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Don't Buy a Home Without Someone on Your Side!
Or Why Buyers Need Buyer Agents

Kay Hunkins, HomeBuyer Specialist
Burlington and Triad Area NC

Buying a home is one of the biggest investments you'll make. Don't you need someone to help you make a wise decision?

In North Carolina and many other states, unless you--the buyer--have signed a valid buyer agency agreement, it is likely that no real estate agent is working for you! With multiple-listed homes, all agents represent the seller--even "your" agent! Without a valid buyer agency agreement, every agent owes fiduciary allegiance to the seller--that is, all agents have a legal responsibility to meet the seller's needs. No one is on your side!

As a matter of fact, without a signed buyer agency agreement, even "your" agent may be legally bound to tell the seller anything it is in the seller's interest to know! Like how much you can really afford to pay. Or that you need to be in a house by the end of next week and the seller's house is the only one you can afford! Conversely, an agent working for the seller cannot tell you how much a house is really worth!

On the other hand, with a valid buyer agency agreement, what can your agent do for you?

He or she can independently measure the house to verify square footage (it's often listed incorrectly), advise you of the pros and cons of the property, and give an unbiased view of the house's value. He or she will represent you in negotiations with the seller, and work out the best deal for you. He or she will help you obtain financing that is in your best interest, and will advise you as to the long-term investment potential of the property. He or she will safely get you through to closing--without any big "surprises"!

Property transactions are very complex these days. There are all kinds of ways in which you can get stuck, and find yourself owning a "money pit"--or without the home you wanted because the deal fell through. Your buyer agent can make things happen for you.

What kind of buyer agent should you look for?

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:

1) It is important to get an agent who specializes in buyer agency and has considerable experience representing buyers.

In real estate companies which list homes for sale, built-in conflicts of interest may exist. There can be subtle pressure to sell company listings. Then there is the problem of confidentiality. Remember, any time an agent even inadvertently hears anything that is to the advantage of the person they are representing, they are obligated to inform the seller or buyer they are working for. When both the listing agent and buyer agent are in the same company, the situation can be problematic.

2) You certainly want a buyer agent who has experience with the local market. However, look for an agent with regional experience as well. In today's commuter world and expressways, you may live some distance from where you work, perhaps in two different cities or towns. An agent with a wide knowledge of the area market is more helpful than one with exclusively local expertise--especially for a relocating buyer.

3) A real estate professional who is also an appraiser will possess this wider expertise. Appraisers normally work a fairly large geographical area, and are acquainted with regional market conditions. They also tend to have a better handle on value and can project neighborhood values into the future.

What about FSBO's? Are buyer agents necessary or helpful here?

Buying a home for sale by owner may be the time when you need a buyer agent the most. It is a fact that very few FSBO's actually close without the involvement of a real estate agent. Why? Too many things can go wrong along the way. Did you know that it can take the coordination and input of up to 25 different agencies/companies to actually close a sale? Some homes get sold but never closed. There needs to be someone who knows how to get the job done! And whereas all real estate agents are obliged to be fair to all parties, sellers aren't; they can be completely unreasonable, sometimes through ignorance.

It's also a fact that it is unlikely that the house will cost you more with an agent involved. Remember, your buyer agent is working for you. With a FSBO, you have to be particularly careful what you are doing, as there are no agents to add objectivity to the process. You may not only be buying a pig in a poke; you'll likely get into a real mess doing so!

Typically your buyer agent approaches the FSBO owner, and negotiates his or her sales commission up front. Most sellers say "yes" to a sales commission--particularly if they are serious about selling! (After all, the agent is bringing the seller a serious and qualified buyer--you, and will do much to assure that a contract actually goes to closing.) It usually costs the buyer nothing to have a buyer agent. A good buyer agent helps you make good decisions, protects your interests, and may even save you money.

And finally, what about buyer agents and new construction?

For new homes on the market, including those still under construction, a sales commission is normally built in to the offering price--just like for preexisting homes. Without a buyer agent, you are at the mercy of the builder and the builder's representative (often not a Realtor). Believe it or not, new homes need detailed inspections just like older homes; prices and terms are also negotiable. Especially with homes under construction, a buyer agent can help make sure a builder does what he says he'll do, the way he needs to do it! Many of the heartbreaks and pitfalls involved in building your own home can be avoided simply by having your own knowledgeable "buyer advocate"!

With respect to homes still in the planning stage, there are additional points to negotiate. Throughout the lengthy building process, many more stumbling blocks will require ongoing expertise and guidance. In initial contract discussions with a prospective builder, a buyer agent is invaluable, and will help all parties come to clear understandings and reasonable expectations. For you the buyer, much of the inevitable stress will be removed.

In short, a good buyer agent is the best investment you'll ever make! Be sure to get someone on your side when you buy--or build--a home!

Kay Hunkins
is a consultant, homebuyer specialist and certified appraiser with 29+ years experience selling homes and 26+ years in appraisal. Her area coverage is large: besides Burlington and Alamance Co., it includes Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, Kernersville, Mebane and surrounding communities in Guilford, Forsyth, and parts of Davidson, Randolph, Rockingham and Caswell counties.
E-mail: Kay@khunkins.com    Websites: www.khunkins.com, and www.TeamKHomes.com

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