Should You Use a Buyer’s Agent?

Buying a house can be one of the most difficult and complicated purchases you make in your lifetime. Not only is the amount of money you’re dealing with substantial, the many, many legal ins and outs of real estate transactions can be confusing for someone who doesn’t work directly in the field. This is why many people choose to use a buyer’s agent when they’re searching for a new home to purchase.

When you choose a buyer’s agent, you’re tapping a singular real estate agent who will act on your behalf, rather than simply using the agent who is on the sign of the house you want to buy. The agent on the sign is not able to represent you in the transaction because of their relationship with the seller. By choosing a buyer’s agent who is not related to the seller at all, you choose to add a layer of protection to your real estate purchase.

[READ: Should You Buy a New Build or Previously Owned Home?]

What Is a Buyer’s Agent?

A buyer’s agent is a real estate professional who works specifically for the buyer in a real estate transaction. Although many people think of a buyer’s agent as someone who helps them pick a house, they do a lot more than that.

“(Buyer’s agents) have fiduciary duties to the buyer which include reasonable care, undivided loyalty, confidentiality and full disclosure,” said Pamela Roman, broker of record at Station Cities in Montclair, New Jersey. “The big picture of the role of a buyer’s agent is representing the buyer’s interests, using diligence in searching for properties for the buyer, using their professional knowledge and skills to assist in negotiations on behalf of the buyer, and providing technical guidance through all aspects of the real estate transaction.”

Your buyer’s agent will be with you from the first step to the last, and that includes assisting with negotiations. For many people, this is one of the most crucial and visible roles a buyer’s agent plays.

“Most Americans are not comfortable with negotiations,” says Abbe Flynn, Broker Associate with Ketcham Realty Group in Tallahassee, Florida. “It is not something we do daily. However, if you do not buy homes regularly, you may not know what concessions are popular, common, or even available.”

[How Do Real Estate Commissions Work?]

How Does a Buyer’s Agent Get Paid?

Buyer’s agents are compensated by the home seller, as a part of the initial listing agreement with the seller’s agent. Whether you choose to use a buyer’s agent when purchasing your home or not, the commission remains the same, since roughly half is designated to the party that lists the home and roughly half is designated to go to the party who finds the buyer for it. If that’s the same person, they get paid both halves. Although some people would argue that the home seller should discount the property by the percentage allotted to a buyer’s agent if the buyer opts to not have representation, this is rarely how it works in real life.

Besides not costing you a dime, having a buyer’s agent can actually save you substantial money when making the biggest purchase of your life. A good buyer’s agent has the experience to ensure that you don’t end up with a home that will cost significantly more than you expect.

“A young family shopping for their first home found a house they absolutely fell in love with in Lafayette, California, a charming little town about 30 minutes outside of San Francisco,” says Scott Orich, real estate agent with Flyhomes in San Jose, California.

The inspection report showed the floors were not level — at some points nearly 5 inches — and repair costs were estimated to be around $250,00 “or nearly 10 times what the seller’s report claimed.” A long construction process would also delay the family’s move-in date, Orich recalls.

“The seller’s agent wasn’t from the area, though, and the report wasn’t from a contractor I was familiar with either, so I insisted my clients bring in an independent structural engineer to get a second opinion,” Orich says.

The couple decided not to make an offer and instead found a similar property in the area which required only basic repairs to be move-in ready.

“Had they proceeded with an offer on the original property they could have very easily found themselves with a home they’d be unable to sell at market price,” says Orich. “Moreover, they did a great service to prospective future buyers of that property because, in California, the law requires that all commissioned reports be disclosed to anyone interested in purchasing a particular home.”

[How to Find a Real Estate Agent]

How to Choose a Buyer’s Agent

Buying a home is such a personal and complicated process that it generally pays to have someone there who can help you navigate all the hurdles that will inevitably pop up. Any agent you ask will tell you to not hire the first buyer’s agent you meet, and ideally, you should interview several before you make a final choice.

One way to get a good sense of your potential buyer’s agent is to spend some time with them, watching how they work. Sometimes the best agents are better at showing you just how well they perform rather than telling you about it.

“I recommend you spend a morning or afternoon looking at homes with the agent,” says Roman. “Get a sense of how they work. What kind of questions do they ask you specifically as a buyer? Get a feel for how they address any obstacles that arise during the time you are together, such as access to property issues, explanations around the area, interaction with any occupants of the properties and so forth.”

Of course, experience is really important, but there’s something far more valuable that fewer people consider: how well your agent plays with others. After all, an agent who doesn’t treat other agents well may end up sinking your chances at having an offer accepted.

“Experience matters,” says Flynn. “I would suggest asking questions about experience, how many homes do you close, do you list and sell, and questions like that, but the most important question I think is asking about how they get along with other agents. If you have read about gaming theory, you know that interacting with others without fairness over time will bite you. You can win in the short run, but you can’t treat people like dirt and live a happy life.”

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