On the path to home ownership, there may seem to be as many important steps as there are potential roadblocks. Making bids on a listing, going to auction, completing escrow paperwork, facilitating inspections, getting appraisals, and simply finding potential homes in the first place aren’t always easy tasks for first-time home buyers. You might be looking for first time home buyer tips, a mortgage broker, or a real estate professional to help you during the home buying process.
So, while it's just as important to line up a potential lender to help you finance the purchase of your first home, the most important step in the process is finding a buyer’s agent to assist and represent you on the arduous journey toward first home ownership.
Once you understand how agents within the real estate system work and how to find one that’s right for you, many of those other steps become a walk in the park instead of a frustrating hedge maze built seemingly to confuse and trick you.
What Does a Buyer’s Agent Do (And Why Do I Need One)?
A buyer’s agent is an expert in helping potential homeowners find and buy their next residence. They prioritize the buyer, representing the interests of their client and helping to navigate everything from home inspections to purchase negotiations.
Here are just a few services a buyer’s agent will provide:
- Help finding the perfect listings– Who better to help identify the best spots than someone who’s dedicated their career to understanding the pros and cons of each neighborhood, as well as the qualities of the local real estate market, than an agent?
- Scheduling property viewings – Agents make it a priority to get you touring those properties ASAP. The current housing market is more hectic than ever, where sales close within days, if not hours. An agent’s connections ensure you won’t get left behind.
- Negotiation during biddings – Why enter into a tense negotiation with an opposing expert when you can have one of your own to back you up? Without an agent, it may be challenging to advocate for your interests, especially if it involves nuances of the real estate process you aren’t familiar with.
- Facilitating inspections and appraisals – Before a sale can be finalized, various different infrastructural and governmental inspections must be negotiated. Anyone who’s seen their afternoon disappear at the DMV knows the government isn’t quite known for its speed or efficiency. An agent can make this mind-numbing process much more comfortable.
- Assistance with establishing and transferring to an escrow – An escrow is a neutral party that holds deposits and payments until negotiations are met and the sale closes. An important part after having your offer accepted is making a Good Faith Deposit into an escrow account. Without this properly set up, you’ll be unable to close on an offer.
- Help with all the paperwork – Throughout this process, there will be many pieces of paperwork and forms to fill out, sign, and file, all of which will be for many different people, organizations, and institutions. It’s a lot to keep track of, and any one mistake can mean redrafting or resigning. An agent lets you focus your attention on the homes, not all the paperwork and jargon that come with buying them.
- Guidance with the lending process – More than likely you’ll be financing the purchase of your first home using loans, unless you’re a high roller who can pay the full amount with cold hard cash. Agents are well aware of the complicated mortgage system and interest rates, and can help you close with a strong down payment (which means lower interest).
Another potential benefit of working with a buyer's agent is their knowledge of "off market" property listings. But what does off market mean? While this term can mean houses that are no longer for sale, for agents, the term also refers to properties that are for sale but not placed on the typical listing services.
This can mean the sale is meant to be private, or that agents quickly jump on good opportunities and deals before they are posted on the multiple listing service (MLS) thanks to their inside knowledge. For this reason alone, it’s great to have an agent because you too gain access to all these unlisted opportunities. In many cases, off market deals are a lot cheaper, especially since the listing doesn’t make it to a wider market or enter into heated bidding wars.
Even better? Working with a buyer's agent for all of the above benefits won’t cost you a penny (technically speaking).
How Does a Buyer’s Agent Get Paid?
Now that you’re (hopefully) more open to the idea of finding an agent, time for more brass tacks. How much will this real estate professional cost you?
Buyer’s agents are actually compensated by the seller (a.k.a. not you).
A buyer’s agent’s fees are already baked into the price you will be paying for the property through the seller’s closing costs (we outline this more thoroughly in our other article, “Buyer’s Agents In Real Estate”). Long story short, closing costs for agents are covered by the seller, who then includes them in the overall listing price. After closing, these commissions may go entirely to the seller’s agent, or are split between all agents involved.
