Author Topic: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?  (Read 6236 times)

Grigory

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First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« on: March 08, 2016, 04:17:23 PM »
Subj, basically. :)

I'm getting tired of renting and I've very recently discovered that it is, in fact, possible to get a condo in Seattle for less than $150K. (I won't have to raid the 401k piggy bank for the downpayment - woot!) Basically, I just want to buy a simple, cheap, bachelor-style condo.

The problem is that I'm a complete real estate noob. I have the 20% needed for the downpayment and I've found some nice-looking properties on Trulia.com and such, so my main question is - do I need to get my own agent to help me with the process? The site I was just on has a sidebar with a list of their own agents that are just dying to get my business (see this screenshot). Would I be a complete idiot to just use one of their agents? Would they care at all about me as a buyer or do they just want to flip properties?

I'm eager to find a condo to call my own, but I have plenty of time, so that's not a factor. Should I hunt down the perfect buyer agent or just go with the fine folks from Trulia?

Thanks in advance! :)

onlykelsey

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #1 on: March 08, 2016, 04:23:19 PM »
I don't know which agent you should go with, but in my experience, many sellers will not deal with you if you don't have an agent.  It doesn't cost you anything, as a rule, so I'm not sure what your opposition is.  Do you prefer not to have someone involved for non-financial reasons?

Grigory

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #2 on: March 08, 2016, 04:48:03 PM »
No, it's not that at all. I'm just wondering if the website's agent would have my best interests at heart. Would they care about me as a buyer and go over every single thing or would they just try to flip the property ASAP?

onlykelsey

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #3 on: March 08, 2016, 04:52:42 PM »
No, it's not that at all. I'm just wondering if the website's agent would have my best interests at heart. Would they care about me as a buyer and go over every single thing or would they just try to flip the property ASAP?

Well, honestly, pretty much every real estate agent will only get paid when you buy something.  I'm not sure if trulia's guys have especially bad incentives to make you buy quickly.  I thought they just had "recommended" agents that paid to be listed, but maybe things have changed in the last couple years.

jim555

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #4 on: March 08, 2016, 04:53:39 PM »
Just reach out to the seller's agent when you see a listing on Zillow or Trulia.  You don't need your own agent.
I had an agent do some searches for me, nothing came of them.  Then later I saw something on Zillow, contacted their agent, made an offer.
Then you need a lawyer.

onlykelsey

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #5 on: March 08, 2016, 04:55:35 PM »
jim55, what market (or what type of market) are you in?  I tried that in NYC and sellers wouldn't talk to me, which I think is par for the course in DC and Silicon Valley as well.  Maybe Seattle's different.

jim555

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #6 on: March 08, 2016, 05:00:56 PM »
jim55, what market (or what type of market) are you in?  I tried that in NYC and sellers wouldn't talk to me, which I think is par for the course in DC and Silicon Valley as well.  Maybe Seattle's different.
Long Island, NY.  The seller's agent is who I dealt with, never the seller directly.

Grigory

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #7 on: March 08, 2016, 05:04:03 PM »
Then later I saw something on Zillow, contacted their agent, made an offer. Then you need a lawyer.
Bear with me, please, for I am a noob. :) What's the lawyer's part in this process? Just to get everything on paper and make it all official?

Also (and this is a very noob question), at what point in the process would I have to get approved for a mortgage? I have an above-average credit score, stable job, etc, etc, so that's not an issue. I'm just confused about the specifics of the whole process.

onlykelsey

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #8 on: March 08, 2016, 05:05:40 PM »
Interesting.  I was buying in Manhattan (condos and coops, eventually bought a condo), and also contacting their agents.  Interesting.  I was surprised, as I assumed the seller's agent would be happy to work with someone without an agent because I think it should up their share of the fees at the end, but that didn't turn out to be true for me.  Maybe it's a freestanding house v. condo/co-op distinction.

jim555

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #9 on: March 08, 2016, 05:17:41 PM »
Then later I saw something on Zillow, contacted their agent, made an offer. Then you need a lawyer.
Bear with me, please, for I am a noob. :) What's the lawyer's part in this process? Just to get everything on paper and make it all official?

Also (and this is a very noob question), at what point in the process would I have to get approved for a mortgage? I have an above-average credit score, stable job, etc, etc, so that's not an issue. I'm just confused about the specifics of the whole process.
For the closing you need a lawyer.  Actually you probably could do it without, but too much money on the line to fool around with it. 
After you agree on a price they will want to go to contract.  The contract states you agree to buy the property and you put down a percentage as a good faith deposit.  You may want to get an inspector as well.  I didn't have a mortgage so I can't help you with that part.  The closing is where the checks get written.  The deed gets signed.  Title insurance is a good idea too.  Any minor expenses are balanced out like taxes or electricity bills for part months.  The day before/of the close do a final run through of the place for any problems.

The lawyer will look over the by-laws and rules of the Condo, you should get a copy of them. 
The Condo board usually has the right of first refusal, meaning they can come in and meet the sale price themselves and buy the unit.  This is the only power the board has.  In a Coop they can break a sale for any reason.
« Last Edit: March 08, 2016, 05:36:53 PM by jim555 »

jim555

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #10 on: March 08, 2016, 05:20:36 PM »
Interesting.  I was buying in Manhattan (condos and coops, eventually bought a condo), and also contacting their agents.  Interesting.  I was surprised, as I assumed the seller's agent would be happy to work with someone without an agent because I think it should up their share of the fees at the end, but that didn't turn out to be true for me.  Maybe it's a freestanding house v. condo/co-op distinction.
Strange.  The commission is split less if the buyer has no agent.  Maybe it is a NYC thing.

