If you’re in the market for a new home, you’ve likely thought about hiring a realtor, or real estate agent, to help with the process. Although some home buyers choose to “go it alone,” the process of finding the right home, negotiating a price, navigating the inspection process, closing and more could make it worthwhile to enlist the services of a knowledgeable and experienced professional.
Realtors Vs. Real Estate Agents
Although some refer to realtors as real estate agents, the two terms are not interchangeable. Both are licensed professionals able to negotiate real estate transactions; however, in addition, realtors are active members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) bound by a formal NAR Code of Ethics. The code is revised yearly to reflect the latest issues in real estate law and practice, and promotes the fair treatment of clients.
Benefits of Working with a Realtor or Agent
Realtors and agents can bring a wide range of valuable skills and experience to the table to help you buy a home. Typically, as a homebuyer, you do not pay for their services. Instead, the realtor receives payment by splitting commission, often 5-7 percent of the sale price of a home, with the seller’s realtor at closing. This fee is paid by the home seller, unless otherwise negotiated. Additional benefits include:
- Access to full details contained in MLS listings: Although information about a home’s prior sales record, property tax history, square footage and more may be available to the general public, realtors have access to an up-to-date, comprehensive regional database called the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). The MLS is limited to licensed agents and brokers who pay for membership, and include important information like the seller’s contact information, and dates/times the home is available for showings. Accessing the MLS and networking with other realtors in the area may give a realtor advance notice on new properties coming to the market.
- Assistance with negotiations: How much should you offer when placing a bid on a property? An experienced realtor or agent, familiar with the local market and recent sales in the area, can help you make a realistic offer on a home to get a seller’s attention. During price negotiations, your buyer’s agent will continue to advise you until both sides reach an agreement.
- Help navigating the home inspection process: Once a seller accepts your offer on a home, a licensed professional will do an inspection. The inspector generates a comprehensive report of findings that may include broken appliances, the remaining life expectancy of a roof, defective plumbing, insufficient attic insulation, condition of the HVAC system and more. Having a realtor with you during the process enables you to review this detailed report together, and determine which repairs you will request the seller to complete. This process frequently takes some back-and-forth negotiation between your buyer’s agent and the seller’s listing agent.
- Assistance with buying distressed, REO properties: While not required, it can be beneficial to have a realtor or agent on your side when considering the purchase of a distressed, or real estate owned (REO), property. These properties can be short sales, where the owner owes more than the value of a property and asks the lender to accept a reduced payoff, a pre-foreclosure where the owner is over 90 days late on mortgage payments or a foreclosed property where the lender repossessed a property due to lack of funds.
The process of purchasing an REO home can often be lengthy and complicated, with houses usually sell in “as-is” condition, and no owner-funded repairs likely. A realtor can be a valuable partner on your side and help represent your interests throughout the process.
Types of Realtors and Real Estate Agents
Realtors and real estate agents can serve in a variety of roles. One, and perhaps the one most appealing to you, is that of the buyer’s agent. A buyer’s agent, as the name suggests, represents your interests as a buyer exclusively, and keeps your motives, financial affairs and other information confidential.
To help prevent a conflict of interest between the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent, and to obligate a buyer’s agent to serve you as a buyer solely, you will be asked to complete a buyer-broker agreement. This document defines the relationship for all parties involved in the buyer-broker relationship.
As a homebuyer, your buyer’s agent may communicate with a listing agent, also known as a “seller’s agent,” throughout the process. This individual represents the seller’s interests in a real estate transaction and communicates the seller’s intentions to you via your buyer’s agent.
In addition to serving as buyer’s and seller’s agents, some realtors in certain states can serve both parties in the transaction as a dual-role agent, or “transaction broker.” A transaction broker does not need to split the 5-7 percent commission on the sale price of a home with another agent since they are the sole representative for the transaction. Therefore, a transaction broker may be willing, in some cases, to negotiate a lower commission rate.
Qualities to Look for When Hiring a Realtor or Agent
When looking for a realtor or agent, start by asking friends, family and neighbors who have recently completed real estate transactions for recommendations. As a homebuyer, be sure to ask up front if the realtor serves your interests exclusively as a buyer’s agent or if they serve as a dual agent for any properties listed. If you want exclusive buyer’s representation, be sure to review and discuss the terms of your buyer-broker agreement.
Do your homework by searching for local agencies, reading reviews online or searching sites like Realtor.com, Zillow, or Homelight and selecting several realtors to interview. During the interview, be sure to ask about the realtor’s:
- Knowledge of the local market: Realtors should be able to provide you with detailed information about recent purchases in the local real estate market.
- Availability and accessibility: Keep in mind, you may not be the realtor’s only client. How well does the realtor juggle multiple clients? Will they be responsive to your calls or text messages and available for showings?
- Professionalism: Beware of the agent who pushes you into making an offer on the first home you view. Buying a home, like any other major financial decision, requires help from professionals who put your best interests first.
Armed with the above information, you should be well equipped to finding a representative who will help you find the home of your dreams.
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