Since this is the case, do we even need the services of a real estate agent anymore when buying a home? Absolutely. Though the information available helps both the buyer and seller to be more savvy and knowledgeable — not a bad thing at all — the only real expert is your experienced and licensed real estate agent.
Invaluable Service — And FREE?
One very simple thing that, unbelievably, many buyers do not know is that the services of a Realtor are usually free to the buyer. The seller normally pays the brokerage fees in a real estate transaction. Why pass up free service?
Some buyers are under the mistaken notion that bypassing the buyer’s agent will lower the price of the property. That is rarely the case. If the seller has retained a real estate agent to sell his house, the seller has previously signed a listing agreement with the agent’s firm. The listing agreement specifically states the compensation (usually as a percentage) that he agrees to pay for the sale of his home. The only difference that a buyer’s agent makes in the compensation is that the seller’s agent and real estate office have to share the commission fee with the buyer’s agent. That amount is also already set (as a percentage of the sale’s price) and listed in the MLS when the listing is published.
Even when the seller tries to sell his property without an agent, many times they will offer to “work” with the buyer’s agent. The buyer’s agent negotiates this directly with the seller, usually before the property is shown to the buyer. While the buyer may think that the seller who chooses to sell his home without an agent will give him a major discount for bypassing the agent, he has a reason for doing it: to keep the money in his own pocket, not the buyer‘s. Having an agent involved rarely affects the bottom line for the buyer.
As A Buyer, Do You Know How to Protect Yourself?
A buyer’s agent can save a buyer many headaches, even if the buyer has already found the house of his dreams before contacting an agent. The first benefit is that the agent looks at the home dispassionately. Most experienced agents usually have a good eye for looking beyond staging. Staging is big with listing agents for a reason. Shiny new furniture and other decor updates a dated property and draws the eye away from flaws and cosmetic issues.
A purchase offer becomes the contract after it is accepted and signed by the both the seller and buyer. What type of purchase offer, or contract, is available for the transaction? In a for sale by owner transaction, often called a FSBO, this contract might be a generic one, obtained from the internet or library. Even worse, it might have been drawn up by the seller’s own attorney. In any of these cases, the contract might lean heavily on protection for the seller with no thought to the buyer.
When a state licensed real estate agent enters the picture, most likely the purchase offer will be a standard form to the state Realtor © association where the transaction takes place. The best thing about this form is that it has already been used repeatedly and the standard terms and clauses have been tested more than once in mediation and arbitration or in a court of law.
A good buyer’s agent protects his client by making sure that all possible angles are covered on the purchase offer. Some issues, or contingencies, that could affect the buyer’s interest in the purchase are closing costs and who pays them, financing, home inspection and repair, and other special circumstances that make the transaction unique.
There are too many contingencies to list them all, but the proper handling of any deposits, also called escrow or earnest money, is enough to make the agent indispensable to the buyer. Every state in the union has specific laws on how this earnest money, also called escrow, is to be held, but usually only in the case of a licensed agent handling the transaction. The laws also include specifics on how long it can be held before deposit, type of account and interest earned and how disputes are handled (unless otherwise stated in the purchase offer) if an agent is handling the transaction. In the case of a buyer and seller both working without a Realtor ©, the only protection is the wording in the purchase offer.
Keeping Negotiations On Track
The buyer’s agent also ensures that the buyer’s purchase offer is in line with current home sales in the area — or lower. Instead of dealing directly with the seller, the buyer can step back and allow an experienced negotiator to deal with the seller or seller’s agent.
Negotiation is about much more than price. It is also about the contingencies that affect the buyer’s ability to withdraw from the contract under certain circumstances –, such as major termite infestation, repairs or mortgage terms — and retain the rights to his deposits.
