If you’re selling a property, it’s pretty easy to figure out if you want to use a real estate agent or not: Either you’re going to hire someone to show your property to prospective buyers, or you’re going to do it yourself.
If you’re buying, however, things aren’t so simple. That’s partly due to a change in the real estate industry in the past couple of decades, as more and more homebuyers use buyer’s agents. What’s more, according to the National Association of Realtors, the group most likely to use a real estate agent are buyers aged 18 to 24.
What Is a Buyer’s Agent?
He or she is an agent who works for you – as opposed to when you walk into an open house, where the agent showing the property (often referred to the listing agent) works for the seller. Part of the idea is that buying is a negotiation, and since the seller has someone in her corner, you want someone in your corner, too.
Agents Who Specialize in Representing Buyers
Some agents like working with buyers, so they start to specialize in that clientele. The National Association of Realtors offers a certification program called “Accredited Buyer’s Representative,” which is a measure of some education and experience. If you see someone with an ABR after their name, it means they’ve taken a two-day course and repped a buyer in at least five transactions.
You can go even further than hiring an ABR, and hire a dedicated buyer’s agent, who is an agent who doesn’t list any property for sale, ever. Those agents, the reasoning goes, get really good at helping buyers because they do it full-time. As dollarstretcher.com puts it, “they won't be pushing you to buy one of their listings.” Dedicated buyers’ agents are usually pretty easy to find through their trade associations, such as MABA, the Massachusetts Association of Buyer Agents.
The Argument Against: Cut the Middle Man
The argument against buyers’ agents is that, if the seller’s agent can talk to you directly, the deal will go more smoothly because there’s one fewer cook in the kitchen, so to speak. Also, if you’re very close to the seller’s bottom line price, maybe you can get the listing agent to cut her commission a little, since she won’t have to share it with anyone.
The Argument For: All Parties Should Be Educated
I represent both buyers and sellers, and I’m pretty pro-buyer agency overall. I like educating buyers, especially first-timers, as part of my job, and in general, I think it’s helpful for every party in the deal to have their own expert. If you’re the do-it-yourself type, I don’t want to talk you out of really studying the market closely and learning it for yourself. But for those who don’t know the ins and outs of the market and want to make sure they’re doing everything correctly, I think that a buyer’s agent can be a great resource.
A Word of Caution
I’d recommend against using an attorney who is a friend or a relative as a buyer’s agent. Even though an attorney might be licensed as if she were a real estate broker, if she’s not in the real estate market day-to-day, she won’t have a firm grasp on the current subtleties of pricing. You don’t want to get into a situation where you hire a relative to try to save 2% or 3%, but then risk overspending by more than that because neither of you is really sure what you should bid on the property. Buying property is an important purchase, so if you’re trying to figure out pricing, hire a buyer’s agent, or study it closely yourself—but don’t pin all your hopes on your cousin Laura who spends most of her time doing litigation, not real estate.