Your real estate agent (realtor) is basically person that should be telling you all this that I am telling now through series of these blog posts. In a perfect world, buyer’s real estate agent would start by hearing your wishes (I want house this big, in this type of neighborhood, I want to pay this much, etc), work toward compiling list of suggestions for you, communicate with you on your schedule so that he knows when he can take you on a tour. While we are at it, he should be your best friend during whole process – giving you informed choices on whether or not price for certain house is too low / too high and also picking up tab whenever you take a stop for a lunch / coffee to take a break. To top it off, it would be great if he has law background so that he can make sure all the contracts (like Home Offer) that you are signing leave you well protected in case things go south.
Quite unrealistic, right?
Realtors in reality
In reality, (most) real estate agents nowadays see their role as someone who shows houses, helps you with making Home Offer, and gives you a hand with small things like scheduling with home inspector or communication with buyer’s agent during closing process. Now, I am not saying that there are no awesome real estate agents out there. Just, like most things in life, there is variance – how experienced certain agent is, how much time does she/he has, how well agent performs in frustrating situations, etc.
To be fair, when you look at things from agent’s perspective – it’s not like their situation is all rosy. If they don’t have representation contract signed with you, most often than not they’ll end up with $0 – i.e. all the time they’ve spent on you will be for nothing. In today’s world of Internet where everyone has the ability to browse listings and where sites like Redfin beat the hell out of most restricted “real estate agent only” databases, they don’t have any competitive edge.
Everything taken into account, paradoxically, I think that those agents that are being assholes are probably the ones getting the best deals. I.e. give prospective buyer a day worth of your time, try to get him to sign a representation contract, and if he doesn’t give in to your sweet talk, blow him off. Your loses as agent are minimized, your time is freed up so you can look elsewhere for easy money. I mean, only after truly getting informed can I understand what kind of home run I was for my agent – since I’ve done all the homework and research, got pre approved on my own, had my wife search for houses she liked, he effectively pocketed $9K for about 8 hours of work.
Can I buy house without realtor?
Now, all that said, most of you reading this are probably asking – OK, I don’t want to pay $9K for few house showings and small communication help. Can I say to prospective seller, instead of giving 2.5%-3% of purchase price to my agent – lower the price of the house that much for me?
Well, actually – YES, you can. Redfin has a great subsection in their Home Buying Guide titled Working Without Agent. I would especially emphasize the section in which they talk about seller’s agent doubling his commission by posing as your agent too. This is extremely easy to happen in case you are yet to hire attorney, and you are coerced into signing something without truly understanding what’s written there (which will be 90% of the time when you are dealing with real estate documents).
If you decide to buy real estate without agent, be prepared for a bit of negotiation. For example, licensed real estate agent needs to be present during inspection and appraisal. In most cases you can persuade sellers agent to do that free of charge in interest of selling property. It’s possible that seller’s agent just won’t budge, i.e. he can start asking for $$$ in exchange for his cooperation. As I’ve said in introduction, if you are well qualified buyer, in 99% of cases you don’t need to settle for anything – especially if you are well informed and know options that you have. In this case you have pretty good options:
1. If you are able to directly contact seller, do so and explain what agent is doing. I’m sure you can guess seller’s response. I mean, how would you react if you found out that agent hired to sell your property is risking a sale for minor fee in his pocket?
2. Find licensed agent that’s willing to be there for whatever fee your are willing to pay.
3. If this is appraisal (not inspection) we are talking about – since it’s your lender that’s ordering appraisal you can get him to help.
One thing that is not covered in Buying Property without Real Estate Agent article I’ve linked is part when you give an offer. In most cases, you can always get seller to lower the price by at least 5%. I will talk more about how give a good offer and what things you can use to your advantage in negotiation in sections that follow; what is truly important now and related to working without Real Estate Agent – try to get that extra 2.5%-3% AFTER you agree on price and before giving formal offer. This can be tricky to pull off if seller is represented by a good agent. Unless you have a friend that’s licensed real estate agent who is willing to tag along for free, you need seller’s agent to open doors of house for you. In that situation first thing seller’s agent will try is to wiggle his way in as your formal representative (and collect both buyers and sellers commission – 5%-6%). Once he discovers that you are not budging he’ll understand that you are already in for 2.5%-3% discount and will try to use that against you during price negotiation.
Simply, good seller agent will understand that for you it’s not as easy to schedule viewings as it is to someone who is working with agent – instead of scheduling with one person, you are scheduling with all these different seller’s agents. If you are already thinking about giving offer, he’ll know that you like the property and will more easily settle for listing price than somebody who is unaware of details / inexperienced – i.e. you are already getting 2.5%-3% discount, inexperienced person will try to get that trough negotiation.
Now, I started writing this article to help first time buyers – those who are inexperienced and are just looking not to be swindled. Now that you have more knowledge about process, it’ll actually be quite easy for you as a buyer to swindle things to your advantage. For example, nothing prevents you from finding a real estate agent and getting him to open doors to all the houses you want to see. After using the agent for a day, you can just say – thanks I’ll proceed on my own and either get another agent to work with you, or give offer on your own if you found house you liked.
