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Do I really need to find a real estate agent?

"If you’re in the market for your first home, you’re likely to have some questions about real estate agents — and you should..."

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Have you ever dreamt of saying, “Let me talk to my agent, and I’ll get back to you”? I know I have. Last night, even. It was a good dream. Unfortunately, since the likelihood of becoming a Hollywood actor living in Milwaukee is low, and my autobiographical book of failed romances is becoming too long to edit, acting and literary agents won’t return my calls. Lucky for me, there is one type of agent who will be more than happy to take my calls: a real estate agent.

If you’re in the market for your first home, you’re likely to have some questions about real estate agents — and you should! Below are some common questions and answers about real estate agents and their relevance in the home-buying process.

Do I really need to hire a real estate agent to buy a home?

Well, no, not technically, but it’s probably a good idea. Like flossing or owning a raincoat. I usually like to do all the research and get things done on my own, so I can understand some reluctance in trusting a stranger. But sometimes it’s best to accept that we can’t be experts at everything, even with the Internet’s help. Purchasing a house isn’t in the same realm as buying a new microwave or changing the oil in your car — you’re going to want the help of a proven expert. A real estate agent will:

  • Research listings according to your preferences
  • Negotiate a fair price and prep all forms when making an offer
  • Offer their expertise every step of the way, from looking to close
  • And much more!

You’ll save yourself time and stress, and even with commission fees, you’ll likely save money as well.

How do I find an agent?

Like all things, the Internet is a good place to start. Realtor.com has a searchable database of more than one million real estate agents. Going to your preferred search engine and searching for “[your city] real estate agent” is another solid option. You’ll likely see a number of local real estate agencies, as well as third-party websites that list and review local agents, such as Zillow, Angie’s List and even Yelp. Of course, you can also talk to real live fleshy human beings, such as friends and family, to learn about any positive or negative experiences they had with their agent. Most people who own a home have had to deal with real estate agents in one way or another, so don’t be afraid to ask around for suggestions. Last but not least, you can kill two birds with one stone by checking out appealing listings in person*; you can inspect the house and get a feel for the intangibles, and also chat with the listing agent — they may have other houses that fit what you’re looking for.

How do I choose the right agent for me?

By now you’ve identified some potential real estate agents from personal recommendations, online research and calling local agencies. How do you choose? There are many questions that need answering, and it’s best to get them straight from the agent’s mouth. Redfin.com has a great list of fifteen questions to ask, including: Is this your full-time gig? and When clients are unhappy with your service, what has gone wrong? You’ll find more questions, and potential red-flag answers, right here.

Agents who have been around longer will have a track record, for better or worse, so it’s a better bet than hiring someone with a freshly minted real estate license. The key is to find someone who you can trust, understands your needs and has a good knowledge of the local market without stretching themselves thin with too many clients.

How much is hiring an agent going to cost me?

This answer can get complicated, but when it’s all calculated out it amounts to around absolutely nothing. That’s right. Nada. Zero. Zilch. However, the agent isn’t working for free. Confused? Read on.

First off, an agent is never paid directly from the consumer — the full commission payment goes to the broker agency of the listing agent (usually around 6% of the sale), which then gives a portion of that to the agent. A buyer’s agent is also paid from that same pool of 6%, so technically the seller’s brokerage is also paying for the buyer’s agent.

However, some suggest that you could negotiate a lower price with the seller’s agent by taking advantage of the fact that they wouldn’t have to split the commission with the buyer’s agent, but there’s a low margin for success here — not to mention all the saved headaches of having someone help you out with the whole home-buying process.

*BONUS TIP

Buying a house is one of the few processes you can’t completely navigate on the Internet, so get used to the idea of meeting strangers in person, maintaining eye contact and not being completely awkward. Terrifying, I know, but I’ve found practicing with a mirror helps. And showering.