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Benefits of a buyer agent – especially for first-time homebuyers

By Laura Kapp

September 2021

If you’re a first-time homebuyer, you’re probably getting lots of advice from your family, friends and random people who think they know stuff. 

When we were shopping for our first home, way back in 1994, the best advice I felt we received was to work with a buyer agent.  Fast forward to NOW and engaging a buyer agent remains a good option to consider for some first-time homebuyers.

Should you use a buyer agent? Here's how it worked for us

Like most first-time homebuyers, we had a tight budget. And we found that it was easy to get emotionally invested in a house without considering the condition or affordability.

Buyer Agent Bill spent hours touring homes with us. We fell in love with a newly remodeled tri-level home. But Bill wouldn’t let us put an offer on it. He pointed out that it needed a new roof (big expense), and it was in an extremely high property tax area that would nearly double our monthly mortgage payments. Ultimately, we couldn’t afford to live in that house! (I still think about those pink granite countertops and the gray slate floors, though.)

Bill was looking out for us – not just during the house-hunting process, but in terms of potential obstacles we might face as homeowners.

With Bill’s help, we put an offer on a cute Cape Cod home in a lovely neighborhood. But he wouldn’t let us overbid the asking price. “It’s not worth it,” he said. We didn’t win that bid, anyway. (But we did get to practice the stressful Offer to Purchase process!)

Ultimately, we found the perfect house for us at the right price. Bill reviewed the prices of recently sold properties in the neighborhood so that he/we could be sure the home was worth it.

As you can see, Bill was working specifically for us. He negotiated lower prices on our behalf. His firm (an exclusive buyer agency) provided a real estate attorney, building inspector, a title company, and a location for the closing (the house we bought was For Sale by Owner).  

The difference between a buyer agent and a seller agent

The difference between a buyer agent and a seller agent is in their names:

A buyer agent represents the buyers, and, with the buyers’ approval, negotiates a transaction on their behalf. A buyer agent will work to obtain the best price and terms, and provide the facts as to value, market/neighborhood conditions and obvious physical defects. Most important, a buyer agent might be able to protect you from overpaying for a home.

A seller agent represents the seller and works on the sellers’ behalf to market a house and get the highest price and best terms. 

Where to find a buyer agent

There are 2 types of buyer agents: 

Exclusive buyer agents are not affiliated with a real estate company and are not in the business of listing or selling homes. They are licensed real estate agents, though, and have access to the Multiple Listing Service. They also can help you through the process of purchasing a home that is for sale by owner (which came in handy when we bought our home!). 

To find an exclusive buyer agent in your area, go to the website of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA). In order to have an exclusive buyer agent negotiate on your behalf, you must sign a contract (commonly referred to as a buyer’s agency agreement or buyer-broker agreement). Go to naeba.org to learn more about what the buyer’s agent contract may include and what to consider when deciding if a buyer’s agent is right for you. And as always, when signing any contract, make sure you understand the terms you are agreeing to.

Buyer agents can be affiliated with a realty company that lists and sells properties. Again, to have a real estate agent work as a buyer agent for you, you must sign the buyer’s agency agreement. Under this agreement, you allow them to negotiate the best price and terms on your behalf. They do not represent the seller under this agreement, they represent you as the buyer. 

Some realty companies have real estate agents on staff who only represent buyers. You will also find real estate agents who represent both buyers and sellers. Whenever you work with a real estate firm as a buyer, ask about the buyer’s agency agreement to guarantee that they are working in your best interest, not the seller’s.

What your buyer agent can do for you

All buyer agents, whether exclusive or not, are paid through the proceeds of the sale of the home. In other words, the buyer agent gets a percentage of the commission that the seller pays to the listing brokerage. The services that a buyer agent provides are free for buyers. And with any buyer agent, it’s important to find someone you think understands your needs and who has experience in the neighborhoods where you are looking to buy. 

A buyer agent will: 

  • Educate you about market conditions and the home-buying process
  • Assist you with the home search, using the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and other resources
  • Perform market price comparisons and protect you from over-paying for a home
  • Negotiate exclusively on your behalf
  • Obtain the best price and terms
  • Engage a home inspector who works on your behalf, not the seller’s behalf
  • Help you with financing alternatives/mortgage lender referrals

And it’s a process that works

Our first home has worked out for us. We’re still in it, 26 years later. And it’s nearly doubled in value. 

The real estate market is very different now compared to when we bought our home. Inventory levels are low, so you face stiff competition when you find a house to buy.  But a buyer agent can still help you figure out how much to offer and the best way to present it. Michael Holloway, an exclusive buyer agent with Homebuyer Associates in Milwaukee, Wis, noted on his blog that “anyone shopping for a home today, (I can’t speak for next week) will likely pay over value. The key is to know how much more over value and how long they may have to remain in the home to get back to even. The latter will determine if they should pay more than value and how much more.” 

That sounds like a multiple-choice math problem, doesn’t it?  A buyer agent will help you find the right answer.  

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Laura Kapp is the former creative director of the writing and design team at MGIC. Now she works from her 1958-ranch-style home, accompanied by dust bunnies. Her messy home office proves the saying, “Creative minds are rarely tidy.”
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