Buyer's agent works the deal for frustrated car shoppers
Goldberg: Level playing field
Linda Lee Goldberg thinks everyone deserves a fair deal. That's why she left her 13-year career at car dealerships in 1988 to work for the other side: buyers.
Goldberg, a buyer's agent, helps car buyers, including non-English speakers, avoid negotiation.
"I felt consumers needed a fair and equitable way to buy their cars," says Goldberg, president of CarQ in Terra Linda, Calif.
When a client contacts the company with a vehicle in mind, CarQ researches dealer costs and retail pricing to determine the best vehicle price, then finds dealers willing to accept that price. Goldberg says the company works with about 2,200 dealers across the country. Unlike brokers, she only receives fees from clients, not the dealerships.
Goldberg says most clients come to her through referrals, the company's Web site and word of mouth. They include not only buyers who don't like negotiating, but consumers who feel that their ethnicity or lack of English proficiency may work against them, she says.
"Buyers themselves have said to me, 'We walk in, and they know our background,'" she says. "I go into the dealership to level the playing field." Since the car buyers remain anonymous to the dealerships, she says, stores "can't manipulate anything for the deal."
Because she doesn't work with clients face to face, she says, she doesn't know how many are ethnic minorities. But she says some clients, including one Hispanic client in New York, have complained to her of ill treatment.
Clients don't always listen to her advice, though, she says.
"By the time consumers get to the finance office, they may have gotten the car for $100 over invoice. But F&I will add $2,500 for financing, an extended warranty and cosmetic protection," she says. "People get sold on the fact that their car needs to be prepared for the elements."
She says one client went to pick up a lease after the deal was negotiated. But in the F&I office, he added cosmetic protection and an extended warranty for a substantially higher cost than she would have advised, Goldberg says.
Goldberg says she "fell into" the auto industry when she applied for a job listing from a large finance corporation. Her sales background landed her at a dealership.
She worked as a floor saleswoman and finance manager at different dealerships, and worked with auto brokers, she says. Then she launched CarQ. The company's fees range from consultation costs of $200 to $2,200, depending on service provided and whether the car is new or used.
Many dealers haven't heard of buyer's agents so some are surprised when she calls, Goldberg says. She estimates that buyer's agents represent less than 1 percent of sales. Several agents are in Colorado and Alaska, which have licensing requirements for buyer's agents.
Goldberg says 80 percent of buyers still buy cars on their own. But many frustrated shoppers seek help.
"The dealers' motivation is to sell a car and make as much money with the sale. If I were a dealer, that's how I would guide my business model," Goldberg says. "But I'm here to help those buyers."