In these odd times, having someone on your side during a transaction is crucial and essential. A buyer's agent is that unknown entity that most first-time buyers don't even know about. Most people head out into the real estate world, scared and uninformed. A buyer's agent is exactly that; an agent for the buyer.
When a homeowner lists their home they call on the knowledge of a listing agent. This agent draws up a contract to sell the property. The listing agent markets the property and can even bring the buyer. BUT a buyer's agent is only for the buyer and represents the buyer's side throughout the process, not the seller. What a Buyer's Agent Actually Does for You
A listing agent's primary goal is to get their seller's house sold. Their first priority is to the seller, not the buyer. When a real estate agent represents both the buyer and the seller it's called a dual agency and this can be a really tricky place to be. It comes under the fiduciary duty; who does the agent really work for? The truth is, the agent works for the seller. If the buyer comes along and the listing agent facilitates the transaction on both ends, the listing agent receives the full commission rather than splitting it with a buyer’s agent. Naturally, listing agents love being a buyer’s agent as well as they receive the full commission, but again, the buyer's interests may not be the top priority for the listing agent.
So, did you catch what I said in that last paragraph? That the listing agent gets all the commission for selling the house? That means that the seller pays the commission. It's usually split between the listing agent and the selling agent (or buyer's agent).
That's right - It costs a buyer NOTHING to use their own agent.
That alone is worth it! But what does a buyer's agent actually do?
Help with Financing.
A buyer's agent helps set up financing. Most first time buyers need to finance their home. A good buyer's agent will have referrals and references for lenders but it's up to the buyer who they choose. You can choose a bank, credit union, loan officer or mortgage broker (kind of one and the same). Shop around. And ask your buyer's agent any questions you may have. Your agent will tell you about down payments, earnest money deposits and will put you touch with a great lender AND keep in close contact with that lender throughout the process so your agent knows where the deal is and keeps everyone in the loop.
Helps you find the right house.
Not just any ol' house, but the right house. Talk to your agent about what you're looking for in a home. An experienced agent has seen a lot out there and usually has great tips and insights when looking. Your agent can tell you about an area, neighborhood, HOA fees, building materials and little quirks about a house you may never have thought about. They can also give you insight on how to offer when the time comes. They will accompany you through every house you want to look at. Sometimes it's just a few houses before you find "the one" and other times it's is several months and dozens of houses. I don't say that to discourage you but to help you understand that we do whatever it takes to help you find the right house.
Helps you with the offer.
That's it! You've found the house - now what? Your buyer's agent will talk to the listing agent about the offer protocol. Sometimes there is a review period, sometimes there are restrictions on the offer, but whatever it is, it's important to have good communication between the listing agent and the buyer's agent.
Your agent will write up an offer detailing how much you are planning on offering on the property, your earnest money deposit and all the details that come along with the offer. This includes several contingencies as well. You have a contingency for financing and typically for a home inspection. These contingencies are not satisfied until completed. This basically means that you can't buy the house unless your financing goes through, and you're not willing to buy the house unless the inspection passes or the sellers agree to some repairs or replacements.
Grant Team in Punta Gorda real estate offers this advice: “There are other contingencies as well that may or may not be a factor in your offer. If you need to sell another house that could be a contingency, the appraisal contingency is often a common one, meaning that the home needs to appraise for as much is you are offering. If it doesn't, better decisions to make at that point.”
It's at this point that the buyer presents the earnest money deposit, usually in the form of a check or cashier's check. This is typically between 1% and 3% of the purchase price. This check does not get deposited until there is mutual acceptance from the sellers.
Helps with any counter offers.
Your buyer's agent will keep you informed every step of the way. One of the greatest things that I love about being a buyer's agent is calling them up telling them that their offer was accepted. Once the offer is accepted it moves on to the inspection contingency, however, if the sellers are countering something in the offer it will come back to the buyers for mutual acceptance. This back and forth agreement can go on for several weeks until either both parties come to a mutual agreement or the deal was terminated.
