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Buyers and sellers are on separate sides of the fence when it comes to home sales. What one is trying to achieve is often diametrically opposed to what the other wants to see happen—the first usually wants to steal the property while the other wants top dollar. And yet, they share the same ultimate goal. They want a sale.
Both sides can benefit significantly from hiring a real estate agent to assist them, but their reasons can be different.
1. It's All About the Money...
Consider this if you're contemplating going "FSBO"—for sale by owner—when listing your home. Of course, you want to get as much for their home as possible, and you might think that means not parting with extra commissions. But a 2017 study indicated that FSBOs fetched about 30% less for their owners than agent-listed properties.
And you're probably going to have to pay a commission anyway if your buyer is represented by an agent. The buyer's agent's commission is typically factored into the deal—although you'll still save on the commission you would otherwise have paid your own agent.
And why not use an agent if you're the buyer? After all, the seller is paying the commission, not you. Of course, there's always a slim possibility that the seller will refuse to do so, but you can probably move on and look at other properties if it appears that this will be the case, although it can depend on whether you're shopping in a buyers' or sellers' market and who has the upper hand.
2. ...And Attention to Detail
You might be far out of your element when it comes to reviewing and understanding the multiple documents involved in a real estate deal, and you should have a thorough understanding of what you're getting into regardless of whether you're buying or selling. Purchase agreements alone can top 10 pages in 2019, not to mention federal, state, and local document requirements.
Luckily, your agent will be far more familiar with all this paperwork than you are. Consider this if you're still thinking about saving money: Some mistakes or omissions in these documents can cost you as much as that commission you were trying to avoid paying—or even far more.
Here's an example: Maybe a buyer makes an offer on a home, but it's contingent on getting a mortgage. There's no possibility that the buyer could purchase the property without first securing financing—but there's no such contingency or escape hatch built into the purchase agreement to let the buyer out of the deal if financing fails. The buyer is obligated to go through with the sale or be sued if it turns out that a mortgage isn't happening.
Consider hiring a broker for a smaller one-time fee to simply review your contracts before signing if you're still dead set against hiring an agent to take care of all this.
3. Privacy, Confidentiality and Fiduciary Duty
Your real estate agent has your back whether you're a buyer or a seller. Agents have what's known as a "fiduciary" responsibility to their clients. They legally obligated to put their clients' best interests first.
This duty imparts a very high standard for confidentiality. As a buyer, do you really, really want to turn over your most intimate financial details to a FSBO seller who's under no legal obligation to keep the information confidential? The same goes for turning any and all information over to the seller's agent, who has no fiduciary responsibility to you but only to the seller. Your own agent would know whether any information the other agent is requesting from you is reasonable.
You do have recourse if you're the buyer and the seller's agent has lied to you, misled you, or disclosed confidential information. You can report it to the agent's professional association, such as the National Association of Realtors. But again, this assumes that the seller has an agent. You'll have far fewer options if the property is FSBO.
4. Agents Know What to Look For
Buyers usually have a pretty firm idea in mind of what they want in a property, from number of bedrooms to an attached garage to any number of other must-have and must-not-have factors. You'll probably feel pretty comfortable looking at homes with that list tucked firmly in the back of your mind.
But your agent will be alert for issues that might not cross your mind, such as furnace issues, leaks, roofing problems, and mold and insect issues. An agent will recognize the telltale signs of these problems and know how best to approach them. Again, this experience and knowledge can end up saving you thousands down the road.
You know exactly how much you want for your home if you're the seller, but is the price you've arrived at reasonable? You might only know for sure if you're able to identify comparable sales that confirm that you're in the right range—or not. Agents can do comparative market analyses in their sleep.
An agent can hand over researched, current, and reputable data regarding a neighborhood's demographics, crime rates, schools, and other important factors. That's a lot of time-consuming research to do on your own, particularly if you don't know where to start.
5. Agents Have Superior Negotiating Skills
You might not be a negotiation shark if you don't happen to be an attorney, mediator, union rep...or a real estate agent. Remember that fiduciary responsibility your agent has to you. It's your agent's job to get you the best possible price for your home, or to see to it that you get the best possible deal on the property you want to buy.
Agents are trained to negotiate well, if only from experience. They know what normally works and what does not. Most have tried-and-true techniques all their own. And, most importantly, they have no emotional stake in the outcome that can cloud their thinking.
You, on the other hand, might be willing to come up with $10,000 more to purchase that to-die-for home, never realizing that it's really not necessary because you possess certain bargaining chips. It's just more money saved if you have an agent who prevents you from taking an unnecessary financial plunge.
The Bottom Line
Henry Ford once said that it proves that you're smarter than they are when you hire people who are smarter than you. The trick is to recognize when you need help and to find the right person.
BY ELIZABETH WEINTRAUB (Click to read more about the author)