Another selling point for utilizing the skills of a buyer’s agent? Buyer’s agents only get paid after a sale closes, which means they’re highly dedicated throughout the entire process and deeply invested in making sure that a deal proceeds quickly, smoothly, and above all, to your benefit. Just be aware that if you end up working with multiple buyer’s agents, only the one who helps you write the offer will end up making money off the sale.
The takeaway? If you don’t take advantage of an agent’s expertise, you aren’t actually getting all that you’re paying for when you buy a home.
If you were in a legal dispute, you wouldn't go to court and defend yourself unrepresented without a lawyer to guide you, would you? (Assuming you're not an attorney.) Well, that's the equivalent of going into a home purchase without having a buyer's agent on your side.
When Should I Start Working With An Agent?
The best time to find and start working with an agent is right away, especially when considering how quickly available properties are selling, plus all the homes for sale that you can’t go see on your own. An agent can also help you figure out where you want to stay or travel to in a particular city if you aren’t from the area, making your travel plans much easier. Starting right away also prevents you from making any mistakes early on, which could come back to bite you later in the process.
However, you want to make sure you do a few things first before settling on an agent:
- Check with a lender to get pre-approved for a mortgage and determine your budget. This will help narrow down your search for potential homes.
- Have a clear idea of the area you want to buy—buyer's agents tend to specialize in specific neighborhoods. They can offer you more guidance on where to look and better negotiating power if you work with someone who is a local expert and knows the market trends in that area.
- Ask for references—specifically the number and types of homes the agent has sold recently—alongside the contact information of previous clients to see if they had good experiences with the agent. You can also ask your agent if they can recommend any local home service professionals, such as lenders, home inspectors, moving companies, cleaning, and home repair pros.
- Carefully inspect your contract with the agent. Sometimes, buyer’s agents want exclusivity contracts, which mean they receive a commission from you even if they don’t write your offer. (NOTE: when you use Dwellful's agent finder to connect with an agent, you are not locked in to any exclusivity contracts and can switch agents if you're ever unhappy.)
How Do I Find a Buyer’s Agent?
A buyer’s agent is someone who you’ll rely on to understand your goals, your finances, and your dream for your next home. It’s a position of immense trust and requires exceptional communication.
A few ways to find a buyer’s agent include:
- Asking friends and family for personal referrals – Word of mouth is a powerful tool, even in today’s digital age. However, keep in mind that the buyer’s agent who worked with your favorite coworker might not be the best fit for you. Keep a grain-of-salt approach when meeting with referred agents and try not to be disappointed if their personality or expertise doesn’t line up with your needs. Also, if it doesn't work out, do you want to have to break the news to your work spouse that you didn't like the agent they recommended?
- Checking out classified ads, or searching online for a real estate company – Usually, these company websites include a list of their agents, and from there you’ll be able to contact them directly if they look like a good match. However, there are so many brokerages out there, it can be hard to sift through all your options and find the right match for you, especially as a first time buyer.
Finding a buyer’s agent might seem as difficult as finding your dream home in a seller’s market. But it doesn’t have to be. You need a database of trusted, local real estate agents who have proven experience in your area and come with a little cash incentive.
You need Dwellful.
Find Your Dream Buyer’s Agent (and Soon, Dream Home) with Dwellful
Hands down the best way to find a buyer’s agent is by working with a real estate agent matching service, like Dwellful.
Whether you’re a home buyer or a home seller, we help connect you with top performing agents from brokerages across the United States, guaranteed to perfectly suit your needs. An experienced agent is here to help you during the home buying process and to answer any questions you may have, from "how can I find a mortgage lender?" to "how long is the home buying process?"
The best part? We charge no fees for our services, and if you can believe it, we actually pay you after closing. Our network of partnered agents recognizes our commitment to finding them highly qualified clients, and a portion of the referral fees we receive go to you in the form of cash back after closing, no strings attached. Whether you're looking for a seller's agent, a listing agent, or a buyer's agent, find the right real estate agent for you with Dwellful’s agent finder!