service.
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January 23 2011
Profile picture for SoCal_Engr

As Dunes said, REAs used to have a strangle-hold on information. Not using an REA? Then, no access to the MLS - either to list or look. The Internet hasn't completely nullified this, but it's made it pretty much a non-factor in the minds of current buyers.

What's left? General familiarity with the market and processes. Is that worth 6%, irrespective of how it's split? Not uniformly across all properties. Same forms, same number of signatures, different numbers. Does "different numbers" justify the delta between $6K on a $100K transaction $30K on a $500K transaction? Hard to justify that $24K delta.

Are REAs really necessary? No, and they never have been. It's just that the increased access to information, both on properties and processes, has added fodder to the discussions.
 
With that being said, are REAs useful? Yes, many - though not all - are. It's just, what are their services really worth. Everyone else in the transaction, including the LO who actually arranges the financing, works off a straight fee - nowhere near what the REA charges.

p.s. Before you post...Yes, I know LOs use different fee mechanisms. However, the ones I use charge a flat fee - not a percentage of the loan.

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January 23 2011
Dan, I agree with you on all your points, but YOU may be the exception, as you're great at doing research, you've got the knowledge....    I continue to gain new clients each month, all of whom are very thankful for the guidance and help they receive.

Not everyone wants to do things on their own (although, I do understand and admire that you do).... many people look for guidance.

As for comparing Realtors to an attorney, that was not my intent and am also against anyone comparing a Realtor to a doctor or a lawyer, both of whom have at least 8 to 10 years of formal education, unfortunately, I can only "boast" a 4 year degree, and most agents, none!    You're right there when it comes to education!   Personally, I'd be one for requiring more education requirements, but unfortunately, there aren't many.

If people didn't need/want agent's advice, there wouldn't be several million hits each month on this and several other sites!

Thanks for your great comments, Dan!  :-)
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January 23 2011
Profile picture for Dunes....
It seems to me that in the Mind of the Public/Consumer "Are real estate agents really necessary anymore?" is less of a Concern than.......

Is the Expense of Using an Agent Justified by the Actual Services they provide?
$200,000 Financial Transaction...6%=$12,000

To a Seller are the Services they have received worth $12,000?
If the Buyers Agent gets a 3% split did they provide $6,000 worth of Services to the Buyer?

The Agents Broker Splits yadda yadda...their (Agents)problem and perhaps a bad arrangement they made because they lack negotiating skills ;)

Expenses/Promoting? Enough to justify $12,000....Good luck on selling the public that ticket...

Negotiating skills.....No one ever bought that line ever...never ever in the past and certainly not now

Agents use to CONTROL info and that was a large part of what a person paid for...The Info
Just ain't so anymore.....
Agents can prove they are necessary perhaps but proving their value is possibly more important...
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January 23 2011
I sincerely appreciate some of the thought some of you have put into your answers. Often, this Zillow forum does create great thought and discussion.

That said, there is still a lot of BS and wishful thinking inside some of the answers. 

First, "negotiations." I firmly believe we as agents place way too much respect in our own abilities on negotiations.  In my career I have sold well over $350MM in residential real estate. 3 times I have been the highest producer in my state.  And while I have talked a lot of Seller's into accepting less than they wanted, in fact I'm only getting them to understand what the market will pay.  AND, I have never been able to talk a buyer into paying more than the market value.  In my mind, negotiations are simple; find the Seller's floor, find the Buyer's ceiling and then see if that works for them both.  And, stay calm.  We act as though we possess some magic ability to manipulate minds. Please.  I'll give you this, "negotiations" is a great selling tool and I use it's myth all the time when selling my services, but it's bottom line benefit to my clients is negligible at best.

Second, "homes listed with agents sell for more money."  I have conducted dozens of thurough studies on this and read countles reports on the subject.  The fact is there is NO TRUTH to the claim. 

And one thing that is pretty scarry is the clearly and most obvious important thing we offered 15 yrs ago is hardly even mentioned anymore.
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January 23 2011
Profile picture for the_country_hick
If a buyer does their research well an agent is mostly needed to be able to access the listing.

Negotiations are why we need a realtor? Please!!! I can negotiate just fine by myself. Once the price gets to high for me I refuse to offer more. If a price is to low I refuse to sell. In this aspect the agents only get in the way. Why can I not negotiate directly with the other party? Because agents need to prove their worth. Besides, they like to make us wait a long time to find out if we can reach a deal or not.

