Your Uncle Frank is a real estate agent, and if he can figure out how to buy a house, you can certainly figure it out. You’ve seen it all happen on HGTV; Zillow’s bookmarked and your Sunday morning’s packed with open houses. You’ve got this!
Famous last words. Right before you royally screw this up.
When you’re about to spend more money than you’ve ever spent in your life all in one place, you don’t want the benchwarmer (you) or the guy who played JV in high school (your Uncle Frank), you want the all-star. You want the freakin’ Steph Curry of real estate agents on your team!
Here are 10 solid reasons why buying a house without an agent shouldn’t even cross your mind when you’re on the hunt for a new house.
1. Algorithms Don’t Stay Up Late for You
You’ve combed through 25 of 212 pages of online listings, cleared and adjusted your filters and started all over. While Trulia filters might help you sift through the basics like pool or no pool, algorithms don’t stay up late pouring over MLS listings for you to see the next day. They don’t know anything about your family full of lanky teenagers in need of higher doorways and wider hallways. They don’t know that you’ve already looked at seven awful, beige tract houses and if you see another one you’ll curl up and die right in the driveway.
A (real live) real estate agent will work with you to find what types of properties you actually want to see and weed out ones that don’t match before you ever see a stack of listings. Rather than faceless automated scattershot algorithms, you can spend your time viewing only homes that fit all your criteria — which for you may mean absolutely zero beige houses.
2. All You Have to Do is Show Up
Not only does an agent help pre-sort through what you want to see, they also do the legwork to set up showings. If you’re house hunting alone, you can’t just walk up and knock on the door of the places you want to view.
People live there… and they might even be walking around in their underoos. Someone must make arrangements with the selling agent for every home you want to walk through. That someone can either be you or it can be your real estate agent. If you have an agent, all you have to do is show up for the appointments.
3. “Work, work, work, work, work” — Rihanna
An agent’s reputation depends on hard work, on what their clients say about them and whether their clients refer them to family and friends. The relationship is mutually beneficial — they want to do the legwork for you because it’s their job, and you want them to do the legwork for you because you already have a job.
They know you can do some of this process on your own with the help of free tools like Zillow, so they’re in it to prove to you they can offer you way better resources and a much smoother experience.
4. It’s Free for You (Because the Seller Pays)
It seems, in most industries, cutting out the middleman is a money saver; in real estate, it’s just the opposite. How real estate agents get paid can seem downright mystical to first-time homebuyers though, so let’s get a few things straight:
The seller pays the real estate agent fees.
Agents don’t get paid unless a transaction happens, no matter how long it takes you or how many houses you look at before you find one that’s right.
Listing agents and home sellers negotiate a commission — usually around 6 percent. This is paid by the seller, and split between the listing agent and the buying agent.
To be clear: You, the homebuyer, get the expertise of a professional and you don’t foot the bill. It’s a gift. Take it and run before people ask too many questions.
5. Agents Know Something You Don’t Know…
The internet has made us feel self-sufficient. Google says we can do our own research; Pinterest makes everything look easy and YouTube shows us through the step-by-step process.
However, if you’ve ever watched a video tutorial about how to wire in a new lamp fixture, you know that house projects are all fun and games until someone thinks they’re an electrician. Just because the information is available or a DIY guide exists doesn’t mean you’re going to make it through the process with a working light and your eyebrows intact.
Agents take hours of coursework, several exams, hold licenses and certifications and usually work under the protective umbrella of a broader agency. A good agent does a lot more than handholding the buyer. They offer their roots-in-the-industry, I-do-this-every-day, just-let-me-do-my-job expertise. They’re a lot more knowledgeable about the house hunting and buying process than you are… even if you’ve done it once or twice before.
6. … and Someone You Don’t Know
No matter where you are in the home-buying or home-looking process, a top real estate agent will have vetted recommendations for all your contacts along the way. Everyone from a lender and inspector to a plumber and a carpet cleaning company will be in their Rolodex. Heck, if you need a good shoe repair, they likely have a guy for that too.
