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Regardless of whether you’re buying or selling a home, chances are you’ll be working closely with a real estate agent. But if you don’t have an agent yet, you might find yourself wondering what exactly a real estate agent does and whether you really need one.
We’ll explain what real estate agents are, what they do and the different types of agents. We’ll finish with some tips on finding a real estate agent, so you’ll know what to look for if you decide to use one.
What Is a Real Estate Agent?
Real estate agents are licensed professionals who help people buy and sell properties. They can help by negotiating price, handling offers, and performing research and administrative duties. (We’ll go into more detail about their duties below.)
Real estate agents get paid on commissions. In other words, when a deal closes, they take a small percentage of it.
Realtor® vs. real estate agent
People often refer to real estate agents as Realtors®. While used interchangeably in casual conversation, there’s actually an important difference.
A Realtor® is a licensed real estate agent who’s an active member of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR). It’s a trademarked term, and in order to use it, the agent must be a member. However, you can be a licensed real estate agent without being a member of the NAR.
As a member of the NAR, a Realtor® is held to its membership standards, which includes a code of ethics. They also have access to their network and member resources.
What Do Real Estate Agents Do?
A real estate agent’s duties will change depending on whether their client is searching for a home to buy or trying to sell their home.
If the agent represents a buyer, they’ll focus on finding properties and preparing offers. If they’re representing a seller, they’ll be preparing the home, listing it and accepting offers. Either way, there’s plenty of administrative paperwork they’ll take care of.
We’ve listed some responsibilities based on who the agent is representing.
A buyer’s agent represents someone who’s looking to purchase property. Here are some common responsibilities their agent will tackle.
- Helping secure financing: Real estate agents have connections, and if you’re overwhelmed by choosing a mortgage lender, they can help you refine your search.
- Finding properties: Your real estate agent can be a great resource for finding properties. According to the NAR, 29% of home buyers found the home they purchased through their agent. They also have access to the multiple listing service (MLS), an invaluable resource for house hunting.
- Scheduling viewings: Your real estate agent should be your point of contact for setting up viewing appointments. If you’re interested in seeing a property, they’ll reach out to the listing agent to schedule private showings and get information on open houses.
- Networking: Agents can learn things about a property that don’t make it into the listing. For example, maybe the sellers don’t have their next home ready, so a rent-back agreement would make your offer more appealing. Maybe they care about who lives in the home after them, so a personal letter with the offer might help. Good real estate agents never stop working for information.
- Preparing and submitting offers: If your offer is accepted, it becomes a legally binding agreement. This means there’s a lot of paperwork and signatures involved. Your real estate agent will take on these administrative duties, in addition to advising you on how much to offer.
- Providing referrals: A lot goes into closing on a house. Your real estate agent can help you set up the home inspection and appraisal – and help with the negotiations that result from them.
- Being a trusted partner: A professional real estate agent can go through this process hundreds of times. The average person won’t do it nearly that often. You should be able to lean on their expertise and trust their judgment. Their knowledge of the local market will also prove invaluable.
You’ll need to sign a buyer’s agreement to work with a real estate agent. This is a contract that specifies how long you’ll work together, their commission and other terms.
Keep in mind that the buying agent’s commission is usually paid by the home seller.
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A seller’s agent represents someone who’s looking to sell their property. Here are some common responsibilities the agent will tackle. You’ll notice a few of them are the same as for buyer’s agents.
- Pricing the home: It can be challenging to determine how much your home is worth. A real estate agent will use their research and expertise to help you set a price that doesn’t leave money on the table – but also doesn’t scare off potential buyers.
- Creating the listing: Your real estate agent will take care of posting the property to the MLS, including a strong write-up.
- Staging and photographing the home: According to the NAR, 95% of home buyers use the internet to search for homes. That means the importance of good photos can’t be overstated. A real estate agent will help set up professional photography of your home and stage it.
- Marketing the home: Your real estate agent will help get the word out that your house is on the market. This can include social media, real estate websites, open houses and advertisements.
