After years of renting and corporate transfers, Sean and Bretta decided to settle down, get married, and buy a house.
“When we started looking into how to buy, sell, and finance homes, we found it fascinating, especially to people who have always rented,” Sean said. “It was almost like being in a foreign country.”
Buying a home can feel like exploring a foreign country. And, the kind of experience you have depends quite a bit on what kind of traveler you are. Either you’re the kind of person who digs in, tries to learn a bit of the language, and is willing to explore a bit, or you want the standardized tour where everything is pre-packaged, and pre-tested.
The problem with buying the standard package is that you might not end up with what you really want. You might have a good experience, or you might get an real estate agent who doesn’t really understand where you’re coming from and what kind of home will make you happy. You might see properties that don’t meet your expectations and yet exceed your budget requirements. Your agent might lead you to a mortgage broker who will come up with the goods, but at a higher price. Same with the other closing services you might need.
Choosing your own path to buying a home might mean you’ll do a lot more work, but the ride might prove more interesting, and you’re likely to end up with a home that more closely meets your needs and wants.
You’ll have to research the best agent for the neighborhood you’ve chosen. You’ll have to keep track of the homes you’ve seen, the prices they’ve sold for, and what the current market conditions are. And, you’ll need to research who will be the best lender for you, and then negotiate points and fees to get exactly the deal you want.
That’s the path Sean and Bretta chose for themselves. For the past year, they looked at everything, even homes that were priced above their realistic budget.
“Although many people told us not to do that, we did it to get ideas of what we liked, and didn’t like. Nothing more, nothing less,” Sean said.
Their early experience with a real estate agent was nothing to write home about. The agent they worked with told them they’d never be able to buy what they wanted in the neighborhood of their choice for the price they could afford.
Other home buyers might been discouraged by such a flat denial. Sean and Bretta were energized to buy — but without that agent’s help.
“In total, we used a few brokers who showed us many, many homes. We looked at more than 100 houses. Some we just looked at on the outside, and if we liked them we looked further. We toured a lot of homes,” Sean said.
In the end, they decided to buy unassisted by an agent — to go solo.
It seems that more and more buyers (not to mention sellers) are making the same choice. As the vast majority of listings are put online, buyers have access to information that the brokers once kept secret. Anyone can look up the list of homes that are available in any major metropolitan area, and then call the listing agent of that property for a showing.
For most buyers, the problems of going solo outweigh the benefits of relying on yourself. Many buyers don’t yet have the savvy and stamina to look at 100 homes before making a decision. Most aren’t confident of their negotiating skills.
And at the end of the day, buyers who purchase a home without the help of an agent may not know what homes are really worth in a given neighborhood. Agents have the prices of recently sold homes in their computers, available at the touch of a button, and have often seen the interiors of these properties. Consumers must pay a visit to the local recorder of deeds (or other government offices) with a fistful of addresses, and request sales prices individually.
For most buyers who have access to either a buyer’s broker (who often operates as a buyer’s agent when working with a buyer, and jumps to the seller’s side when listing a home) or an exclusive buyer’s agent (who never takes listings), there is often little benefit to buying solo. You usually won’t know if the home is overpriced, and the seller often won’t split whatever savings he or she reaps from selling on his or her own. And, if the property you buy is listed, you may technically become the listing agent’s clients, and she will collect a full 6 percent commission, even though you get no representation.
But for the few buyers who prepare themselves thoroughly, and spend the time it takes to understand the process, buying alone can mean finding a great deal that was overlooked by other agents and buyers.
And that’s what happened to Sean and Bretta. Although they had been told they wouldn’t find a 4-bedroom, 2.5 bath, relatively new home (they wanted something less than five years old, for less than $300,000, that’s exactly what they did find. Their new home is only 1.5 years old, has central air, and 2/3 of an acre of gardens with a Jacuzzi and fireplace in a great neighborhood for less than the magic price point.
They bought from a seller who sold without an agent, who was willing to share his savings, who priced his home in the low end of prices in the neighborhood. Sean and Bretta figure the home’s price has nowhere to go but up.
Was it luck? Was the seller misinformed about the true value of his home? It’s hard to know. What’s important is being thoroughly prepared for your purchase, and ready to make a quick move when the opportunity presents itself.
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