The seller of a property often has emotional attachments to his home. It is easy for the emotional attachments of the seller to affect the negotiation process. There are many cases of sellers refusing to sell just because they didn’t like the buyers and didn’t want them living in their house. “Low ball” offers and qualifying them by disparaging the home directly with the seller can make him emotional enough to just say no. The agent — or agents — act as intermediaries, keeping the negotiations on track.
Executing the Contract
During the execution of the contract — the period of time between the acceptance and the closing — the Realtor’s © expert service helps the buyer in many other ways. A contract is full of deadlines which must be met in order to ensure the closing of the contract. A deadline which is not met by the buyer could possibly result in the cancellation of the contract, which could also mean forfeiture of the earnest money deposit.
The real estate agent attends the home inspection, making sure that the inspector has covered all the major areas which might need repairs. The agent will try to negotiate repairs or monetary credit when necessary, and even assist in obtaining repair estimates when necessary. When requesting repairs, the agent then makes a formal request, in writing, to the seller, or seller’s agent, for repairs, based on the terms of the contract. Occasionally, during the inspection period, a contract has to be renegotiated due to undisclosed or newly discovered problems, or the seller’s refusal to make agreed upon repairs.
The Realtor © also arranges, or coordinates, the property survey and deals with the title company, also known as the closing agency, on behalf of the buyer. The agent speaks often with the lender, ensuring that the loan is moving forward and dealing with financial issues as they crop up, ensuring that the closing takes place in a timely manner.
There are many other areas in which the real estate agent’s knowledge and expertise is vital. He or she is aware of the laws in place that protect both the buyer and the seller. The agent assists the buyer with obtaining condo documents, association budgets and property disclosures. She helps the buyer to better understand them and how they affect the buyer’s decision to purchase. Fortunately, with the buyer’s agent having used the standard forms available to Realtors ©, all of this is covered in the contract.
Renegotiations and Last Minute Changes to the Contract
Many times, special circumstances present themselves after the purchase offer has been accepted and the contract is in place. Often, due to these special circumstances like low property appraisals, the contract terms must be renegotiated or cancelled. There are too many problems that can arise to list, but an experienced agent can usually negotiate these new issues while retaining some protection for the buyer.
A real estate contract has a specific beginning and ending date. Even during the heyday of easy loan approvals to what now seems like almost anyone, the lending approval process could slow or stop the execution of the contract. No matter how diligent the buyer or the agent is, many loan approvals stall and the loans are just not ready to close by the closing date stated on the contract. Without proper protections and renegotiation, the buyer is considered out of contract and he could potentially lose both the property and his deposit, even for just a 24 hour delay. These are all issues that the experienced agent knows that even the most savvy buyer might not think of.
The Agent At Closing
Normally just before the closing, the real estate agent attends a “walk-through” with the buyer. This is a pre-closing inspection of the premises to ensure that the property is in the same condition as at the time of the purchase offer. Buyers have gone to these walk-throughs only to find that the refrigerator is missing (or a different one in place) or the home was left in major disarray. These types of issues, without the services of an agent, might derail the sale at the last minute. The agent is going to remain calm, knowing that, at this stage, most problems are solvable, and attempt more last minute negotiations with the seller.
A good agent attends the closing to do more than pick up his commission check. Many deals have fallen apart at the closing table when last minute issues rear their ugly heads. Often tempers are high and the buyers and sellers need the clear head and calm expertise of the agent to get things back on track. If this cannot be accomplished, the agent then works on the buyer’s behalf to ensure that any escrow, or deposit money, that the buyer is entitled to is returned in a timely manner. Often, the agent can accomplish this in negotiations which exclude the courts or mediation service.
As we can see, finding a home which the buyer wants to purchase is the least bit of a Realtor’s © job. Even for experienced buyers, a real estate agent is invaluable due to the unique aspects of each and every sale. Using all of the resources available to her, a real estate buyer’s agent will guide the buyer through the process and eliminate much of the headaches and heartaches that other buyers face who go it alone. Be a savvy buyer; call a local real estate agent today.