- Scheduling showings: Whether they’re coordinating with a buyer’s agent to schedule showings for an interested party or setting up open houses, a listing agent will be the point of contact for these interactions.
- Networking: Informal communication can be beneficial to both buyers and sellers. You never know what information could be passed from one agent to another that unlocks the key to getting a deal done.
- Handling offers: Your real estate agent will guide you through the nuances of getting an offer or multiple offers. For example, maybe the offer values are the same, but the due diligence and earnest money values are different. They’ll also coordinate communication with the offering parties.
- Being a trusted partner: Having someone you can rely on to give sound advice when negotiations are heated is a critical function of a good real estate agent. Whether you’re buying or selling, it’s important to work with an agent you can trust.
It’s common to enter an exclusive right to sell agreement with your listing real estate agent. This means you can’t hire another agent to try to sell your home for the duration of the agreement.
A dual agent is a real estate agent who represents both the buyer and the seller in a deal. Their responsibilities would be a combination of the lists above.
Dual agency isn’t recommended, and it’s actually illegal in some states. This is because it can be difficult – if not impossible – for agents to prioritize their clients’ needs when they have directly opposed interests.
Benefits of Using a Real Estate Agent
There are several advantages to using a real estate agent, including access to their local knowledge, expertise and resources. You’ll also save some time, since your agent will take a lot of tasks off your plate.
As an added benefit, you’ll involve someone in the decision making process who has some emotional distance from the transaction. Both purchasing and selling a home involves large quantities of money, and the decisions you make can have life-altering ramifications. It helps to have someone in your corner who you can trust.
Some people are tempted to list a property for sale by owner (FSBO) to avoid paying a commission to the selling agent. While this is a viable strategy, real estate agents help with virtually every step of the buying and selling process – as you can see from the lists above.
Tips for Finding a Real Estate Agent To Work With
It’s worth taking the time to find a real estate agent you can build a professional relationship with. Here are some tips to help get you started on your search.
- Ask around: Everybody needs a place to live. People are often buying and selling homes, which means they’re likely interacting with real estate agents. Getting recommendations from friends and family can be a great starting point.
- Decide what you want: Are you interested in apartment living or do you need a large yard? Real estate agents have different areas of expertise. So based on the property type you’re interested in buying or listing, different agents might be a better fit.
- Interview them: It’s worth taking time to meet potential real estate agents and get to know them. Try to get a feel for their knowledge and how well you’ll get along. You should get a sense for if you can trust them. Plus, it helps to like the people you’ll be working with.
It’s possible to buy a house without using a real estate agent. It’s also possible to sell a house without using a real estate agent. Keep in mind that you’ll be in complete control of your side of the process. This comes with complete responsibility, including all the paperwork.
Real estate agents get paid off of commissions. They only get paid if the deal goes through, meaning you actually close on the house.
Real estate agents need to have strong social skills, as they interact with a lot of people. They also need to be good negotiators, which comes in handy when dealing with offers. They should also be detail-oriented and have good research skills.
Real Estate Agents Work for You
Real estate agents can be involved with virtually every aspect of the home buying process. They can help lift a lot of the load and give you extra time back in your day.
Don’t forget, when it comes to real estate agents, you’re the boss. While they should be a trusted partner who gives sound advice, you’re the ultimate decision maker.
The Short Version
- Real estate agents are licensed professionals who help people buy and sell properties
- A buyer’s agent represents people interested in purchasing property, while a seller’s agent (aka listing agent) helps people sell their property
- An agent’s duties will change based on who they represent, but they’re often responsible for market research, handling offers, negotiations and administrative paperwork
National Association of REALTORS®. “Quick Real Estate Statistics.” Retrieved March 2023 from https://www.nar.realtor/research-and-statistics/quick-real-estate-statistics
National Association of REALTORS®. “2022 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends Report.” Retrieved March 2023 from https://www.nar.realtor/sites/default/files/documents/2022-home-buyers-and-sellers-generational-trends-03-23-2022.pdf