Yes, You Still Want an Agent

And forget the new apps that promise to save you time and money.


Redfin Real Estate Agent Neal Conatser

Photo by Carl Posey

In recent years, a number of DIY real estate apps have launched around the nation, allowing people to buy and sell homes without real estate agents. The apps promise to save buyers and sellers time and money and are designed to “disrupt” the real estate industry, much like Uber and Lyft have done with transportation. But there are many reasons why real estate is a distinct industry and one in which it still makes sense to get help from human experts. In fact, there’s a good chance they’ll save you more time than an app—and make you money.

Neal Conatser, a buyers’ agent in Oakland for Redfin, notes that unlike a smartphone app, a real estate pro can help buyers avoid pitfalls when making what could be the most expensive purchase of their lives. For example, if an inspection reveals foundation or roof problems, an agent can negotiate to reduce the home’s cost. And when experienced agents get to know their clients, they can steer them to properties and neighborhoods they know they’ll like. “It all comes down to trust,” said Conatser. “When you’ve established that trust with your client, it translates to all the issues you might run in to.” Such issues could include finding a neighborhood with a good elementary school or being cognizant about concerns like landslide risk or earthquake safety.

And if you purchase a fixer-upper? A good buyers’ agent usually has a list of quality contractors who can help and likely will give you discounted rates.

Same with sellers’ agents, noted Tom Hendershot of Redfin. Good sellers’ agents will have a list of recommended painters and contractors to get your home ready for market and ensure that it will sell for the highest price possible. “We know people who can paint well,” said Hendershot, who handles home sales exclusively. “That’s a huge cost to sellers.”

Good sellers’ agents also know stagers who can ready your home for market and increase its sales price. Staged homes, particularly condos, sell for higher prices on average than those that aren’t staged, real estate experts say. “Staging is of upmost importance,” Hendershot said.

And unlike an app, agents can make sure sellers disclose everything about their homes, from former water leaks to drainage issues (and do all the paperwork), to make sure sellers don’t get sued after the sale.

Many sellers’ agents these days also begin marketing homes before they go on the market as “coming soon.” Such tactics can create excitement for the home and spur pre-emptive offers that allow sellers to avoid the headaches of open houses and fears about a home not selling.

Open houses are also much easier with an agent, plus they come with professional “home for sale” signs that they put up around the neighborhood. It’s old school, but Hendershot said that 25 to 35 percent of people who come to open houses are drawn by the signs.   

About 10 years ago, Redfin tried to buy and sell homes without agents, but “it was a disaster,” said John Whitely, senior PR specialist for the company. Today, Redfin uses buyers’ and sellers’ agents, although it offers lower commission rates than the typical real estate firm. But regardless of which real estate firm you choose, the reasons why you still want an agent remain the same.

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