Your buyer’s agent will be the most critical tool you have at your disposal for the entire home buying process. The right buyer’s agent is like your personal home sherpa. They are there to guide you along the journey, to answer any and all questions, and to help you make the right decisions and avoid the wrong ones.
That being said, there’s going to be a big difference in your buying experience when you find the best buyer’s agent versus any random agent off the street. Let’s dig into why it’s important to use an agent, and what to look for in such a professional.
Why You Should Always Buy With a Buyer’s Agent
As a home buyer, your real estate buyer’s agent serves several purposes. We act as a liability shield, helping ensure that you complete your transaction legally and in a manner that preserves your best interests. We lend our market experience, giving you the confidence to make a sound decision when making offers on homes in the area. Crucially, we provide an unemotionally-invested perspective on any home you’re interested in, when your own excitement may tempt you to make an impulsive decision.
Best of all, the home seller covers the buyer’s agent costs. This is because commissions are paid from the sales proceeds of their home. This means as a buyer, you have an amazing opportunity to leverage a professional to assist you from start to finish with your home search, without paying out of pocket. Even if you have to go through twenty properties before settling on your dream home, you still will not owe anything to your agent, except maybe a thank-you hug!
Imagine if you could hire an attorney for free, and the opposing party was responsible for any eventual costs. Or, imagine hiring a business consultant who helped you meet your business goals and didn’t charge you for their services. That would be pretty awesome, right?
While it may be tempting to forgo an agent with the hopes of negotiating a lower purchase price, this rarely occurs. This is because the seller pays commissions to the listing agent directly. The listing agent is then responsible for determining what portion is paid to a buyer’s agent, and paying that out. In the event there is no buyer’s agent, listing agents often keep the entire commission—which is legally their right. This means that the costs to the seller are identical, negating your negotiation power.
So while it’s a bit of a misnomer to claim that a buyer’s agent is “free” to you, it’s as close to free as you can get. There’s essentially no advantage to going on your own. The good news is that a skilled buyer’s agent can help you negotiate the lowest possible purchase price, which WILL save you money. Let’s take a look at what makes for a skilled agent.
What to Look for in a Buyer’s Agent
Similar to a seller’s agent, there are a core set of characteristics you should look for when selecting the right buyer’s agent. You’ll be spending a ton of time with your agent over a span of months, to potentially a year or more, depending how long your search lasts.
That’s a big commitment, and you want to make sure you enjoy the connection, or the experience will suffer. In our experience, the top three things to look for are the agent’s personality, communication skills, and market experience, in that order. Let’s clarify each, using myself as the working example.
It doesn’t get more customer-focused than when I’m acting as a buyer’s agent. My entire focus is on one goal: to find, and help secure my client’s dream home. Note that the goal itself is subjective and entirely up to the client, meaning that I need to be very in tune with their needs, even as those needs may evolve over time.
As buyers become more knowledgeable about the area they’re looking in, criteria may shift. This is an inherent result of viewing many homes in a short period of time. As a client becomes more familiar with the “market standard,” expectations may change as well.
Finally, the home buying process can be heavily stressful, especially in our current market. When homes can garner upwards of 10-20 offers within days of being listed, it’s very likely that the average buyer will have several offers rejected before they have one accepted. Being able to keep my clients positive during this time is crucial.
All this means that to be successful in my mission, I need to be highly empathetic so I’m able to put myself in my client’s shoes. I need to be able to listen carefully and read between the lines with regard to changing needs, standards, etc. If a buyer becomes more picky as the home search progresses for example, I need to identify this so that I am not wasting their time showing them homes that don’t meet their newly-increased standards.
Patience is also crucial. Buying a home, especially for first-time buyers, has a steep learning curve, and most buyers will have many questions. For me, the educational opportunity this provides is one of my favorite parts of the job, but not all realtors have this patience.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, a good agent will have a core value of doing the honest thing. Nothing does a bigger disservice to a buyer than for their agent to mislead them out of self-interest. When this happens, buyers find themselves missing out on good opportunities that were withheld from them, or regretting a home purchase that they were pressured into.
Communication in real estate is foundational, and can make or break a deal. A communication breakdown can happen at several levels, whether with the buyer, the listing agent, the loan officer, or even the home inspector. Good communication really comes down to three elements: ability to listen, ability to convey things clearly, and availability.
With so many moving parts to the process, communication needs to be efficient. By focusing on listening, I’m able to keep conversations focused, productive, and comprehensive. Sometimes buyers mention the most important points subtly, and without listening carefully, I would miss them.
Likewise, being able to express my guidance and instructions in a clear, concise manner, helps ensure that the receiving party has what they need to proceed, and doesn’t unintentionally move in the wrong direction. With other professionals like loan officers and title agents, this ability largely comes from experience and understanding of the processes and what they need from us to do their job.
With my clients, it comes from being able to speak on the level of the buyer and break things down as needed. An experienced real estate investor or developer is going to have a very different level of understanding than a first time home buyer, and need a different type of guidance. Communicating effectively can look very different when speaking to one compared to the other.
Finally, availability is so important. What I mean is, if my phone rings or an email comes to my inbox, am I available to respond right away? If not, opportunities can be lost. For example, let’s say I submit an offer on behalf of a client, but the listing agent reaches out for clarification on some aspect of the offer. If I don’t answer their call or even get back to them for several days, they could very well go with another offer and my clients would miss out on the home.
As a buyer’s agent, I should be improving communication times, or at the very least, not slowing them down. When the agent becomes the bottleneck, they’re no longer working in the best interest of their client.
The last element to consider is an agent’s experience in your local market. While you might consider this the most important characteristic for a realtor to have, I put it last, because if the other two elements are not present, all the experience in the world won’t help you get into a home, at least not without going through a miserable experience.
That being said, it’s important to have an agent who intimately knows the neighborhood and surrounding areas that you’re interested in. First off, buying a home is not just about the property—it’s also about the community. Things like infrastructure, amenities, natural and man-made landmarks, schools, and job opportunities, all contribute to the experience a buyer will have living in their home.
Every neighborhood has its good points and bad points. It’s very important to be able to speak frankly and honestly about both the good and bad elements of the area that my buyer’s desired home resides in. It helps establish proper expectations. That way, there are no unexpected disappointments down the line when the buyer inevitably discovers those less-than-stellar aspects of the property.
The second thing to keep in mind is that while comparable market data research is an important part of any home purchase offer, it’s secondary to the experience gained by physically walking home after home in the area and participating in purchases and sales of properties nearby. It’s hard to understand certain home features and get a good feel for the place just from photos—nothing beats touring a property in person.
Knowing the competition helps provide context for offers—you can be more confident understanding where the property you’re interested in falls within the spectrum of other similar, local properties. Relying on someone who has physically been to many of those properties and ideally, been involved in their sales transactions is key to gaining such context.