7. A Good Real Estate Agent is Like Jiminy Cricket …
First, a story: Ray and Lauren were first-time home buyers. On their first Sunday out house hunting, they pulled up to the curb of a single-level white house with a bright red door.
“This is so cute,” Lauren shouted from the backseat!
Their real estate agent kept driving. “I think that was it.” Ray pointed as he caught the address out the rear view window.
“You don’t want to live there,” the agent said in no uncertain terms. “It backs up against a busy main street. You’ll have lots of road noise and if someone loses control of their car, they’ll come straight through that wall into your backyard. What’s the next one on the list?”
You can put in hours of research but nothing can take the place of first-hand, real-life experience. You want someone who will know to explain the red flags of working with an owner-investor; you want someone who can tell you about the demographics of the neighborhood 5 or 10 or 20 years ago; you want someone who has been there, done that before.
A seasoned real estate agent, much like Mr. Cricket, acts as a wise voice of reason, a good advice-giver. They’ll chime in when they can offer insight and advocate for your best decisions.
8. …And They’re Also Like the Godfather
You’ve found the house you like. It’s right on the park, has the beautiful clawfoot tub you’ve wanted your entire adult life and you haven’t shut up about the outdoor firepit since your first viewing.
Now, it’s time to put in an offer, except how does this all work?
Your agent, who has watched you drool over said clawfoot tub with the same adoration she had for her first crush, has already started a comparative analysis. She’s looking at all the properties that have recently sold nearby and for how much. She’s factoring in similar square footage and features as well as what the market’s like.
There’s no robot that spits out a number when she’s done but the analysis will give everyone an idea of if a house is listed too high or too low. Your agent is better at negotiating than you are, and this analysis will give your team a place to “make them an offer they can’t refuse” or at least a point to start the negotiating.
9. Negotiating isn’t Just About Money
Say you move into your brand-spankin-new-to-you home. You’re sitting at your fresh home office setup and realize about an hour into your workday that you’re in a prime commuter flight path. Every 15 minutes jet engines rattle the pictures on your walls, your kitchen appliances and your A/C ducts throughout the house. If only you’d known before, you would have found a home location more conducive to your remote work gig.
Disclosures are a way of ensuring a buyer knows what they’re getting, and technically, sellers are required by law to disclose certain items. Unfortunately, not everyone follows the rules. Your agent will ask the right questions for your city and state — from noisy neighbors, property line and zoning disputes to health hazards and liens.
Contingencies or “I can walk away if” clauses are also important in the negotiation process. These usually include considerations like a buyer obtaining financing, the inspection process going smoothly or the sale of the buyer’s current home. Contingencies are a fine balance of protecting yourself but also not making your offer unappealing to the seller. An agent will know which are deal breakers and which you can go without.
10. Finally, Loans Are No Laughing Matter
A fiduciary (fine, here it’s ok to giggle) is someone who, by law, must act in your best financial interests. The National Association of Realtors has strict guidelines for this.
In the housing crash of 2008 and through its wake, millions of families lost their homes, much in part to bad loans. (RealtyTrac reports that 1 out of every 248 homes in the U.S. received a foreclosure notice in September 2012.) Confusing financial jargon was (and is) buried in two-hundred-plus pages of legalese. When you have a hand cramp because of all the signatures but you still aren’t really sure what you just signed, the stakes are really high.
Not only do agents work with lenders they trust, they know the language of loans better than you do. They can spot red flags, ask and answer questions on your behalf and ultimately be an advocate for you best interest.
Agents will save you money, time, legwork and many many missteps. Zip-tie your belt loop to theirs. Handcuff their wrist to your desk when they’re not looking. Knot your shoelaces together. In one way or another, tether yourself to a good Realtor. It will be the best decision you make as you buy a home.
Article Image Source: (Christin Hume/ Unsplash)