Buyer Beware: Real Estate Agents are Loyal to the Seller
Many first time buyers are under the mistaken notion that the agent is working for them and has their best interest at heart. This misconception is perpetuated by the agent who is instantly the buyer’s best friend and is certain they will find the perfect house in a great neighborhood and for the right price.
The ugly reality is that the listing agent actually works for the seller. Their job is to find a buyer and close the deal. This is also a selfish endeavor since the agent does not get paid until the deal is done. Real estate commissions are a percentage of the final sale price on the property. The higher the sale price, the higher the agent’s commission.
Even armed with this information, some buyers will think that they lucked out and got a good agent because they came highly recommended by some co-worker’s cousin. This particular agent is honest and caring and really knowledgeable about the area and market. Yep, they all are.
While there are exceptions to every rule, the basic buyer/agent relationship goes a little like this:
Get Your Agent on Your Side
At the Beginning
When the buyer first signs that contract with the agent, things are all happy and melodious and the pair are great friends with things in common. The agent is certain that they will find exactly the right property in a great neighborhood for a reasonable price. Everybody is happy at this early stage; the buyer has money to spend on a house and the agent wants to sell him a house. Both parties are chomping at the bit to get the show on the road and complete the transaction as soon as possible.
Somewhere During the Search
After showing the buyer several homes the agent begins to tire of the charade and drops the pretense that he cares what the buyer really wants. It is at this point that the agent works on convincing the buyer that their standards are too high and their price point is too low. Wondering why this was not discussed back in the happy days of the relationship, the buyer reluctantly begins looking at higher priced properties.
How to Buy Your First Home
Time to Put in an Offer
This is the aspect of the house buying process that buyers find the most difficult. It is common for the buyer to trust completely in their agent’s ability to get the best price for them. This is the worst possible thing to do. The agent wants a quick negotiation with a high purchase price; this is what drives the agent’s commission. At this stage of the relationship, the agent is in direct opposition to the buyer and is now in a committed relationship with the seller, with whom the agent has a common goal: sell this house for top dollar.
Agents do not like buyers who are hard negotiators because the buyer who will walk away without a deal walks away with the agent’s commission. At this point the agent will begin to give the buyer all kinds of “friendly advice” on how to negotiate. Much of this advice should be ignored. Here are some examples of things the agent might say to “help” a buyer with their bid:
“If you bid too low it will offend the seller and they will refuse to negotiate with you.” – This statement is completely false. The general rule in negotiations is that the buyer will bid much lower than they would pay while the seller prices higher than they will sell for. This is the beginning of a negotiation.
“Someone else could put in a bid so you should hurry up and get your bid in.” This is the agent pressuring the buyer so that a deal can be made quickly and the agent gets paid. While there are cases where hesitant buyers lose out on properties, this is the exception and not the rule.
“There is another potential buyer who is very interested and looking at the house this afternoon.” This is a common “white lie” used by agents in an effort to get an offer submitted sooner while emotions are high. If a buyer is already emotionally attached to the house, this gambit can push him into negotiations right away.
Learn to Negotiate
By this point the buyer has decided to buy the house and all that is left is finding the right price. The buyer wants to pay the lowest price; the seller wants to receive the highest price. Where does the agent stand? At this point the agent just wants the deal to be done so they get paid and can walk away. Many agents will advise the buyer to put in an offer that is really close to the asking price in an effort to speed up the whole process. This essentially means that the buyer is now negotiating against the seller and the agent.
Other bits of “wisdom” that your agent may give you during the negotiation phase, and which should be roundly ignored, are:
“Meet the seller in the middle.” – What kind of negotiating tactic is that? In negotiation the whole point is to give as little as possible in each volley with the hopes of finding a common ground closer to the buyer’s starting point than the seller’s. What results is a mutually beneficial price, ideally, anyway.
“Are you really ready to walk away from this house for a measly $(insert amount here)?” At first blush this seems like a valid point. If the house is perfect, why not pay the few thousand more? On the other hand, why is the “buyer’s agent” using guilt and emotion against the buyer to dig deeper instead of on the seller to sell lower? Seems the agent should be telling the seller that the buyer is going to walk, but lowering the price by the requested amount would seal the deal.
“Another buyer has put in an offer, you should go in with your absolute top dollar or you will lose the house.” While this tactic might have some merit in extreme seller’s markets on some plush Caribbean Island, the seller’s agent is usually trying to get the buyer to cough up all his dough and close the deal quickly. The worst part is that the “buyer’s agent” is all too willing a participant in this ruse, since it means a quicker close and more commissions. The really interesting thing here is that whatever offer the buyer comes up with as their top bid is somehow magically higher than the “other bidder” and the seller quickly accepts the contract.
Real estate agents do bring something to the table that a buyer doesn’t have access to otherwise; namely the MLS listing, ability to show a property and comparable sales data. They also know the areas and can drive buyers around to see the homes.
With websites like truilla.com and Zillow.com, buyers have a greater access to available properties and sales data along with market trends and neighborhood demographics. It is important for prospective buyers to research for themselves before contacting the agent. And for goodness sake, never forget that real estate agents make their living SELLING properties, not “helping” buyers.
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