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Buying a house isn’t as simple as whipping out a credit card and handing it over to the seller. From finding the right place for you to negotiating the offer to closing, there are a lot of moving parts that need to function smoothly before you can move. And that’s why you need a great agent, and why it’s important to know: exactly what can a real estate agent do to make your home purchase easier?
A good agent works for you. Florida agent Cinthia Ane’ McGreevy, who works with 80% more single-family homes than other agents in her area, says that her clients are like her real estate family. Her team is “there through the whole thing from beginning to end; we explain the entire process, from finding the home to bringing out what they really, absolutely need versus want or desires.”
A good agent guides you through the entire homebuying process, from applying for a mortgage to the closing. Want more details? Here’s the nitty-gritty of what a real estate agent does for you.
What can a real estate agent do for you?
An agent can help you navigate the mortgage process
Most agents recommend that you get preapproved before home shopping. This preapproval letter helps you set your budget, and if you do find a great home, you’re ready to write an offer immediately.
A mortgage broker can help you shop around for loans, and a loan originator at a bank can guide you through the preapproval process. But agents know many brokers and loan officers, and they can put you in touch with the right person.
Like many agents, Ane’ McGreevy has longstanding, strong relationships with lenders she prefers. “When my buyers are in their hands, I feel very confident. They stay in touch with my client and explain, all the way through the process, what happens next,” she says.
Working with someone who your agent knows keeps communication open and flowing, preventing any last-minute surprises at closing.
An agent can help you find programs to afford a house
If you’re struggling to save for a down payment, or don’t have 20% yet, you can still buy a house. Loan programs exist where you can put down just 5%, or even avoid a down payment altogether (such as a USDA loan). But it can be confusing to navigate various government websites.
Ask your agent about programs or loan types that aren’t on your radar. Many states have first-time home buyer programs, and other buyers could qualify for down payment grants even if it’s not their first home purchase.
An agent can show you areas and homes that are great for you — but you didn’t know existed
When you first start working with an agent, you’ll tell them where you want to live and what you’re looking for in a house. After listening to your wants and needs, they could bring to your attention a neighborhood that’s a hidden gem, one may offer a better deal or have less competition. Over time, expanding your search area could yield great fruit.
And an agent can do more than access the MLS to find you homes. By working their network, they find out about pending listings from other agents in their office or from their own sellers. Their in-depth market knowledge and contacts work for you, helping you get the jump on other buyers.
During the pandemic, and if you’re relocating, they can also scout homes in-person so you don’t waste your time. You’ll want to limit the number of homes you visit, or you may have to buy sight unseen. As they get to know you and what you’re looking for in a home, they can be your advance scouting expedition.
Roddy Barnes is a homebuyer who worked with Ane’ McGreevy during his recent home hunt. He and his wife started out looking on their own, but they quickly turned to her for help. “She knows where you’re at, and knows how to make that market real for you,” he says.
“If I’d still been looking on my own, there are houses she showed us that I would never have looked at,” he would have assumed they were never going to work and missed out on some great opportunities.
An agent can explain a MLS listing
When a house goes on the market, it’s listed on multiple listing services (MLSs). These services pull its data into various websites and make it searchable. But do you know what all those terms mean?
An agent can break down the components of a listing, not just explaining what “days on market” means but also what it signifies about a house. In a hot market, a house that’s been on the market over 90 days could have an issue. If the listing says “sold as is,” the house could need repairs. When you see a high-square-footage number, does it include the basement?
Reading the MLS listing is the first step, and interpreting it is the next. Your agent knows how to look at the data and tell you what it’s really saying.
An agent can help you evaluate a house
You’ve had a new baby and can’t wait to get out of your two-bedroom condo. That three-bedroom bungalow looks like a good fit, but it’s not in a neighborhood with great schools. An agent evaluates potential homes for both now and in the future.
Your family’s needs will change over time. If you’re planning on having more kids, you could soon outgrow that bungalow. You’ll want to think ahead to kindergarten when deciding which school district to live in, or your dog may need a larger backyard.
In your eagerness to become a homeowner now you may neglect to think about five to ten years down the road. But there are costs involved in selling a home and moving. A good agent can reign in your enthusiasm and help you look at the big picture.
An agent can help you find homes for your special needs
Some homebuyers have specialized needs that go beyond “three bedroom, two bath.” You may have a disabled family member who needs a bedroom and bathroom on the main floor. Parents working from home might want their own office and a finished basement where the kids can play.
If you need features in your new home that you can’t find using a filter in the MLS, an agent can help you locate them. Barnes wasn’t keen on moving, it was his wife’s idea, so he told her that he’d only move if they could find a house with sellers who could be flexible on the price — hard to do in their market.
“The biggest thing for me,” he says, “was not getting upside-down buying in a high market.”
Ane’ McGreevy hit and surpassed this and his other benchmarks.
An agent can reach out to homeowners on your behalf
In high-demand areas, agents often send letters to the current owners to find new listings or potential sellers. They could have someone in their database they could call who indicated that they didn’t want to sell two years ago, but were thinking about it in the future. Now could be the time.
An agent can give you feedback on price
You may love the house with the dormers and wrap-around front porch, but is it really worth $650,000 where you live?
Even if you’ve found the perfect home, you don’t want to overpay for it. And offering too much could cause issues with the appraisal and mortgage down the road.
An agent can prepare a comparative market analysis for the home (or homes) you want to buy, pulling information from recent sales in the area. When comparing houses, they’ll help you evaluate variables like price per square foot, number of bathrooms, and garage spaces, all of which could make one home worth more than another.
