Some house-hunters may think they are working with a buyer’s agent when, in reality, they’re actually dealing with a seller’s agent. Many buyers contact the agent listed with the property or walk into an open house thinking the agent is working in their favor, says Paul Howard, a buyer’s-only broker licensed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Some buyers may start working with an agent who has their interests in mind, but the house they want to buy is listed with the real-estate company the agent works for; at that point, buyers should have the option to find an agent not tied to the property.
Some seller’s agents may also discourage prospective buyers at the beginning of their search from seeking out a buyer’s agent. Commissions are already lower because of declining home values, and some would prefer not to split them, says Ginger Wilcox, head of training for buyer’s and seller’s agents at Trulia.com. “Agents are fighting for their commissions.”
Still, in many cases, buyers may be at an advantage when they work with a buyer’s agent, at least compared with relying on a seller’s agent for advice or guidance.
A seller’s agent is contractually obligated to help make the sale happen in the seller’s favor, often as close to the asking price as possible.
Buyer’s agents can also suggest home inspectors and financing companies they’ve worked with before, says David Kent, president of the National Buyer’s Agent Association; they’re not supposed to make money off the referrals.
When searching for a buyer’s agent, experts recommend putting a few through their paces first. The most helpful agents won’t just rely on what’s listed online, Vogel says. Instead, they might drive around a neighborhood looking for signs of properties that are for sale by owners or mail letters to existing homeowners alerting them to a buyer who’s interested in a similar property to theirs. And, by the time buyers enter a contract, their agent should be there to look for red flags.