Additional: Annette Mejia from Live on the Big Island says: "I encourage my buyers not to get frustrated. Both parties are trying to get their way. It's important to be patient, reasonable, and to not give up if they really want the house. There's always a compromise somewhere."
Walks you through inspections.
Your buyer's agent will also recommend several inspectors in the area. This is also something that you have the power to choose whomever you want. However, because I worked with a lot of inspectors in the area I know reputable inspectors that understand the market, the local builders, I can offer advice on any repairs or replacements.
Once we schedule the inspection I encourage all of my buyers to be present during this 2 to 4 hour event. It's important to learn as much as you can about your potential new home. Ask questions, get advice on repairs or future replacements, and take notes so you understand more about your home.
Once we get the home inspection report there are several things we can do: we can walk away from the deal if we feel the house is just not worth all the repairs, we can accept the inspection as is and move on to closing, we can ask for repairs or replacements to be done, or we can ask for credit to have those things done once you move in. This again, needs to be mutually accepted by the buyer and the seller. Once there is a mutual agreement, is now up to the sellers to fulfill that agreement and the deal moves on to closing.
Keep you informed.
Between the home inspection and the time that escrow or title calls you to close on the loan there is what we call a quiet time. You might think that everyone has abandoned you but actually, this is the time where everyone really gets to work. The appraisal is completed, documents are finalized, anything on your loan is finalized, and the sellers are hopefully completing any repairs that were required. For the buyer, it's kind of a 'hurry-up-and-wait' scenario. However, it's my job to keep you informed throughout this process.
Even if I have no news to tell you, it's important that at least tell you that. I want to keep my buyers informed and feeling confident about their purchase. A lot of the time, if we don't hear any news, our minds tend to start imagining the worst. But I will remind my clients that the appraisal has been scheduled and what the result of that is, how the escrow and title company are faring, and any issues you might be having with financing or documents that the lender needs.
Additional: Jean Wawrzyniak-Fry of Mesa Real Estate says - "It can be super stressful during this time when buyers really don't know what's going on. But trust your agent and let them know how much communication you want. I don't want to bother my clients every day but if that's what they need I want to be conscious of it."
Attend the closing.
Depending on the details of the contract, escrow, title, or even your agent can contact you to let you know that final signing has been scheduled. This will usually be a couple of days before closing. Closing is after the final signing when all the documents are filed, the deed is filed with the county and monies are dispersed. Depending on the details of the contract, the sellers could have three days to move out or move in can happen at closing.
If you like, I will attend the closing with you to make sure you understand everything you are signing. The escrow or title officer will also explain every detail of the mountain of papers you will be signing. Some of them seem a little bit ridiculous, but be ready to sign your name about 100 times. I know that sounds like a lot, this is a lot of money and a big transaction. Try not to be nervous but make sure you ask if there's anything that doesn't look right or that you don't understand. Many buyers feel embarrassed to ask if they don't understand something, but this is your money and your home, you have the right to understand everything that you are signing.
Advice from Beata Mandell, Luxury High Rise Condo Realtor: The sellers will typically sign first and then you will be called in to sign a couple of hours later. Once everything is verified, money will be transferred and only at closing will you be able to get the keys to your house. I cannot hand over keys at the final signing because documents need to be verified. This should only take a day or two unless otherwise specified.
Additional: Vancouver Realtor Dave Van Nus Says: "This is the most confusing time for many buyers but we want to make it as easy as possible. These details are usually explained in the contract at the beginning but when we get to this point, many buyers have forgotten and don't understand the timeframes. We always go over the details at this time so the buyer knows what to expect."
Buyer's agents really facilitate the process, problem solve and are the go-between for buyer and seller. It means YOU don't have to know everything about the legalities of buying a house, you just need to enlist the help of your own buyer's agent.