You can use handy home affordability calculators to set your homebuying budget, save your favorite homes on listing apps, and dig into a property’s history with a quick Google search thanks to the internet. So you think for a sec, “Why use a real estate agent to buy a home when so much is online?”
While the web has transformed the way people shop for homes and empowers you as a buyer to go into your house hunt well-informed, the sheer amount of information out there will be difficult to navigate alone. Dizzying even.
And though buying a house appears to be all about the numbers on the surface, the reality is that you’re about to get on an emotional rollercoaster — a study of 2,000 homebuyers by Homes.com found that the homebuying process brings one-third of people to tears.
In 2019, 87% of buyers reported working with a real estate agent to buy their home, according to data from the National Association of Realtors’ Profile of Homebuyers and Sellers. This is the purchase of a lifetime, not a pair of shoes you buy with a simple “add to cart.” Find out why having a trusted adviser by your side matters today despite the internet.
1. Your home search is an agent’s day job (so you can keep yours).
Sure, you can set up alerts for new homes that go on the market and fit your filters for price, beds, and baths. But do you want to be the one who books showings in the middle of the workday? Instead, wouldn’t you rather someone in the real estate office ring you: “This property just went live—but it’s going to go fast, can you see it this afternoon? I’ll contact the seller’s agent if you can make it.”
When you team up with a real estate agent, your home search is their top priority. In addition to gaining another set of eyes on the inventory you’re browsing online, your agent has direct access to the MLS, the members-only database for property data where home listings first appear before syndicating to online real estate sites.
In addition to aiding your house hunt, your agent communicates and coordinates on your behalf, streamlining every phase of home buying so you don’t miss the opportunity to land your dream home due to your own busy schedule. Your agent has a fiduciary duty—a legally mandated obligation—to act in your best interest so rest assured they’ll protect your confidentiality and negotiate to the best of their ability at all times.
2. Gorgeous kitchens, clever staging, and great curb appeal could blind you to a home’s real problems.
We all judge that buyer on House Hunters who just can’t get past the ‘70s wallpaper, but it’s easy to become that person unless you’ve got the budget to tour 100% move-in ready homes.
Your agent helps you step back and look beyond poor styling to focus on the structural qualities of the home so you don’t miss out on a house with hidden potential. At the opposite end, your agent sees through professional staging and camera angles that expand room size in online listing photos, directing your attention to the fact that the stylish pad you love lacks the square footage and storage on your must-have list.
When the viewing rolls around, your agent will keep an eye out for foundation cracks, signs of water damage, or a dated HVAC system to help you objectively weigh related costs with your emotional attachment.
For instance, a home in need of a cosmetic lift could be a better investment than a house with impeccable staging that needs a new roof. The cost to remove that ‘70s wallpaper is around $3 per square foot (average project cost is $740), but if you need to replace the roof, you’re set back an average of $7,211.
3. You’ll be focused on living in the home. Agents help you see investment potential.
Buyers judge houses from a personal standpoint: Could I imagine living here? Does this house suit my family’s needs?
Agents, on the other hand, will help you look at homes as investments first, giving you context for whether the neighborhood appears to be appreciating in value or on the decline, and for any features of the house that could make it difficult to resell down the line.
“When you’re looking at homes, a good agent is going to walk you through the pros and share what values are doing in that neighborhood. For instance, there are some floor plans that might be suitable for your lifestyle but when you go to resell, they’re not going to hit the larger buyer demographic so that can pose a future challenge,” shares Grace Henrikson, a top real estate agent in Marysville, WA with over 260 transactions to her name.
Here’s some examples of value threatening features your agent can spot:
- Awkward floor plans:
As Henrikson mentions, some layouts are less popular with buyers such as those with satellite living rooms, dining rooms in the center of the home, and adjoining bedrooms.
- Flood or wildfire zones:
A study by the U.S. Forest Service found repeated forest fires in Southern California caused home prices to drop (9.71% after one wildfire and an additional 22.68% after the second fire). Flood zones negatively affect property value, as well.
