While most buyers choose to work with agents, it is not required in all states for an agent to represent you in the purchase or sale of a home. In Washington state, if you choose to go it solo, you may work alone. As a buyer, there are many potential benefits to working with an agent, but you must weigh those benefits against the fee for the agent’s services.
It may seem that a buyer does not pay for the agent’s services, but those services are worked into the price of the home. In a typical real estate transaction, 5% to 6% of the purchase price goes to pay for the agents representing the seller and the buyer. So, if a 6% total commission is paid on a $100,000 home, that means the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent split the commission to earn 3% each, or $3,000, totaling a commission of $6,000.
If you were buying a home as an unrepresented buyer, and the seller also chose not to work with an agent, then there is extra wiggle room available for negotiating the purchase price. If you choose not to work with an agent, you could potentially save thousands of dollars or get a nicer home for the same price.
Mr. Wetzel and I decided to work with Heidi Waltos as our agent for the following reasons:
Heidi used to have a business with her sister in which they flipped homes. That means they’d buy a property for a low price, fix it up or do needed repairs, then sell it for a higher price. Mr. Wetzel and I have no experience with household repairs, so we relied heavily on Heidi to give us a general idea of which repairs might be manageable, and which repairs would be too much for us to handle as new homeowners.
Heidi helped train us to look for certain indicators of deeper problems (example: when the ceiling is patched in a certain way, is can be evidence of water damage and a major leaking problem). She also helped confirm our suspicions that certain problems were simply cosmetic or easily fixed (example: one house with massive smoke damage was ugly, but simply needed a good cleaning and a paint job).
Ease of Access
Most homes for sale are listed by agents, and most of these homes have keyboxes. Agents have a special electronic key that grants them access to the house without the owner or listing agent needing to be present for an appointment. Mr. Wetzel and I knew we were going to look at a lot of houses in the search for a property that was priced right but still in livable condition. It was more convenient for us to meet Heidi for an afternoon and look at a few houses at once with her than it would have been to make separate appointments with each owner.
Unfamiliarity with the Process
Mr. Wetzel and I had never purchased a home before. I wanted to be able to walk through the process with someone who knew what they were doing so that I could learn along the way and possibly have the option of working solo in the future. In part, I am writing my blog to share these experiences so that other new homeowners don’t have to be as clueless as we were. It was also helpful to get leads on professionals who work in the real estate industry from someone who has experience with them. We received multiple referrals from Heidi for possible inspectors, repairmen and cleaners that we needed to use in our housebuying process.
There are things you may not need an agent for, and there are things an agent is not permitted to help you with.
Online Home Searches
We never used Heidi to suggest a home to us. Mr. Wetzel and I enjoyed looking at homes online, and we knew that we’d have a better idea of what we wanted than Heidi would. We’d use public websites to come up with a list of homes; I’d do a drive by to see the neighborhood, then we’d email Heidi a list of homes we wanted to tour on the inside. Because we were so involved in the searching stage, it helped Mr. Wetzel and I become more confident that we wanted our current home once we found it. There is a lot of satisfaction to be gained from taking ownership of the process.
When you submit an offer to a seller, the offer is typically written on a form called a Purchase and Sale Agreement. These agreements are intended to protect the rights of the agents just as much as they are intended to facilitate the sale of a property, and these forms are typically created by the local MLSs of which the agents are members. An agent is permitted to fill out the forms for their buyers but they are not permitted to offer advice on the forms. Only a licensed real estate attorney can offer advice about a real estate form.
It is always a good idea to have an attorney look over your paperwork, especially if you’re concerned about protecting your rights in the transaction. Legal advice doesn’t have to be expensive: there are many flat-fee real estate attorneys available. While Mr. Wetzel and I chose not to work with an attorney this time, if we ever buy another house, we’d strongly consider employing the services of a real estate attorney instead of those of a real estate agent because the attorneys are often cheaper and they offer more protection during the actual transaction.
If you are new to the homebuying process, it may be intimidating to buy a house without someone holding your hand. Keep in mind, it’s always a good idea to know what you expect from your agent and to communicate those expectations. Mr. Wetzel and I are glad we worked with Heidi. We learned a lot about homes and the buying process. We toured at dozens of homes with Heidi and made 3 separate offers before we ended up with our current home. Heidi was definitely worth her commission.