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When you're applying for mortgage preapproval, a loan officer might mention you could get money back at closing by using one of the lender’s partner real estate agents. Or if you're looking to sell, you might have seen iBuyers and other real estate companies offer incentives to use an affiliated agent to buy your next house.
What's the deal with all of these affiliate networks? Will they save you time, money or both? Let's take a closer look.
What is a real estate agent network?
A real estate agent network is a referral service that connects potential home buyers and sellers with real estate agents. Some agent networks, like Clever, are more or less standalone services. Others, like Rocket Homes, have relationships with mortgage lenders; Rocket Homes is a sibling company to Rocket Mortgage.
Some agent networks — like Clever and Rocket — partner with agents who work for a variety of brokerages. Others, like Redfin, employ some of their own agents and partner with others. With these partnerships, the agent pays a percentage of their commission to the network in exchange for being handed a client.
In some cases, you'll answer a brief survey or questionnaire before being presented with potential real estate agents. In others, you'll provide your contact information or speak with a representative on the phone, then be connected directly to an agent. It's certainly faster than researching and interviewing agents on your own, but there are trade-offs.
Before you agree to use an agent referral service, find out what happens if you want to switch to a different network agent or if you decide you'd rather find an agent on your own. You don't want to be stuck in a bad relationship with your real estate agent.
Pros of using a real estate agent network
If you're trying to sell a home fast or looking for a way to save a few bucks, a real estate agent network could help. Here are some of the potential pluses.
Seamless transaction. Working with an agent who’s affiliated with a mortgage lender could make buying or selling a smoother experience. Agents who regularly work with a specific lender may have more open lines of communication with loan officers and underwriters, which can help during the closing process. Companies that offer agent referrals may also connect you to other real estate services, which could save you time — and you may be offered discounts.
Help in a hot market. Agent networks that are connected with iBuyers or other real estate companies often offer programs that can give buyers a leg up in a competitive market — for example, making an all-cash offer on your behalf or providing an appraisal guarantee. Both of these allow buyers to limit contingencies.
Hands-off assistance. Say you inherited a home or got a job offer in another state. A referral network could help you quickly find an agent who can take care of the transaction if you can't always be there in person.
Cost savings. Usually, money is the biggest selling point for a real estate agent referral network. Because networks guarantee business for agents, they're often able to negotiate lower commissions for sellers. (Though your costs as a seller will still include the buyer's agent commission.) For home buyers, agent networks generally offer a credit at closing as an incentive.
The details — and whether they're in your favor — depend on the company and your needs as a buyer or seller. If you're already pretty committed to a specific lender and using a buyer's agent in their network could lower your closing costs, that might be a win-win.
Cons of using a real estate agent network
Leaving your choice of agent up to a referral network isn't for everyone. If you're a first-time home buyer and need someone who's willing to really put in the time to provide guidance and expertise, consider searching for and interviewing a buyer's agent on your own. Here are some potential downsides to using a referral network.
Less autonomy. Some agent networks are parts of parent companies that are trying to own every piece of the homebuying journey and to take full advantage of their benefits, you have to use their service providers. Some buyers and sellers find this convenience worthwhile. But if by default you're opting in to using the agent network's preferred lender, title company and so on, you might not be getting the best service or the best deal.
Lack of transparency. It can be difficult to find out whether and how real estate agent networks vet their partner agents. A valid real estate license is a common requirement, but that's setting the bar fairly low.
Limited availability. If you live in a state where numerous agent networks operate — California is a prime example — you can compare your options. But in other states, your choices may be limited. Additionally, buyer commission rebates (an incentive that's usually presented as closing credits for home buyers) are illegal in nine states.
Fine print. A lender or real estate company might toss out various sums and percentages that sound like they'll add up to considerable savings. But before you get too excited, make sure you understand which of their programs or discounts you can actually use. In some cases, they might show you all of their savings options — but not all of them can be used together.
If you're interested in discounts or special programs, consider whether other methods might save you more money while giving you greater autonomy. For example, if you're a first-time buyer looking to save on closing costs, an agent network's rebate program may be enticing. But you could also dig into local and state first-time home buyer programs that offer down payment assistance or grants.
» MORE: Ways to save for a down payment