- Neighborhoods with “zombie homes:”
Abandoned houses and houses seriously neglected by owners can lower property values for the whole neighborhood.
- Close hospitals with emergency rooms:
Proximity to quality hospitals is considered a pro, but homes situated too near to emergency rooms lose 3.2% in value likely due to noisy ambulance sirens.
For as many value dragging considerations, there are surprising property-value boosters, such as proximity to an NFL stadium or to popular chains like Starbucks, Whole Foods, or Trader Joes. With years of experience buying and selling properties in your locale, your agent has a pulse on which homes will make valuable investments.
4. You could buy a house with code violations and be up the creek.
You can scroll through a checklist of the common code violations on your local city website for reference at a home viewing, but how confidently could you catch irregular construction? A recent survey found, 24% of home buyers spent between 46 and 60 minutes in a home before making an offer, while another 28% spent just over an hour to a maximum of two hours in a home before making an offer.
That’s a short window to conduct an amateur inspection on top of touring the home, absorbing details not mentioned in the listing, and exploring your emotional connection.
Real estate agents are experts at recognizing potential violations and how they affect the home’s value so you know what you’re getting into before you decide to make an offer. Your agent will dive deep into the house’s construction to help you spot:
Does the seller have permits for that beautiful bath renovation?
If you buy a house with unpermitted work, you need to obtain retroactive permitting or live with the risks. New, unpermitted bathrooms might not meet standard plumbing codes which reduce the risk of pipe leaks and flooding. Most homeowner’s insurance won’t cover damage caused by unpermitted work so if something goes wrong, you’re paying out of pocket.
Does the square footage in the listing match what’s on county record?
Home additions built without a permit are illegal so don’t expect the home inspector to include the space in the home appraisal. If the home doesn’t appraise for the agreed sale price, your loan could fall through in the final stage of closing.
Down the line, the addition will cause you the same pain when it’s your turn to sell unless you invest in bringing the space up to code. In this case, you could face fines for failure to obtain the first permit unless the city has laws protecting innocent purchasers.
Will the septic tank support the size of the home?
Some municipalities base the septic system size on the number of toilets connected while others go off the amount of bedrooms in the home. Either way, it’s illegal to exceed the maximum tank service capacity; overextended tanks impact the efficiency of the entire home’s waste water management system.
“If the home advertises as a four-bedroom but the septic system was built for a three-bedroom, it can still hold the capacity of a four-bedroom, but technically you’re buying a three-bedroom home, which impacts your value,” Henrikson informs.
5. Your agent is like your personal tour guide to a city.
Let’ say you’re buying a home in Los Angeles County to live near your adult kids. Great! So exactly where in the 4,850 square mile radius would you feel at home? You’ll find pages of Google search results for trendy communities like Echopark and Venice Beach, but few articles will include information on lower profile areas like Glendora or El Segundo.
This is where your agent really comes in and shines — they know the market like the back of their hand so can help you zero in on neighbors which match your unique needs (no more squinting at the Maps app).
44% of buyers say their real estate agent improved their knowledge of search areas during their house hunt. With years of experience exploring their territory, agents are your best resource for deep local knowledge you can’t find online.
They provide logistical intel such as daily traffic patterns and when you’re better off driving, riding Metro, or hopping in an Uber. Even better, real estate agents share cultural knowledge like which spots boast the best happy hour deals or how the atmosphere in town changes with the seasons so you can get a taste for the local flavor.
6. Real estate isn’t just what you know; it’s who you know.
A real estate agent’s reputation among other Realtors can influence the transaction more than you might imagine.
If your agent knows the listing broker of a home you’re interested in, they can dig up useful insider information on the property (i.e. how much activity has the home seen? What is the seller looking for in an offer?). With these insights in tow, your agent will help you craft your best offer, leveraging their reputation to make that offer even more persuasive.
“Our relationships and rapport with other professionals in our industry really can make or break a client’s offer getting accepted or not,” says Henrikson.
