Does a Home Buyer Really Need a Buyer’s Agent?

If you’re buying a home, do you really need a buyer’s agent or can you get away with going it alone? The truth is, you’re much better off with a buyer’s agent – and it won’t cost you anything. But before we get into that, let’s take a step back and start at the beginning: what is a buyer’s agent?

In real estate there are three types of agents: the listing agent, the seller’s agent, and the buyer’s agent.

  • The listing agent is the real estate agent that has the contract with the seller and lists it on the Multiple Listing Service.
  • The seller’s agent is the seller’s real estate representative and has a legal obligation to work on behalf of the seller. So, if you walk into an open house and get chatty with this agent, anything you say can be used against you, should you choose to make an offer.
  • The buyer’s agent is the real estate professional that works with you to find you a home. This agent has a legal obligation to work on your behalf. This person is like the matchmaker. They know what’s available on the real estate market and show homes that match your desired criteria. They work for you, for free, and make their profit in commission from the seller when you buy a home.

Technically, you don’t need a buyer’s agent but chances are you’ll do better in the home search and home purchase process – and get your dream home for a better price -- if you have one.

“By having one person who is intimately involved in your home search, they get to know your family, and what your priorities are, what your needs are, what your long term goals are, and they really have a good sense of space and how you’ll respond to space,” explains Vanessa Pollock, a resident and realtor with Keller Williams in South Orange and Maplewood, New Jersey, and the founder of the Vanessa Pollock Music Initiative, which is in partnership with the Achieve Foundation of South Orange and Maplewood -- an independent, non-profit organization that raises funds to promote exemplary public education for all students and educators in the community.

Pollock and her team of eight agents, often represent both sellers and buyers. They have a welcome process, which involves an initial tour of the area where they’ll look at five or more houses, not to buy a house, just to “get smart,” she says. “That’s an important part about what we do. It’s to get the agent smart about what the family needs and wants, and for the client to get smart about what their money will buy them.”

Vanessa says as a buyer, enlisting an agent is free, and can save home seekers a lot of time and money. Buyers’ agents in her area will usually preview homes during broker open houses on Tuesdays and Thursdays and be able to contract a client with insider information. “They can then call the client and say ‘Hey I previewed these four houses on your behalf and this one was terrible, here’s why. These two are worth your consideration but only if the price comes down because it feels overpriced, so let’s watch those, and this fourth one is an absolute must-see. Do you want to come to the open house this weekend or do you want a private showing with me because I think this one might be a winner?’” Vanessa says the idea is to be an advocate and a resource in the most efficient way possible.

“We really intend to only bring people back out after that initial tour to see winners. Most of our clients have small children, they have very busy lives, the last thing we want to do is drag them out to go look at 8-10 houses every weekend when really our job is just to be efficient and provide a great service to show them what we think would win for them, and be a good fit. Then when it’s the right house we go negotiate and advocate on their behalf.”

As far as clients bringing houses to the realtor – the best time to do that is at the very beginning. Vanessa says it’s helpful for clients to come in with a list of places they’ve scouted online as an introduction to the style of home that they like, and it’s even more helpful if they are able to say what they liked about them. “It’s going to get your agent smart about you, but what I will say is that the Zillows and Trulias of the world do not accurately report the current status of properties; they’re often 48-72 hours, or more behind.” Instead, Vanessa suggests clients turn to the Garden State Multiple Listing Service (GSMLS) and their agent’s website for more up-to-date information.

Vanessa stresses that the buyer’s agent is instrumental from start to finish. “A good buyer’s agent, as soon as they know their client has interest in the house, they reach out to the listing agent and voice that interest.” She also says having your own agent is attractive to the seller. “Someone who doesn’t understand the nuances of the process can do themselves more harm than good. I think the critical piece in this is imagine the seller on the other side of the table. Are they going to want to deal with a professional who knows how to successfully navigate the entire sales process and has a track record of success to get to the closing table? This comes with a great buyer’s agent and an offer presented by one. Or, is that seller going to want to entertain an offer from someone who has zero idea how to successfully navigate the process and get to the closing table? I think the seller’s perception is ‘Why would I go with that person when there’s no one helping to guide them through this? I don’t think we’ll be successful.’ They really need to think about the sellers preference in that.”

So, how does one find a buyer’s agent? Zillow is a great place to start. See how many stars an agent has and read through the reviews using the Agent Finder feature. You’ll also want to get referrals from friends. If that’s not the case, maybe you have a friend of a friend or a co-worker who moved to a certain town that you could ask for information? Make sure to check and see if that referred agent has a website and see what you think of their presentation. “Once you have narrowed down your list of potential buyer’s agents, you’ll want to call and speak with them and really be sure the process is very systematized. It’s personal for every single family but you need to know that you have somebody who understands every single step of the process,” says Vanessa, who has created a free downloadable home buyer’s guide on her website, 30minutestonyc.com.

You’ll also want to consider working with a team versus an individual agent. “It’s good to consider a team because If your agent goes out of town for the weekend, if it’s an individual agent, you’re not going to see a house that comes on the market because your agent is gone,” says Vanessa. “Where with our team, if an agent goes out of town for the weekend, you’ve got eight people who can show you homes in their absence, so we’ve got constant coverage.”

Vanessa and her team service all of Essex County though they are licensed to help home seekers and home sellers in any city or town within New Jersey. So, if you were to start your home search in Maplewood and along the lines discover you’d prefer Glen Ridge, your agent can show you homes there too. It helps though to know the neighborhood you think you want, so you can find an agent that’s an expert in that area to assist you best, and you can be more efficient with your time, babysitting payments, and such.

Most importantly, Vanessa says is to find an agent who has a heart for service. “You just want to look for somebody that’s there to serve your family and that puts your needs before their own, and that they just aren’t in it for sales. Yes you want to know they have a great sales record because it proves they’re successful but I think it’s really important to look for people who are going to put people first.”

Alphabetical list of resources in this blog post: