Buying or selling a house is one of the most complicated and expensive financial transactions that most people will experience in their lives. On top of that, as a major life turning-point, it’s a process fraught with emotions, stress, and incredibly high stakes. Going through that process on your own and without expert help is a tremendous risk.
A licensed realtor can help guide you on the journey towards buying or selling a home. They have the expertise to make sure you avoid pitfalls, fill out all the right paperwork, and follow every step that you need to. If they belong to the National Association of Realtors (legally, only agents who do belong to the NAR can refer to themselves as “realtors”), they are also bound by a written code of ethics and a fiduciary duty that obliges them to be ethical, confidential, and always put your interests ahead of their own. In addition, as a professional, a realtor can provide an objective, dispassionate, and critical perspective on your buying or selling situation.
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There’s also the bottom line to think of: if you’re a seller, you might be tempted to list your property without going through an agent in order to save on the commission cost, but a 2017 study found that for-sale-by-owner properties typically sold for 30% less than comparable agent-listed properties. That’s much more money than the commission would cost. In addition, a home sold by a professional agent will typically find a buyer in half the time as a similar home sold only by the owner.
Here are some of the other reasons you should hire a realtor if you are buying or selling a home, and some of the qualities that you should specifically check for when you begin looking at which realtor you want to hire.
Knowledge and Experience
The most essential quality in a realtor is their knowledge of the kinds of properties you’re looking to buy or sell, the sales process, and the community. You probably know the basics of what you’re looking for—how many bedrooms, for example, or the total square footage. A good agent looks beyond the obvious information available in a listing, though, and will know how to check a house for things you might miss and ask questions you might not even know you should ask. They will be able to find you detailed information about the neighborhood, zoning, demographics, schools, crime, and comparable homes on the market in the area.
A professional realtor has access to data that non-professionals don’t have. They can research historical data about a property and about pricing on similar properties. They can walk through a home and provide you with an objective visual evaluation to tell you if the property is priced fairly. And with their knowledge of the area and real estate trends, they can help you understand whether buying the house is a sound investment for the future.
Perhaps most crucially, a realtor can take you to step by step through the complicated and often prolonged process of closing. They will know what forms you will need, how to complete them, and when. In addition, they know the federal, state, and local laws and regulations that are relevant to your transaction, as well as the inspection requirements for the property. This is particularly important because making an error in the closing process or neglecting to abide by certain laws or regulations can actually end up delaying the sale or even costing much more money in the long run.
If you’re selling a house, it’s especially important that you hire a realtor with strong marketing skills. Selling a property takes a great deal of time and effort, and an effective realtor will be willing and able to put in the work necessary to make sure that the property gets as much exposure as possible. They will know how to list the property in an attractive way, how to stage the property, how to host open houses, and how to spread the word through print and digital media, including on social media, by email, with postcards, and so forth. As your agent, they can take responsibility for showings, so you don’t have to be on-call at all hours or at the last minute.
Beyond being able to connect you directly with buyers, sellers, and other agents, realtors who have been working in their area for a while will have a deep bench of professionals who will be essential to you across the many different stages of buying or selling a house. These include mortgage lenders, inspectors, insurers, appraisers, lawyers, contractors, moving companies, and more. In some cases, realtors will even be able to secure your discounted rates on a professional’s fees. The network of professional contacts that a good realtor can provide is itself well worth the cost of hiring the realtor in the first place, especially if you are new to a community or moving from out-of-town.
If there is one thing that anyone who has bought or sold a house knows, it is that inevitably an unexpected problem or challenge will emerge—sometimes, more than one. An experienced realtor will have encountered similar problems, perhaps even the exact same problem, in the past and will be in the best position to help you work through it. They are also trained to think critically, handle the unexpected with calm and deliberation, and improvise strategically around the unanticipated. A good realtor pays attention to details and is ready with a contingency plan for when something goes wrong that you might not have even thought to consider.
A good realtor is a people-person—someone able to make you and the other people involved with your home-buying or home-selling process feel at ease. Lots of people make the mistake of thinking that realtors mainly work with properties when the truth is that they mainly work with people. Hiring a realtor to work with you on buying or selling a home means having a resource always at hand to answer a phone call with a last-minute question, respond to an email with just the right document, or walk through the streets with you to gauge the quality of the neighborhood. A good realtor will proactively stay in touch with you every step of the way. If you’re selling, your realtor is a 24-7 sales representative for your interests, able to field inquiries and recognize the most promising leads.
Whether they’re buying or selling, at the core of being an effective real estate agent is being an effective negotiator. A professional realtor understands how to get the best possible deal for their client. They have the experience to recognize when the other side is in a strong position or a weak position, to manage competition to your advantage, and to respond to cut-throat tactics. These skills are especially important in today’s aggressive market, where bidding wars are not uncommon. And because they are required to adhere to their professional code of ethics, realtors are able to serve as a dispassionate advocate for your interests, ideally situated to approach any deal with an analytical eye towards the outcome. Without a realtor as your advocate in negotiations, you run the potentially costly risk of letting other parties take advantage of your emotions or anxieties.
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