What's a real estate agent do?
April 16, 2010 7:45 AM   Subscribe

What can a good real estate agent do for me that the internet can't?

I'm looking to buy a lot to build on here in Los Angeles, and I'm a little bit hazy on what benefits I get by hiring a real estate agent. Don't they just go on mls.com like anyone could? And when agents say they specialize in certain areas of town, what does that mean? Do they really know about listings other agents, or websites, don't know about?

Apologies if I'm sounding demeaning to the profession -- I am actually just clueless.
posted by malhouse to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
posted by donajo at 7:53 AM on April 16, 2010

Response by poster: D'oh! Thanks.
posted by malhouse at 7:54 AM on April 16, 2010

At the very least they save you time. Searching for the perfect property can be very time intensive. Sure you can search on the internet but you will always need more information than be found there especially if you are unfamiliar with different areas. If you have the time to waste then definitely do it yourself, otherwise find good agent.
posted by JJ86 at 8:22 AM on April 16, 2010

Response by poster: I guess what I'm interested in is a little less the contract side of things and more the listing side, and that previous question seems more on the contract/financial side. I just want to know if agents have access to listings that I can't find with a simple search of themls.com or redfin.
posted by malhouse at 8:22 AM on April 16, 2010

Disclaimer: I'm not a fan of REALTORS.

What do buyer's agents do? Act as an expensive taxi service. Negotiate a 3% higher price to cover their commission. Get stuff wrong on your paperwork that an attorney wouldn't. When they say they specialize in a particular part of town, that means that they don't really want to drive too far. The only 'listings' that an agent might know about that others wouldn't would be a listing that isn't listed yet. If I had an agent that was selling my property, and it WASN'T in the MLS, I would fire them immediately.

In my experience, there is no reason to go with a full service real estate agency, especially no if you are buying. I would go with a cut rate agency and use the savings on a good attorney. I've taken some RE licensing exams, and anyone who can read could pass them. Sure, they can be friendly and make some parts of purchasing easier, but I think for my next RE purchase, I won't be using a buyer's agent, only my attorney.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 8:24 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

For us (currently buying our first house), our agent does a lot more than just find us houses. (Although even just the amount of work that goes into contacting the listing agents for every house we like to arrange a string of showings for a couple hours every weekend is probably pretty time consuming.)

When we see a house we like and are considering putting in an offer, she pulls the listing and mortgage history on the house, does a complete report of recently sold and currently active comparables on the market within an x-mile radius, and provides us all that information - we always have final say on what we want to offer. This is such valuable information, I can't imagine buying a house without it. And I'm sure there's some way for me to get access to all that, and take the time to pull together comps, but I have a full time job.

We have a signed contract with our agent so she is legally required to protect our interest and she has done a bang-up job so far helping us negotiate a very crazy market full of short sales and foreclosures.

We do have a lawyer as well, but he's much more in the background on the contractual stuff and frankly isn't nearly as responsive as our agent. We can bug our agent with emails, texts, phone calls and she responds pretty quickly, whereas our lawyer only communicates with us if he's got something to report.

On preview, we've found that a combination of us searching redfin, etc. and our agent's access to the MLS is what gets us the best results. The problems with redfin et. al. is that they are not always updated very quickly so you'll see houses listed as active that are actually under contract, removed, or sold. At least for us, we also often found condos and townhomes coming up in single family home searches on those types of sites which gets really annoying really quickly. By the way, our agent has a portal where we can log in and see the official MLS listings and mark houses as Interested, Maybe, or No and add comments... which she can then see. It's pretty cool.
posted by misskaz at 8:32 AM on April 16, 2010

Never used an agent to buy a property -- it makes the seller's agent also favor your offers over others. When the seller's agent is pocketing the whole commission, they have way of making you offer look much more attractive even if your are offering less money.

It's thievery, immoral, etc. but as buyer you can benefit from it.
posted by zeikka at 8:48 AM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

My husband and I just moved many, many miles and bought our first house. Our experience was very similar to misskaz's. Our buyer's agent was particularly helpful because we didn't know the area at all, and he was great at advising us about relative value appreciation, safety, convenience, etc. in various neighborhoods.

I would say that the best part about having our seller's agent was that he showed us the house we ended up buying before anyone else saw it, just as it came on the market. He helped us negotiate an offer that won out over 6 other offers on the same house. This is something we certainly could not have done without his help.
posted by Seppaku at 9:19 AM on April 16, 2010

Best part of having our buyer's agent, rather.
posted by Seppaku at 9:26 AM on April 16, 2010

IANABroker or Agent. Here is my slant. Any time you invest a serious amount of money in anything, you can always wing it, or you can rely upon the services of an expert. When we moved away from California, we utilized the services of an agent in our new home town even though I spent the prior forty years dealing in land and housing. The agent had the time and knowledge to look where I should have been looking, the understanding of what properties were not worth looking at in relation to our goals and the ability to judge whether any particular property was reasonably priced for the market. In addition, agents talk to each other. A lot. A prime property may come on the market on one day and be scooped up by a savvy buyer the next. Yes, even in these days. The "Good Old Boys Network" really works.

Lastly, a Buyer's Agent is looking out specifically for you. There is no divided loyalty. That helps put a BS Filter in place. I would do it again.
posted by Old Geezer at 7:30 PM on April 16, 2010

zeikka, I favorited your post about the economic incentive for buyer's agents to recommend FSBI properties (not having to split the commission), but when you suggest:
It's thievery, immoral, etc. but as buyer you can benefit from it.
... you're way overstating it. It's tricky marketing, at worst, but not dishonest. You aren't misrepresenting anything; the buyer has a responsibility to make sure they want the property. If they do, I don't care if they've been shown 50 other houses, or just mine: they're happy and my house is sold.

Old Geezer, however, said something much more naive, IMO:
Lastly, a Buyer's Agent is looking out specifically for you. There is no divided loyalty.

Wrong wrong wrong. I know that realtors tell you this. It's BS. A Buyer's Agent is specifically looking out for themselves. They want a happy client, sure, but if it's a choice between a slightly less happy client, or no sale at all, 95% of the realtors in the world will push the sale.

The buyer is the ONLY one who truly has undivided loyalty to the buyer. Don't confuse legal requirements with real-world motivations.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:25 PM on April 16, 2010

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