Blog is summarized from article originally posted on L.A. Times March 22, 2022.

In the modern age, it can be tempting to skip using a real estate agent when buying your home and navigate the market yourself. Although the DIY world online is alive and thriving, there is still an abundance of reasons why it’s smarter to seek out an agent. As a buyer, you have nothing to lose because most contracts stipulate that the seller pays the commission for the buyer’s agent.

WHAT REAL ESTATE AGENTS CAN PROVIDE

Market Wisdom

Sure, the neighborhood you’re eyeing just got a new vegan bakery and a coffee shop where you can bring your dog, but does that mean home prices will appreciate? Any good agent will understand the market and, using MLS data, discern whether it’s a good idea to invest in an area.

  • Different agents have different tips and tricks too, and it’s worth at least knowing what they are. One, for example: “I would stay away from new listings,” said Hektor Castillo, an agent focusing on sales in the L.A. area who is active on TikTok and Instagram.
  • “My strategy to help first-time buyers is to show them properties that have been on the market for more than 20 days,” he said. “Properties that were just listed today will have multiple offers tomorrow. The competition will be intense.” 
  • Experienced agents can help you spot and manage things that seem too good to be true. Low prices meant to spur bidding wars are common. 

Making An Offer

With so much money at stake, home negotiations can be a brutal process, and in a market as competitive as California’s, you want an expert who has been there before and can respond credibly when offers and counteroffers go flying back and forth. If you try to negotiate with the seller’s agent yourself, they may haggle harder if they smell inexperience.

Negotiate Inspections

Price negotiations are one thing, but if multiple offers come in, the seller might start asking you to waive inspection or appraisal contingencies. It’s a risky move, but doing so might put your offer above the rest, and your agent can tell you whether it’s worth doing.

FINDING AN AGENT

Ultimately, a real estate agent works for you. Finding the right one can be overwhelming. Most buyers’ first impulse is to go with someone they know, such as a friend or family member. It makes sense; if you go with someone you can trust, you can be sure they have your best interest in mind. However, in a market as competitive as this one, you need to make sure your agent is an expert in whichever neighborhood you’re eyeing.

  • Beyond expertise, your agent should have connections. Compass agent Brent Chang picked up a client who said he’d written six offers, but none was accepted. With Chang, he submitted one offer, and it was accepted even though it was a bit lower than the others because Chang had worked with the seller’s agent before.
  • Finding an agent who checks all the boxes takes research. Use Google or a real estate listing site to search for agents based in a certain neighborhood, but also ask around. Go to open houses and talk to the agents you meet. See who your friends used and whether they had a good experience.
  • Another good strategy is to look at recent deals that closed in the neighborhood and find out which agents were involved. If you see names pop up more than once, those agents probably know what they’re doing. If no names are sticking out, ask friends or family for a recommendation.
  • “Your agent should have an ear to the ground in the specific market where you’re looking,” said Josh Altman, a Douglas Elliman agent and star of “Million Dollar Listing,”. “They should know everything coming to the market, everything being built, and every potential seller.”
  • With thousands of agents competing for business, many try to stand out on social media to get millennials’ attention — especially in a region as image-conscious as Southern California. Treat those platforms the way you would if you saw an agent in an ad or heard about them through friends: Do your research.
  • Follow the top agents in your area on their TikTok, Instagram or YouTube accounts, and look for evidence of how active they are and their client successes. Make sure the agents are selling their work instead of themselves.
  • Once you have some prospects, interview at least three
    1. Ask them about the market. 
    2. Ask them what you can expect in your price range. 
    3. Ask them how many other clients they have. 
    4. Ask them whether you’ll be dealing with them or one of their assistants. 
    5. Ask them how they’ll make your offer stand out from other buyers’.

If you’re satisfied with an agent’s answers, and you connect on a personal level, then you’re good to go.

NOTE: Real estate agents make money only when you buy a home, and a bad agent will try to rush you through the process. If at any point you feel pressure from an agent to make an offer or accept an offer, walk away.

  • Bad agents might also try to make you choose a certain home based on how much commission they receive. Different listings have different commissions for your agent; one home might promise 2% but another might offer 3%. 
  • If you’re choosing between a few different homes, ask your agent how much commission is at stake for each one.

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