As the author of 10 best-selling books on real estate, personal finance and business, I’m often asked if hiring a real estate agent is really worth it. The question usually comes from sellers who are under the impression that a seller’s market (where there are not enough homes listed for all the buyers who want them) implies that it would be easy to sell “by owner.” But buyers are also often under the (false) impression that they will save more money by going it alone.
Here’s the truth: Every homebuyer and most home sellers should use an agent.
There are hundreds of thousands of real estate websites, many containing DIY stories about buying and selling real estate, so I understand why many people may not think they need expert help. What you can’t get from the Web, however, is the perspective and experience of an agent who has worked with hundreds of clients over the years — and has watched thousands of properties go on and off the market — in the neighborhood in which you’re looking to buy or sell.
How Good Real Estate Agents Help Buyers
Buying a home is a big step, and having a knowledgeable agent guide you through the process can only help. And it doesn’t cost you anything out of pocket if you’re the buyer — the seller pays the commission, even though the agent owes you her fiduciary responsibility. It’s all good on the buyer’s side.
A good agent should be your eyes and ears during the homebuying process. Your agent will prescreen homes on the market, pick the ones she thinks are right for you and weed out the homes that don’t meet your wants and needs. Your agent will listen to you, guide your decision-making, make appointments for you to see the homes, chauffeur you around and provide helpful information on demographic data.
When you do find the home of your dreams, your agent will help you put together the offer, negotiate a deal and provide assistance in setting up your home inspection.
A great agent will save you time and effort, as well as provide you with a lot of information to help you zero in on the home that’s right for you. Doing it yourself is fraught with possible problems: If you are not familiar with the area where you are buying, how will you know what price to offer? If a competing bid comes up and you are not notified, you could lose out. Your agent is there to make sure these things don’t happen.
How Good Real Estate Agents Help Home Sellers
For sellers, a full-service real estate agent takes care of a lot of details, such as listing your home on MLS (the multiple listing service), marketing your home through traditional and online advertising and showing the home to potential buyers.
A good real estate agent will not only give you information about other properties and competition in your area, but will also tell you what’s wrong with your house (small things can make a big difference — such as de-cluttering the family room or painting a bedroom to make it more neutral) and make suggestions on what you can do to help you sell it more quickly.
While I think it’s generally a good idea to use an agent when selling your home, it’s not the cheapest way to go: The standard commission is between 5 and 6 percent of the sales price. Other options are available for sellers who don’t want to spend the money on an agent, such as listing a home “by owner” with one of many FSBO (for sale by owner) websites or even by marketing the home yourself by setting up a website and using other online options such as Zillow.
Beware, however, that if you do try to sell your home yourself, you’ll have to put a lot of time and effort into the selling process. After all, you have to be the seller and the listing agent, and both jobs require a lot of time and energy.
Ilyce Glink is an award-winning author, columnist, radio talk show host and blogger who specializes in real estate and personal finance. Her articles appear on Yahoo, AOL, CBS News, and numerous blogs. Find her online at ThinkGlink.com.