I warn you – DO NOT BE AN A..HOLE. Risking to sound too Yoda-like, let me say: knowledge is not to be abused. Plus, karma is a … interesting concept. If real estate agent found out that you knowingly wasted his time, it’s quite likely you will be sued for commissions. And in that legal fight, oddly enough, I would cheer for real estate agent.
Say again, how do I find real estate agent / realtor
Now that we have all that under our belt, the easiest part – actually finding a real estate agent. In today’s world, this is truly a piece of cake. Redfin offers great directory of real estate agents. Zillow has real estate agent directory too. Surprised that Trulia is also doing it? Didn’t think so.
Also, when building my list of houses I saw that Redfin has pretty neat option of scheduling. You just select date and time when you want to visit properties and they try to assign you an agent that will take you on tour. Another reason why I’m recommending and putting Redfin first (can’t vouch that Zillow or Trulia offer similar option – but knowing the market, they probably do).
You may be tempted to go with somebody that your family or friends recommend as your real estate agent. My advice – don’t do it. If you hire your realtor through Redfin, you get a chance to pick from thousands real estate agents that have been reviewed hundreds of times. Worst case scenario – you start with someone you don’t like, it’s walk in the park to change him. And on top of that working with Redfin agent you’ll most likely get thousands of dollars worth of refund.
If you decided to do everything yourself and pocket 2.5%-3% you have both my admiration and envy. Support too – if you are unsure about anything, post a comment here, I’ll be glad to help if I can.
I’ve had some really great real estate agents and I’ve also had some terrible ones. The great ones understand what you’re looking for and only show you those homes. They are on your side and can give you great insight about home prices in the area. They have a list of the prices on recent homes and can find houses comparable to the one you’re looking at.
The terrible ones just want to make the sale and will bombard you with homes to look at that aren’t what you’ve told them you want. Make sure you find a good one before you sign a contract with them.
I’ve never tried using redfin.com so I visited their website. It doesn’t look like they have any real estate agents in my state (Kansas) so I wasn’t able to use them, but it looks like a good site. I also looked a Trulia.com and they seem to have realtors all over. I think I’ll give them a try. Thanks for the great information.
Thanks for the tip on asking for the buyer’s agent commission AFTER the home price has been agreed upon. As you note, it likely won’t always work, but one should be able to negotiate at least part of the commission back if it need not be paid out to a buyer’s agent. At this point are you negotiating with the seller’s agent rather than the seller, because you are trying to get the agent to give up part of the double commission (the seller will already have signed a contract stipulating the % to be paid as a commission, regardless of whether it is paid to one person or split between agents)?
@Sukey – you are right, conventionally, sellers sign a contract stipulating % to be paid as a commission, and sellers agent only gives up half of that commission if there is a buyers agent. If you as a buyer are not represented – instead of trying to pass savings to you, they’ll try to play dumb and keep whole commission. Interestingly enough, real estate lawyers (which you do need regardless of having agent) will also try to ask for bigger fee if they see you don’t have real estate agent.
So, I agree – buying real estate without agent is only for those truly experienced. Plus, take a look at this link… it’s crazy how much smoke and mirrors agents employ whenever this topic is brought up:
This article is very helpful. The agent from the seller side is pressurizing us into taking her services so that she can act as a dual agent. She says its not legal in NJ to buy house without a real estate agent. Is that true? What would be a wise way to proceed.
If you already found the house you like – it doesn’t make sense to double her fee for nothing.
As for legality of buying house without real estate agent in NJ – I can’t give you 100% answer, but I would think it’s quite likely you can’t buy it without REPRESENTATIVE. Meaning, that representative doesn’t need to be real estate agent; you probably can hire lawyer for $500-$1000 to represent you and act as your agent during purchase and closing… and you should ask seller to give difference as discount on purchase price.
My advice – post your question on http://forums.redfin.com/ and http://avvo.com and get answer from lawyer specializing in real estate. You can also look in local Yellow Pages and contact lawyers that way.
So I have researched much into this and am going to purchase a property without a buyers agent. I have retained an attorney for the transaction. Also I am a construction manager, so my experience does back me up in this situation. My question is – when I make the initial purchase offer, does my attorney prepare the offer letter or do I do it myself? I am trying to get an idea of what is generally included in the attorney’s tasks . I have already visited the house with the listing agent and made it clear that I do not want her to represent me or work as dual agent. I have also got an agent who will be present during inspection and appraisal and for no fee. Ofcourse I intend to pay him no matter what for his services. But does this agent have to sign or provide his name in any of the legal papers during the appraisal or inspection. The reason being he works for a brokerage company and does not want his company to come behind us for a share of the commission or him have any future issues.
Also, when I mentioned I am making an offer on my own, the sellers agent told us about signing a contract of sale while providing the offer and that till the attorney reviews are completed the offer does not become official and they can still show the house to other potential buyers.
Good info here. What is amazing is how often RE agents will go onto the forums at sites like Trulia and just outright lie. Most all agents will say there is no benefit to going out unrepresented because either the buyer agent will get you a better price than you can negotiate yourself or the seller pays the commissions anyway.
Now the first claim is debatable and the second is false.
Just once I’d like to hear an agent say that the cost of a buyer agent is borne by the buyer and that if they didn’t have one they could probably negotiate a rebate.
But you never see that kind of honesty from agents on these discussion forums.