Welcome to 2014. We are in a new age of doing things ourselves that used to require paying expensive professional fees. Accountants are being replaced with online tax filing. Expensive lawyers are being replaced with online alternatives at a fraction of the price. But have real estate agents been replaced with online options too?
Finding a Home without an Agent
New sites like Zillow, Trulia, and Redfin have become the Google for properties. If you are looking for a new home to buy, a site like that might be your first stop. It has already become the first stop for millions of people looking for a new home each year.
These sites give you a list of homes for sale, list price, and an estimated property value based on nearby sales. That is great information to have when starting your search.
However, something is missing. Zillow might know the home is 2,000 square feet and that a house down the block sold for $120 per square foot two months ago, so it thinks the home is worth $240,000. But what Zillow doesn’t know is that the house down the block is newly remodeled and the one you’re looking at is dated and run-down inside. Do you think the house is really worth $240,000 with that knowledge?
Of course it isn’t and that’s where a real estate agent comes in. I am one of the millions of Americans who found the place they call home online, but when I found it, I quickly called my Realtor to schedule a time to take a look in person.
That real estate expert helped me do what the websites can’t. She helped me negotiate a great deal, she helped me through the paperwork on my first home purchase, and she helped me ask the right questions to make sure it was really the right home for me.
I am thrilled with how the process turned out and wouldn’t have tried to do it alone even if it hadn’t been my first purchase.
Selling a Home without an Agent
“For sale by owner” signs have become quite common, but only 10% of homes that sell don’t involve an agent. There are good reasons for that.
First, real estate agents have marketing abilities and knowledge that most of us don’t. Agents can quickly list a property across many sites using MLS, which stands for “multiple listing service.” MLS listings feed into sites like Zillow and buyer’s agents watch for new homes to show up in the MLS listings when hunting for something specific.
Second, real estate agents are professional marketers. In addition to getting the listing in front of more people, agents know how to stage a home, write a listing, and position a home to sell for the best price on a shorter timeline.
Third, a real estate professional can help you through the closing process. If everything goes as planned, which it rarely does, the process is complicated and stressful. When something does go wrong, an experienced professional can generally fix it quickly and keep the extra stress from landing on you.
Finally, and most importantly, the agent is an experienced real estate negotiator. If you list the home as for-sale-by-owner, a hawkish investor might come along and press you very hard to get the best price they can, which may or may not be the real market value. An agent knows what your home is worth and can stand up to the pressure of a skilled negotiator getting you more money for your property.
Do You Need a Real Estate Agent?
There are some cases where you may be able to confidently buy or sell a home without an agent. If you are very experienced in real estate and marketing, and know the local market very well, you may be able to handle a real estate transaction on your own and get a great deal.
However, for the majority of people, an agent is well worth the cost. Find an agent you can trust and work well with to get the best result possible for you and your family.