In many ways, the Internet has made buying a home easier. Instead of relying on a real estate agent to mine the best listings for you, you can simply plug in your search criteria to a national or local real estate listing site to see what’s available in your area. You can also apply for and prequalify for a mortgage, check out neighborhoods, and track home prices over time.
Once you’ve found a home, you can find many of the services you need—including inspectors, movers, remodelers, and settlement services—online as well.
Still, navigating the housing market can be a challenge. Here are four reasons you might want to consider using a real estate agent:
1. In some markets, homes aren’t available. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), while 92 percent of buyers searched for a home online, 89 percent also used a real estate agent. This is due in part to the fact that prices are rising and inventories are slim in many parts of the country, so buyers are turning to agents for help finding a home.
When housing inventory is hard to come by, using an agent could be to your benefit. Many agents learn about listings before they hit the market or have access to what are known as “pocket listings”—homes for sale that are not listed on the multiple listing service (MLS).
2. In today’s real estate market, buying is more complicated than ever. Buyers are turning to agents for help with local real estate laws—which change virtually every year—and for advice on getting financing and assistance with contract negotiations.
Since the housing market crash, lenders have become stricter about to whom they lend, and sellers have become more particular about which offers they accept. A seasoned real estate agent can help you navigate the mortgage market and can also help you put together an offer that is enticing to a seller.
3. Negotiating a sale can be complicated. A good real estate agent has more experience negotiating real estate contracts than you have, so he or she can help you get the best price possible. If there are repairs that need to be made, for example, your agent can use them to negotiate the sale price down.
Once you’ve found a house, your agent can also help you find and schedule the services you will need to close, such as a home inspector, title company, and settlement service. Your agent can also provide you with estimates on closing costs.
4. You aren’t paying for it. As a buyer, your agent’s commission is already built in to a seller’s budget in the form of a split commission. In most instances, a seller’s agent and buyer’s agent split a commission—usually around 6 percent, total—that is paid by the seller. That commission is paid to the selling agent’s office, and that office pays the buyer’s agent once the sale has closed.
If you choose not to use an agent, the seller won’t automatically give you the equivalent of your would-be agent’s 3 percent commission. Instead, that seller may keep the commission or share it with his or her agent.
Buyers who purchase directly from a builder or from an owner they already know tend not to use an agent. Often, this is because these types of sellers aren’t providing a buyer’s agent commission through the MLS. Should you use a buyer’s agent for those types of transactions, or other transactions that don’t involve the MLS—such as a for sale by owner property—you may have to pay your buyer’s agent out of your pocket.
Steve Cook is editor of Real Estate Economy Watch, and is a member of the National Press Club, the Public Relations Society of America, and the National Association of Real Estate Editors, where he served as second vice president. Twice he has been named one of the 100 most influential people in real estate. In addition to serving as managing editor of the Report, Cook provides public relations consulting services to real estate companies, financial services companies, and trade associations, including some of the leading companies in online residential real estate.