A good buyer’s agent can help your home buying experience run smoothly, advocate for you during the process and help you put together a great deal. A bad one will show you a few properties, and then leave you to flounder because he or she is just after a commission check.
I firmly believe a buyer’s agent should be working just as hard as the seller’s agent does. It’s my job to look out for your best interests, to educate you, and to help you find properties you might not have considered on your own. It actually makes me pretty angry when I watch home buyers struggle with agents who think their only task is to “show people some houses.”
So is your buyer’s agent wasting your time and setting you up for failure? Here are 7 ways to find out.
1) Your agent didn’t look up the property history.
A property’s history can give you a lot of insight, and this insight can be used during the negotiation process. For example, a buyer’s agent who does this will be able to tell you when the home was last sold, the size of the seller’s mortgage, and the changes in the home’s value over time. All of this information offers some insight into the seller’s motivations, which can help you put together an appropriate offer. For example, you should know if the sale is a flip — being sold for double the last purchase price–or if the mortgage is so high that the sellers are telling you the truth when they can’t go any lower.
2) They don’t discuss contingencies, or how to eliminate them.
Most smart real estate deals come with a series of contingencies. A contingency is basically a legal way of saying, “We’ll buy the house…as long as.” For example, you may agree to purchase a home as long as the home passes inspection. Your purchase agreement may also be contingent upon receiving the bank’s agreement to fund the mortgage for that specific home–you don’t want to lose your earnest money just because your loan falls through at the last minute. You can set up all sorts of contingencies. Your buyer’s agent should guide you through which ones are both wise and necessary so you don’t end up making a decision you’ll regret later.
3) They don’t understand the mortgage process.
Buyer’s agents who understand the mortgage process are going to be able to help you work with the bank. They won’t sell you a home likely to appraise poorly, for example. They won’t let you make an offer until you are pre-approved (not pre-qualified). A buyer’s agent who does not understand how home loans are funded could ultimately lead you to a lot of deals that fall apart at the last minute.
4) They don’t help you explore your options.
Some buyer’s agents take your laundry list of needs and wants, plug those criteria into the MLS search engine, and take you to see the three to five houses that pop up in response.
Any idiot can do that.
A good buyer’s agent asks far more questions. Where do you work? Do you have kids, and how many? What do you like to do in your free time? A competent agent will use this to help you find options in great neighborhoods that you might have overlooked on your own.
When you start shopping for a house, what you think you want isn’t always what’s right for you in the end. Features you believe are “must-haves” right now eventually become far less important during your search, especially if you’re a first-time home buyer. A buyer’s agent should be enough of an expert to help you open your mind to a broad range of workable possibilities.
5) They don’t know local market statistics.
Knowing the local market creates negotiating power. It tells you whether a seller’s price is reasonable. It tells you if you’re about to buy a home whose value is likely to tank. A flooded market may mean a desperate seller who is ready to deal. Every bit of information matters, and the more your agent knows the more he or she can help you avoid overpaying for a home.
6) They only tell you what you want to hear.
Some buyer’s agents are afraid they’ll lose your business if they’re honest with you. A good one knows her worth. She’ll tell you when the seller is demanding way too much money for that home. She’ll tell you you’ve got unrealistic expectations if you’re hoping to purchase a single family home in Brookline for $230,000. She’ll help you develop alternatives that will work.
Look, the buyer’s agent is supposed to be the expert. If she’s not willing to share that expertise for fear of offending you, what good is she?
7) The buyer’s agent isn’t responsive.
A buyer’s agent should be ready and willing to respond to your questions and concerns, period. He or she should call you back when you want to see a home, or even if you just want to ask some questions about the home or the purchase process. If you feel like you constantly have to chase down your agent, then you’re dealing with a useless agent! Find one who will remain available to you while constantly looking out for your best interests.