"As for a buyer, imagine the logistics in setting up a dozen showings with a dozen different homeowners"
Do you really mean that making a dozen phone calls or emails is that hard? It is not that difficult, even a realtor can do it. If I found a dozen houses for sale I wanted to look at on forsalebyowner.com I would not have much if any difficulty in setting up appointments. They want to sell, I want to buy. We WILL work something out.

I have looked at several different cars and other items for sale in a day before. The biggest obstacle I ever faced was the driving time.

Marla, "The answer is simple.   You CAN represent yourself in a lawsuit, but is it wise?"
Until you spend that many years learning real estate so you can practice it do not make that foolish comparison. Some people can represent themselves very well in court. If you learn what is needed it can be done. The same way if someone takes the time and effort to learn real estate is not that hard to understand. After all it takes how many hours of classes to become a licensed real estate agent with a GED requirement at best?

Why should a buyer not just buy the real estate books that you use to get your license to learn what to do? It is neither expensive or difficult.
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January 23 2011
I would decribe my job as that of an experienced airline pilot navigating home buyers and homeowners through the purchase and sale in a turbulent real estate market.  Buckle up, the landing is a bumpy bottom!
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January 23 2011
   Some homeowners try to sell on their own. Some use discount brokers who now offer to place a home in multiple listing sites for a small set fee.
The problem is that the homeowner is an unrepresented seller.Now,in the current real estate market,it is more important than ever to use the services of a full time,experienced,hands on real estate agent. One who knows the local market,and is in contact with other experienced agents.Anyone can "throw a home into a multiple listing system". Unless an agent is promoting it,the home just gets lost.

   Despite all the new technology,real estate is still a "word of mouth business". If a house is priced right,and if you have the right agent promoting it, you will see it sold.
Also,please note that when a homeowner attempts to sell on their own,potential buyers will deduct a supposed 6% commission from the asking price before they negotiate on the price. When a home is listed with a Realtor,the buyer negotiates on the asking price with out any thought of deducting a potential commission.
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January 23 2011
The problem with the real estate profession is little is done to really promote the profession.  Yes, individual agents are out promoting themselves, but the industry as a whole is perceived as an expensive burden on the public that a seller wants to avoid.  The biggest complaint is the commissions.  While as an individual agent is not your fault that one charges the seller for the entire commission it has put one an enormous burden on the seller and a significant loss on the equity in their home.  This practice also has deminished the perceived value.  Another area which was started as a way to even the playing field between agents and also put a dog in the fight for buyers is the MLS concept.  Unfortunately, the industry as once again found a way to demean that purpose by agents taking both sides of a commission and basically conning a buyer into believing they are getting equal representation when they are not,  As you should recall the original purpose was two fold.  First, primarily to protect the buyers but also opening the market up so everyone had an equal opportunity to list and find buyers for any given property.  Right now the industry has the same approval as used car salesman and attorneys.  All there are perceived to be no more than wallet grabbers and the product or service they offer is questionable.  With the market as it is, now is a good time to get back to some very old, tried, and proven principles.  The first being each side is responsible for their own commission.  After all, the buyer selects and uses the services of their chosen agent.  Buyers need to be responsible for their own closing costs and down payment.  No one steps in except, perhaps a family member to take care of closing costs and down payment on other goods or services.  As far as the MLS is concerned there needs to be a return to its true intent.  A sharing of a listing with another agent bringing the buyer and an open market for all to benefit.  I am sure their are other issues as well.  This puts our services back on an even playing field that agents, sellers and buyers can all equally benefit.
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January 23 2011
OK. Are we necessary? Do Buyers and Sellers need us? If you left the business this year and then decided to sell your house next year, would you hire an agent? Why?
Has technology and access to information made us less useful?
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January 23 2011
I completely understand what you're asking, and have asked several colleagues and friends the same question....

Wondering why folks need us, with the internet now??

The answer is simple.   You CAN represent yourself in a lawsuit, but is it wise?

We are used to the "ins and outs" of buying property, but most people only buy a home 5 or 6 times in a lifetime....

There are inspections to be had, disclosures to be made, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, negotiations!

As for a buyer, imagine the logistics in setting up a dozen showings with a dozen different homeowners, when they can simply connect with a professional that will show them all 12 homes, give them a tour of the area, explain where local schools are, etc.

I do UNDERSTAND the question, I do WONDER that myself sometimes, but I think that people want to have someone that can represent them in such an important purchase!

Great question, Whit.....

I'm sure I left out several other reasons we're still useful and not a dying breed....others????

Marla Lopez
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January 23 2011
Can you explain your question in greater detail?  What are you trying to say? 
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January 23 2011
 
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