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First-Time Home Buying 101: Do I Hire a Real Estate Team or Single Agent?

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You’ve made the decision: It’s time to start shopping for your first home. It’s an exciting time! Now you need to find a real estate agent.

When you start looking, you discover that not only is there a huge pool of single agents to choose from, there are real estate teams as well. So which is better — hiring a single agent or hiring a real estate team to help you with your first home purchase?

Both a single agent and a team will help guide you through the process, but your experience working with a team could be different than working with a single agent. Here’s what you should know about working with a real estate team as a first-time homebuyer.

A real estate agent.
Source: (Eye for Ebony / Unsplash)

The agent model

Working with a single or solo agent is pretty self-explanatory — you have one agent, one point of contact who will take care of your needs directly.

A solo agent will usually set up an initial meeting with you to go over your homebuying goals and list of wants and needs. They will find homes for you to look at using the MLS and will send you those homes for review.

Usually, they will accompany you to open houses and chat with the listing agent (if they’re present). If they don’t attend open houses with you, they’ll be personally available to make offers on your behalf if you view a house that you love.

Single agents work closely and personally with buyers from start to finish in the homebuying process. “If you’re nervous about the process, having a solo agent who has their finger on the pulse of everything, there’s value there,” explains Princeton, New Jersey-based agent Christopher Norton.

The team model

With a real estate team, the process is a little different. All the duties listed above that a single agent would do themselves are divided up among team members.

Real estate teams consist of two or more agents who work on clients’ behalf, and often include support staff to help with administrative work. Teams often also include buyer’s agents and listing agents who function separately.

Other duties of a real estate team that are split up among members can include:

  • Marketing
  • Lead generation and follow up
  • Administrative duties
  • Transaction coordination
  • Running open houses
  • Managing the office
  • Coordinating buyer lending
  • Legal review

Dealing with a real estate team can have its advantages, but you should be prepared to be in contact with several different people throughout your homebuying journey.

It’s possible that you’ll meet with the lead agent at the beginning, then transition to a different point of contact for showings and open houses. Many lead agents work closely with clients at the beginning of the process, then have designated agents within their company who handle showings.

“Since Valerie and I are the broker-owner-agents of our company, we have three other agents that support us as needed — for example, open houses, extra showings, things like that,” says Omaha-based real estate agent Don Keeton.

If you’re comfortable working with several different people during the buying process, a team might be the right choice for you. However, if you feel more comfortable only dealing with one agent, the single agent model might be a better way to go. It all depends on personal preference and comfort level.

Regardless of your preference, make sure you are clear about what your agent’s business structure looks like. There’s nothing more jarring than thinking you’re going to an open house with your agent, only to have a different agent show up in their place.

How many teams are there?

According to a recent survey by the National Association of Realtors, 26% of agents who responded worked on a real estate team. The average number of people on a real estate team is four, and 29% of teams consist of just two people. On real estate teams, 80% said everyone on their team holds a real estate license. The most common function of team members on a real estate team is “agent,” with a whopping 88% clocking in with this title.

A real estate team.
Source: (Arlington Research / Unsplash)

Do you pay more for a team than a single agent?

One of the advantages of hiring a real estate team is that you don’t pay more for a team than an agent. So if you’re comfortable with dealing with several different people, you’re getting however many people are on the team for the price of one.

However, some team agencies do charge a slightly higher commission than single agents to compensate for the fact that they have to split the proceeds among team members.

“Typically, agents with teams are going to charge a higher commission because there’s more pieces coming out of the pie,” explains Keeton. “In most real estate markets, the commission is 5% or 6%, and that commission is split four ways: listing broker, listing agent, selling broker, and selling agent. But when you add in an extra team member, then it’s split five ways.”

So when dealing with a team, the commission might be slightly higher than with an individual agent. But it will not be higher than the going range of commissions for the market — it will just be on the high end of that range. Teams can keep their commissions relatively low because they are able to handle more transactions at once.

When should you hire a team?

You should hire a real estate team if you don’t mind dealing with more than one person throughout the homebuying process. Essentially, you’re getting multiple agents for the same price you’d pay for a single agent. So as long as you don’t mind possible switching points of contact and different agents on the team leading you through open houses, a team might be the way to go.

Teams are also often able to provide 24/7 care to their clients because they’ve got more hands on deck — something that an individual agent won’t necessarily be able to do. Depending on how tasks are split up among team members, you’re likely to get more focused attention because the agent isn’t splitting time doing administrative work or trying to juggle more clients than they can handle. So though the team is likely taking on more listings than a single agent, that probably won’t affect the attention you’ll get.

The lead agent in the company might also be able to provide you with more attention because they’ve delegated other duties to their employees. “We’ve managed to go 44 years without one complaint,” says Keeton, “because we give 100% excellent customer service.”

A meeting with a real estate agent.
Source: (Amy Hirschi / Unsplash)

When should you hire an agent?

If you prefer working one-on-one with someone throughout your entire homebuying process, a single agent is probably the way to go.

An agent will be able to hold your hand from initial meeting through to closing, and you won’t have to deal with different people handling open houses, making offers, or fielding phone calls.

“There’s a continuity between showings and transactional cycles that I think is advantageous when you’re working with a solo agent,” says Norton.

“From the time you first meet until the time you get the keys, they are involved in every step of the process.”

If something goes wrong during your search, there’s just one person to hold accountable — no passing the buck or blaming someone else if mistakes are made or communication breaks down.

Another instance where an individual agent could be the right choice is if that agent specializes in the type of home or area where you want to live. Agents who specialize will be able to provide their expertise, and if there’s a specific area you’re looking at, an agent who specializes will have inside knowledge on that location.

And agents who work individually usually have space in an office with other single agents, so it’s not like they’re on an island. Agents within the same office share leads and advice, which provides a level of support.

Ultimately, the choice of whether to hire a single agent or an agent team comes down to personal preference. If you know you’re going to need more personalized attention during your search, you might want to choose a single agent. If you’re okay with dealing with a few different people for showings and some of the administrative tasks, a team could be the way to go. HomeLight’s agent finder tool can help you to find both teams and single agents, so check it out to get started on your search!

Header Image Source: (Parker Byrd / Unsplash)