In a hot seller’s market, you might not have time for a full comparative market analysis. That’s when an agent’s in-depth market knowledge comes into play. They’ll have a good grasp on what homes in the area are worth from their own listings and sales. When you lean on their expertise, you’ll know you’re paying a fair price and making a strong offer.
An agent can help you present yourself as a strong buyer
Once you’ve found your dream home, it can be heartbreaking if the seller rejects your offer or chooses another buyer. You want to present the strongest offer you can.
From preapproval to down payment amount to earnest money, your agent will guide you to figuring out the best overall offer to present. They may call and talk to the seller’s agent to determine what matters most to the seller. It’s not always about money, sometimes the sellers need a flexible close date or shorter close.
If they’re competing against another buyer, Ane’ McGreevy has her buyers include escalation clauses in their offers. This clause will increase an offer above the highest and best offer that the sellers receive by anywhere from $500 to $2,500 in her market. “They can put a max on it,” she reassures cautious buyers, “which we do depending on where the client is financially.”
When writing your offer, your agent will help you identify what you can bring to the table that will give you the strongest advantage as a buyer in your market.
An agent can help you negotiate contingencies and sweeten the deal
Are you willing to waive the inspection contingency, or would you rather commit to either buying the house or walking away if the inspector finds something serious? What about the time to close — do you have a strict date, or are you willing to leave it up to the seller?
Contingencies are one area where you can offer the seller something that isn’t related to price. By asking questions of both you and the seller’s agent, your agent will know where you can tweak or eliminate contingencies to make both sides happy. They’ll also explain the risks to waiving some contingencies and explain how they’ll impact your purchase.
An agent will handle the earnest money and escrow
When you make an offer, and after it’s accepted, you’ll need to write an earnest money check. This money goes in escrow until the house closes. Your agent will handle delivering the check to the listing agent.
If something goes wrong and the deal falls through, they’ll advise you on your options and help you get the earnest money back, if possible.
An agent can help you find an inspector
The home inspection is one of the most important contingencies in your offer. If the home inspector finds a major issue, you might want to negotiate the home’s price or get the seller to commit to have the work done before closing. In worst-case scenarios, buyers could choose to walk away from the purchase.
Even if you waive the inspection contingency, you should still have an inspection done. The home inspection can serve as a list of maintenance projects or upgrades the home needs in the first few years.
Most agents should be able to recommend a home inspector or two who’s trustworthy and thorough. They’ve read the reports of several home inspectors in your area and will have opinions about who does the best job. Their recommendation may be particularly important in states that don’t require that home inspectors have a license.
An agent can negotiate after the home inspection
While the home inspection isn’t necessarily meant to lead to more negotiations, it can if the home inspector finds something that would greatly reduce the home’s perceived value. After all, any buyer would probably pay less for the house if they knew that it needed a new roof.
When Barnes finally found the right home, the home inspection revealed that the roof needed replacing. Barnes wanted a credit at close.
“We went back and forth for a while every single day on this roof credit,” he says. They couldn’t reach consensus on the total amount needed, or the roof’s damage. Barnes thinks that, “if I was by myself negotiating at that point, I think I would have been taken advantage of,” but Ane’ McGreevy and her team eventually secured Barnes a $30,000 roof credit.
Most homebuyers don’t have to negotiate regularly, especially at this price range, and haven’t built strong negotiation skills. They also don’t know what’s negotiable, and where there can be give and take. An experienced agent is frequently engaged in negotiations and will use these skills on your behalf.
An agent can recommend additional inspections…
Depending on your home’s age and the area of the country you live, you might want to test for other hazards.
Builders used lead paint and asbestos in homes built before the late 1970s. Mold might be found in homes located in a wet climate, and radon in others.
Experienced agents will know common hazards in your neighborhood and specific to the home’s era. They can recommend additional home inspections, such as radon testing, that you might want to have done as well as a regular home inspection.
If these inspections find issues that must be remediated, an agent can help you arrange for repairs, or negotiate with the seller to make them instead.
An agent can communicate with the listing agent for you
After an accepted offer the agent will handle communicating with the listing agent. The home inspector and appraiser may both need access to the house before closing. If you negotiate repairs, either you or your agent will want to verify that they’ve been done. It’s a good idea to do a final walkthrough one to two days before close.
Your agent will arrange dates and times that the necessary people can get into your new home, as well as ensure that all paperwork has been signed and filed properly.
An agent can hold your hand through closing
Whether your closing happens in-person or remotely, you might have some questions about all that paperwork you’re signing.
Your agent may be in the room with you, or available by phone, to answer your questions. They’ll review the paperwork beforehand to check its accuracy and find any errors.
An agent can help you rent a house
If you need a place to stay temporarily — either while the sellers move out, or while your house is being built, or due to some other reason — agents can be great sources to help you find short-term or long-term rental housing that works for your household.
They may know a seller whose house has been sitting on the market and who’s now willing to consider a short-term rental. They could recommend the best extended stay hotel in your area. If you’re relocating and unfamiliar with your new city, this advice can be invaluable.
An agent might be able to help you manage a property you own
While some investors prefer to be hands-on, others like the “passive” part of passive income and prefer to hire a property manager. Or, if your old home hasn’t sold but you’re ready to move into your new place, you might want to rent it in the meantime. Your agent might also function as a property manager, or have referrals.
Real estate agents do a lot more than take you to look at houses. They’re with you from the day you begin your search to the day you’re holding the keys to your new place. So you’ll want to make sure you find the very best one for you.
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