Let’s be honest: If you’re a first-time buyer or relatively new to the real estate game, the whole thing can feel totally confusing (no, it’s not just you!). For instance, an agent is an agent, right? Sort of.
To further complicate the landscape, there are actually multiple terms for the type of agent who helps you through a transaction: a listing agent or seller’s agent is a real estate professional who works on the seller’s side, and a buyer’s agent works on your behalf as the buyer throughout the process.
While most agents work as either a buyer’s agent or listing agent depending on the particular transaction, some work regularly as buyer’s agents exclusively. A buyer’s agent is legally obligated to protect the interests of the buyer and help them get the best deal possible.
“They have a fiduciary responsibility to represent their clients how they would represent themselves,” explains Kevin Markarian, a top-selling agent in the San Francisco Bay Area. “So they’re going to do everything possible to help you be successful and provide you with all the information necessary to make a good decision.”
If you’re a buyer, you don’t technically need to use a buyer’s agent. But practically… you may very well find a buyer’s agent is a huge advantage, if not absolutely essential to closing a deal. Here, our expert-backed primer digs deeper into the role and lays out the pros and cons of having a buyer’s agent.
What is a buyer’s agent?
First, let’s spell out the basics. There are two sides to every real estate transaction: the buyer’s side and the seller’s side. Many agents help both buyers and sellers with transactions, but some agents specialize in handling one party or the other.
Sellers agents represent sellers — that is, the home the seller is listing. These are also called listing agents. On the other side of the transaction, buyer’s agents represent buyers in seeking and purchasing a home.
What do buyer’s agents do?
Buyer’s agents are there to advise, guide, and steer you through the process using their licenses and expertise. Their supporting role for buyers typically includes:
- Helping you make your wish list, a realistic collection of home characteristics you would like to shoot for within your budget
- Identifying homes that fit these qualities, and taking you or directing you to see them
- Landing on an offer price, writing your offer, and taking it to the seller’s agent
- Advocating for your best interests in the sale, including on price and other contract negotiations.
- Managing the transaction throughout the process
- Negotiating repairs or price adjustments that may be feasible as a result of appraisals or inspections
- Walking with you through the final walkthrough before you get the keys
- Standing by for any necessary advice and support at the closing table
- Ideally, handing over the keys with a smile, a warm congratulations, and an offer to take that first photo of you in front of your new home!
What are the pros of hiring a buyer’s agent?
Technically, you don’t have to work with a buyer’s agent to purchase a home. But there’s a lot of upside to it. “There’s really not much of a downside,” says Markarian. “They will locate a property for you, submit an offer for you, make sure the contract is written properly, that you’re covered as far as any liability,” he says. “They put you in a position to be successful.”
Let’s break down all those pros here.
For most people, a home is the biggest purchase of a lifetime. And a buyer’s agent is your best advocate to help you through such a major transaction (and major life event!).
“This is when a buyer’s agent comes in to help you see things that you may not have seen on your own,” Markarian says. “A seasoned professional who will go above and beyond to help you in the process.”
A buyer’s agent can help you stay on top of new listings in a hot market. It’s especially important to find a buyer’s agent with local expertise in the particular market where you’re house hunting. “It’s important to work with someone who has experience, who has knowledge of a local market,” Markarian says. “People operate differently from area to area, and it’s very important that your agent understands the local market.”
A buyer’s agent knows where and how to tap into unlisted homes — that is, homes not listed on the MLS where competition may be fierce in a hot market. These might be so-called “pocket listings,” or they might be non-standard sales like short sales or foreclosures, which can be even trickier to find (and to navigate).
“They’re going to have relationships with other sellers or owners of properties similar to what you might want, and they can put you in a position to get that property,” Markarian says.
A buyer’s agent is extra-skilled at negotiating buyer contingencies. These might include making the sale contingent on your ability to get financing, an inspector’s findings at a home inspection, or your ability to sell your own house before you close on a new one.
A buyer’s agent will be attuned to red flags. These might include general issues within a particular neighborhood. And they might be more specific to insider intel on the property.
“They’ll provide you with any disclosures on the property,” Markarian says. “What’s the condition of the property? The roof? What’s the history? Have there been any permits pulled? They can sometimes find information that’s not available online.”
A buyer’s agent can bring professionalism and know-how that’s not just comforting, but also a practical advantage in a competitive environment.
“If I have two really good offers, and one has all the right legal documents and looks great, and the other is done wrong or has a mistake, who do you think gets the house?” Markarian says.
“Having a skillful buyer’s agent can give you an advantage when you’re submitting offers in a multiple-offer situation. They’re going to go to bat for you and put you in a position to be successful.”
A buyer’s agent knows the transaction from the buyer’s side, inside and out. “They’re going to negotiate for you to help you save money on the offer price, they’re going to help you come up with an analysis on what amount to offer for the property,” Markarian says. “They’re going to walk you through the entire process, track the timeline for you on your contract. They’re going to make sure that your deposit on a property is protected.”
With a dedicated buyer’s agent, you’ll also avoid a conflict of interest in dual representation. That is, the buyer’s side and seller’s side of the deal necessarily have competing goals: The seller wants the highest possible price, and the buyer wants to pay the lowest. So if an agent is representing both sides of the deal, which interest wins out? Working with an agent who is negotiating solely on your behalf eliminates this tension.
What are the cons to hiring a buyer’s agent?
Since buyer’s agents work only with buyers, they might not know about all the latest listings on the sell side.
Like any real estate agent, you will have to pay them for their services. This payment comes in the form of commission on the home sale. (If you don’t purchase a home from this agent, you won’t pay.) “An argument could be made that you don’t have a buyer’s agent because there is a commission and you’re going to save the commission,” Markarian explains (though he doesn’t advise the path).
If the seller runs into any snags on their side, your agent might not be able to assist the listing agent with untangling them because they don’t know about as many resources for sellers.
And that’s about it! Most people will find that working with a buyer’s agent is a huge advantage, if not essential, in closing the best deal.
“Yes, you could do it as a buyer on your own,” Markarian says, but many people just don’t have the background, expertise, or inclination.
“Like, if I’m going to be in a court case, I want an attorney to represent me and I’m going to rely on their expertise, their ability to help me be successful in that situation. Could I represent myself? Sure. But what do I know about law?”
How do you find a qualified buyer’s agent?
You can browse online directories to find buyer’s agents. Some real estate platforms include an agent directory; HomeLight has a free one that is also no cost to the agents. (And that means that, since agents don’t pay to be listed, you know you’ll get the most authentic match.)
You can look up their accreditations or association affiliations. Various reliable organizations you can trust have accreditations and certifications for agents who are trained to work with buyers. For instance, the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council, an official affiliate of The National Association of Realtors (NAR), accredits agents as Accredited Buyer Representatives.
You can also search for a buyer’s agent on the website of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA), a professional organization of real estate buyer agents and buyer brokers. Members solely represent buyers — never sellers — and don’t accept listings or advertise properties for sale.
Ask your friends and family who they used. (Don’t forget to confirm that the experience was positive before moving forward!)
Use online reviews and ratings. Just like you’d do for a restaurant, auto repair shop, or even a doctor, you can research reviews and ratings for buyer’s agents online to help provide context and referrals.
And finally, you can find a brokerage that specializes in working with buyers and ask them to help. Call a few local brokerage firms and provide the managing broker your details. They will provide you with some agents who meet your needs.
Header Image Source: (Ross Joyner / Unsplash)