“There have been times when we’ve represented a buyer in multiple offer scenarios and we’ve won not by being the highest price or the best terms but because that agent has confidence in our ability to perform because of their past experiences working with us.”
7. Personal connections to local contractors will also be worth their weight in gold.
Real estate agent’s rolodexes are full of reliable contractors, inspectors, real estate attorneys, and lenders proven to get the job done right, on schedule, and for a fair price. By tapping into their network, you’ll save hours of time otherwise spared to researching service providers, reading reviews, and comparing quotes. In some cases, these professionals may even pencil your appointment for an earlier date out of appreciation for your agent’s repeat business.
8. A master negotiator protects your interests.
Sellers want the highest price and you want the best deal — the price and terms will bend towards the party with the most artful negotiation tactics. Back your corner with your own real estate agent to equal the playing field. They’ll know which negotiation strategies will render most effective for the situation and how to tweak your angle as the situation develops with counteroffers.
In 2019, 38% of buyers stated their agent negotiated a lower price and 47% of buyers say their agent helped negotiate better sales contract terms.
9. Digital resources don’t address the emotional side of the equation.
The internet won’t give you a hug at the end of it. Beyond dealmaking, your agent provides invaluable emotional support to motivate you through the final stretch of your home buying marathon. While they’re not officially therapists, they’ve coached previous clients through all the anxiety, stress, excitement, worry, and exhaustion you’re feeling now and will do the same for you.
Your agent’s reasoning comes in clutch when your emotions of the moment jeopardize the entire sale. Henrikson shares a recent experience where her clients came to a stalemate with their sellers when the home inspection revealed $10,000 in needed repairs:
“We were trying to go for $5,000 [in concessions], but the seller wasn’t budging because they’d already come down $15,000 in price. Finally, we were able to get about $2,500 more in concessions from the seller.
“We got to a point where there were frustrations on all sides and our clients were almost going to walk away from their dream home over $2,500 in the whole scheme of an $855,000 home. Here I had to bring them back: we’ve already received $15,000 — do you really want to lose this home over $2,500?”
Whether you’re anxious over unexpected closing costs or devastated by the seller taking their antique chandelier, your agent is there to calm your nerves and bring you back to the bigger picture.
10. You’ll receive a list of home inspection findings and have no clue what to ask for.
A complete inspection report can range anywhere between 15 pages for small homes to 70 pages for larger homes.
While most inspectors do their best to adhere to the standards of the profession, individual evaluation styles range from relaxed to hypercritical — one inspector will point out an electrical issue as minor, another will present the issue as a dangerous fire hazard that requires immediate attention.
The seller’s agent may downplay the inspector’s findings to protect their client’s side of the deal. So who’s opinion do you listen to? Who should you go to with questions you have? The inspector, the seller’s agent, Siri?
None of the above. You want a real estate agent with your best interests in mind to explain the report in layman’s terms and discuss any questions you have. When you understand the significance of the issues, you can make an informed decision on requesting concessions such as asking the seller to carry out repairs or provide repair credits towards your closing costs.
11. Transaction paperwork is not for the faint of heart.
Signing contracts and legal documents for your new home isn’t the same as ticking the box on another one of Apple’s Terms and Conditions agreements — you’ll actually need to read and understand all of it.
Near to 180 pages of never-ending legal jargon and fine print, it’s no surprise that 20% of recent buyers felt that paperwork was the most difficult step of the home buying process. You’ll want a real estate agent by your side to decipher it all. They’ve perused hundreds of these documents in their time so are adept at catching costly oversights like missing repair credits or home warranty coverage from the seller.
The real question is: Why wouldn’t you use a real estate agent?
There are so many reasons why you still need a real estate agent to buy a home. While new technologies, websites, and apps can assist you with selecting a property, nothing replaces the value an experienced real estate agent brings to securing your most important financial investment (which also happens to be your dream home!)
Still, not all agents are equal — you need to hire a top real estate agent for maximum impact. And yes, there is an online tool for that. Compare performance stats of real estate agents near you with Homelight’s agent finder to find the best agent for the job.