Do you really need a real estate agent?
You’ve spent hours in bed scrolling through home listings on your phone. Your thumb is sore from swiping, and your eyes are strained from all that blue light exposure. Stuck in the world of digital house-hunting, which feels like a strange convergence of dating apps and online shopping, you obsessively refresh your feed in hopes of uncovering new listings while pondering if you really need granite countertops or if you’re brave enough for a kitchen remodel.
You’ve played with monthly mortgage calculators and you have a loose grasp on your budget. And then, all of a sudden, you find a home that feels like the perfect fit—it’s in a neighborhood you love, it’s within your budget, and it seems to check every box on your “non-negotiables” list.
This is the moment the home search shifts and what was once a lofty dream seems within reach. This is also the moment when you realize you don’t want to brave this process alone. Take it from these recent first-time homebuyers:
“It’s integral to have someone on your side helping you understand the process. It’s literally another language.” - Sophie Johnson
“We didn’t know anything about buying a home.” - Katherine Tulloch
“I had no clue of what was the first thing to do in purchasing or even searching for a home.” - Olga Corona
Buying a home always presents a unique set of challenges, whether it’s your first or sixth, but the task can be particularly daunting for first-time homebuyers. Even if you know the real estate market well, the world of homebuying is swirling with people, paperwork, payments, and protocols that you’ve likely never encountered until this moment. Trying to make sense of it all alone is rarely a recipe for success.
But before we dive too deep into why it’s wise to have an experienced real estate agent in your corner, let’s address some prevalent misconceptions around agents and the role they play in the homebuying process.
Why do I need a real estate agent, anyway?
Some people think of real estate agents as the stereotypical car salesman’s close cousin— they’re pushy and salesy, they’re motivated by commission, and they put their own interests ahead of their clients.
While there certainly are agents in the world who fit this description, most agents genuinely want to help their clients find their dream home. If you choose the right agent, they can be invaluable in helping you navigate the homebuying process and will protect you and your interests if things get sticky or confusing.
Then, there’s the issue of payment.
“Who pays a real estate agent?! It was a mystery to us, and was a very awkward experience asking our agent,” says Kelsey Esqueda, who recently bought a home with her husband, Omar.
Often, first-time homebuyers forego an agent under the mistaken impression that using one costs them money. However, as a buyer, you are not responsible for paying your agent—their commission comes out of the sale price of the home.
This is another point where a bit of hesitancy may arise. After all, if an agent’s commission is connected to the sale price of a home, one may suspect that some agents might not aim for the lowest possible selling price for their buyers.
Recent homebuyer Paige Neuhaus reports such an experience with her agent.
“Nothing bad happened, I just feel like her advice to accept the offer from the seller may have been in her best interest more than ours.” Even so, Paige admits, “we could not have gotten our house without her. We were able to get in it before it went on the market and with six offers the day it went on the market, we needed her to help us.”
Because agents rely heavily on recommendations and referrals to grow their clientele, betraying their clients’ interests in favor of their own would be a losing strategy. Paige and her family know that purchasing their dream home might not have been possible without their agent; but since they suspected the agent was not acting in their best interest, the family is not likely to recommend that agent to a friend.
A seasoned real estate agent understands that their sole purpose is to secure the best possible house at the best possible price for their client, and that serving their client’s interests will inevitably lead to long-standing relationships and referrals.
So, while you definitely need a real estate agent, you still want to make sure you find the right one. We’ll touch on how to research a quality agent momentarily. Right now, let’s take a look at exactly where a quality real estate agent can make all the difference in the homebuying process.
What a Real Estate Agent Can Do for You
Recent homebuyers Jack and Cristina Squires recall losing out on a house they loved because they didn’t have the advice of an agent.
“The first home we put an offer on, we decided to offer way below the asking price, hoping it would spark negotiations. At the time it was a seller’s market in Dallas so that was a really dumb decision on our part—we didn’t have a real estate agent at that point. The sellers wouldn’t even negotiate with us because they felt our offer was too low.”
While Jack and Cristina did eventually enlist the help of an agent to find a home they love, finding an agent earlier in the process could have helped them avoid disappointment during their initial offer.
“Agents know the right questions to ask throughout the buying and selling process,” Neighborhoods.com agent John Bray says. “From submitting offers, negotiating home inspection items, or knowing contractors—they can save you money.”
Another Neighborhoods.com agent, Jen Gralitzer, seconds this notion.
“Buying a house without an agent is tremendously risky! Realtors help ensure homeowners disclose conditions that may adversely affect the value of the property, such as material defects. This could end up saving you thousands of dollars.”
And the opportunity to save time and money doesn’t stop with the purchase of a home.
“Most agents have ‘spheres of influence’ when it comes to contractors and repairs,” explains real estate agent, Matt Sienk. “You can save substantial amounts of money by getting repair bids from contractors recommended by agents.”
In addition to providing insight into the nuances of the homebuying process, agents who are experts in their area can provide important details about the neighborhoods and communities that influence your home search. They can also offer you peace of mind while making one of the biggest decisions of your life.
According to Gralitzer, “Realtors can remove a tremendous amount of stress” during the homebuying process and can serve as a “safe place” to talk through your decision.
But ultimately, your real estate agent’s primary role is to be your advocate during the homebuying process.
Neighborhoods.com agent Cameron Munro says:
“Their only purpose is to represent your best interests in a transaction. That’s it. When you have someone who is bound by the law to think of you first and make sure you are being protected and making informed and smart decisions, you get to focus on the important things in your purchase decision.”
What to Look For in a Real Estate Agent
While each buyer may have their own unique set of criteria they’re hoping to fill when finding an agent, three traits seem to top most homeshoppers’ lists: knowledge, timeliness, and trustworthiness.
“We wanted someone honest and responsive, who wasn't pushy.” - Cristina Squires
“I looked for experience and knowledge, initiative, and a friendly face.” - Olga Corona
“We wanted someone who would listen to our wants and budget, who was punctual and didn’t waste our time, and who made us feel comfortable.” - Katherine Tulloch
“Our agent needed to be knowledgeable, proactive, and helpful.” - Kelsey Esqueda
As a homebuyer, the world of real estate is only immediately relevant when you’re planning on buying or selling a home, but real estate agents inhabit that space on a daily basis and intimately understand its nuances. They serve as both your translator and travel guide as you traverse unknown territory. A good agent is able to help you avoid pitfalls and missteps that you might not have even realized you needed to be looking out for.
But as much as your agent needs to be knowledgeable, their expertise only benefits you if you trust them.
“Connection may be the biggest factor because as a buyer you want to be understood,” Bray says. “Buying doesn't have to be frustrating—work with an agent that you connect well with and it will make it a much better experience.”
Gralitzer seconds this suggestion. “Real estate is a highly emotional and intimate process,” she says. “Your agent will be your best friend for a few months to years depending on how long you work together. You should like them and trust them.”