The home buying journey follows an exciting but often challenging road. A good buyer's agent can help you steer clear of obstacles, ride out the bumps and reach your destination.
Here's what you need to know to find a good buyer's real estate agent.
What is a buyer's agent?
A buyer's agent is a real estate professional who represents the purchaser's interests in a real estate transaction.
A home buyer's agent finds suitable properties for sale based on your goals and price range and guides you through the complex process of negotiating with listing agents and sellers to get the best deal.
Most traditional real estate agents work with both buyers and sellers, although usually an agent represents either the buyer or the seller in a single transaction. When representing a buyer, an agent has a legal responsibility to act in their best interests.
What is an exclusive buyer's agent?
An exclusive home buyer's agent represents only buyers and never sellers. With an exclusive buyer's agent, you never have to worry about a conflict of interest due to the agent or the agent's brokerage representing the other side.
Beware of dual agency
Some states allow "dual agency," in which an agent represents both the buyer and the seller in the same transaction. Avoid this arrangement if you want someone to negotiate on your behalf to get the best deal.
Sometimes dual agency can refer to two agents from the same brokerage representing a buyer and seller. And in some states, other terms are used to describe agents who work with both the buyer and seller but do not have a fiduciary responsibility to either, such as transactional agent or facilitator.
The terms used to describe agents and their responsibilities vary by state and can be confusing. To cut through lingo, ask a prospective agent if they will represent only your interests (not the seller's) throughout the home buying process, and request a written description of the relationship.
What a buyer's real estate agent does
A buyer's agent guides you through the home buying process — from house hunting to closing. Among other things, a good buyer’s agent will:
Find homes for sale: A good agent will help you understand the type of home you can afford in the current market, find listed homes that match your needs and price range, and then help you narrow the options to the properties worth considering.
Help you make offers: After you've found a home you want to buy, your agent will advise you on how much to offer and what contingencies to include in the contract, based on the property and an analysis of the market. A good agent will explain the contract terms, answer your questions and walk you through each step of the process.
Negotiate with the seller: The agent will inform you of the seller's response to your offer and advise you on the next steps, such as whether to accept a seller's counteroffer or negotiate on price and terms.
Refer you to other professionals: A buyer’s agent can refer you to other professionals, such as home inspectors, real estate attorneys and movers.
» MORE: Home affordability calculator
How a buyer's agent gets paid
The seller usually pays the real estate agent's commission, which is split between the listing agent and the buyer's agent. A typical real estate commission is 5% to 6% of the home sale price.
How to find a buyer's agent
Shop for a lender and get preapproved for a mortgage before you select a real estate agent. A mortgage preapproval is a letter from a lender showing the loan amount and terms you qualify for. Getting preapproved shows real estate agents and sellers that you're a serious buyer.
Once you have a preapproval letter, it's time to look for an agent. Here's how to find one:
Ask for agent referrals from people you trust. If you're moving to a new city, request referrals from any contacts you have there. Future colleagues can point you in the right direction if you're relocating for a new job, for example.
» MORE: How to buy a house sight unseen
Check experience and training
Look for a full-time, licensed real estate agent who demonstrates a commitment to professionalism. How many years has the agent been in business, and what professional training and certifications have they completed? Is the agent involved with local real estate organizations? Experience, training and strong professional ties in the community enable an agent to negotiate effectively on your behalf.
Interview agents and check references
Here are some topics to address:
Communication and working style: How will the agent communicate with you? Will you work directly with the agent or with the agent's assistants? These details reveal a lot about working styles, so you can choose the agent with an approach that fits your needs.
House hunting: How will the agent find listed homes in your price range? Ask how the agent helped other buyers like you find homes.
Making offers and negotiating: How will the agent help you make competitive offers and negotiate with sellers? What challenges will you face in today's market? A good agent will set realistic expectations.
Request the names of clients who recently purchased a home and contact those customers to learn how satisfied they were.
Choose the right buyer's agent for you
An agent may have all the qualifications on paper to be successful but might not be right for you. Whether you're a first-time home buyer or buying your third house, note how you feel when interacting.
Does the agent's communication style mesh with yours? Is this someone you could trust to look out for your interests? Good rapport matters as much as the agent's experience and competence.