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #11 on: March 08, 2016, 05:26:36 PM »
You should be pre-approved for a mortgage before you start shopping.  No seller, especially in a hot market, will look at an offer that is not accompanied by a pre-approval.   Since you have never bought a property, a buyer's agent is likely going to be helpful to you.  That person can find you lenders and help you select the properties in your price range that you would like to see.  The agent's compensation comes out of the total commission paid by the seller, so there is no direct cost to you.

In some states the escrow process (the exchange of money and deed) is handled by attorneys.  I believe in Washington title companies are used instead of attorneys.  The agent will have one that s/he likes because they can get the job done efficiently. 

Ask friends and co-workers if they have bought recently and if so if they liked their agent.  Talk to the agents and ask questions about their services and experience.  Go to some open houses in the neighborhoods you are considering and talk to the agents at the open houses.  After doing this for awhile, you will have a better understanding of the process, the market, and what kind of person you want to work with.

Grigory

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #12 on: March 08, 2016, 07:12:43 PM »
You should be pre-approved for a mortgage before you start shopping.  No seller, especially in a hot market, will look at an offer that is not accompanied by a pre-approval.   Since you have never bought a property, a buyer's agent is likely going to be helpful to you.  That person can find you lenders and help you select the properties in your price range that you would like to see.  The agent's compensation comes out of the total commission paid by the seller, so there is no direct cost to you.

In some states the escrow process (the exchange of money and deed) is handled by attorneys.  I believe in Washington title companies are used instead of attorneys.  The agent will have one that s/he likes because they can get the job done efficiently. 

Ask friends and co-workers if they have bought recently and if so if they liked their agent.  Talk to the agents and ask questions about their services and experience.  Go to some open houses in the neighborhoods you are considering and talk to the agents at the open houses.  After doing this for awhile, you will have a better understanding of the process, the market, and what kind of person you want to work with.

Thank you! :^D

EOS

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #13 on: March 09, 2016, 05:46:22 AM »
Ask around work/family/friends for someone to recommend a realtor to you.

Then that realtor will be able to answer all of your "noob" questions.  That is their area of expertise.

Ask mentioned above, you are the buyer, so you no money will come out of your pocket to pay your realtor.

rothwem

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #14 on: March 09, 2016, 12:25:53 PM »
I tried going without an agent with my first property.  What I found is that the sellers agents that will actually talk to you without your own agent are going to try to screw you as hard as they can because you have no idea what you're doing.  Luckily I only lost about $500, but it could have been much worse. 

Get an agent for the first property.  After you know what's going on, you can forge ahead and go agent-less for the next few properties if you're trying to accumulate them for rental purposes. 

jim555

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #15 on: March 09, 2016, 12:35:26 PM »
The seller pays the commission so nothing to loose by getting an agent as a buyer.

Grigory

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #16 on: March 09, 2016, 12:35:45 PM »
I tried going without an agent with my first property.  What I found is that the sellers agents that will actually talk to you without your own agent are going to try to screw you as hard as they can because you have no idea what you're doing.  Luckily I only lost about $500, but it could have been much worse.
Was that a $500 property, or did you get lucky and could've lost a lot more than that? lol (And thanks for confirming my suspicions!)

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Get an agent for the first property.  After you know what's going on, you can forge ahead and go agent-less for the next few properties if you're trying to accumulate them for rental purposes.
For now, I'm just trying to find a place where I won't have to have any roommates - I may or may not flip it in a few years when the local real estate  market goes the way of San Francisco.

zephyr911

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #17 on: March 09, 2016, 12:49:39 PM »
There's literally no reason not to have an agent as the buyer. Especially if you're new and not sure about how everything should work. The seller's agent is there to look after the seller's interests, and they are being paid by the seller. If they can convince you to let them sit both sides of the transaction, they get the whole commission instead of only half. Technically, that at least gives you equal footing as a client and they're supposed to give you equal consideration. However, I really get the sense that they often still think of the seller as their client and you as just the buyer... plus, they're still incentivized to push for a higher sale price, because the more you pay, the more they make! Does that sound like a recipe for good faith assistance?

By contrast, if you get your own agent as a buyer, they get paid by the seller to represent you, and that agent is legally obligated to represent your best interests in every aspect of the deal.

I'm a Realtor in Alabama (got licensed to represent my own investment company) and when I'm shopping out of state, I always get a local buyer's agent at this point. I tried calling listing agents and got the same BS the average customer does. They blew smoke up my ass about their listings, tried to upsell me to more expensive ones, you name it. Too many shady fuckers in this business, so as has pretty much been said - shop around, get recommendations, and find someone who has treated your friends and family well, and interview them about how they can help you. Remember, until you sign an agency contract, there is no obligation.

I actually have more than one friend who's bought a home in Seattle in the last year or so... I could ask for recommendations if you're interested. The nearest market that I've been watching personally is Oak Harbor. Out of curiosity, where in Seattle can you have a condo for $150k? I might want one too........ hehe

Parizade

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #18 on: March 09, 2016, 01:08:37 PM »
I tried going without an agent with my first property.  What I found is that the sellers agents that will actually talk to you without your own agent are going to try to screw you as hard as they can because you have no idea what you're doing.  Luckily I only lost about $500, but it could have been much worse. 

Get an agent for the first property.  After you know what's going on, you can forge ahead and go agent-less for the next few properties if you're trying to accumulate them for rental purposes.

+1 on this. A buyers agent would have saved me thousands on my first property. The property value more than doubled during the time I owned the home so I made out okay anyway and learned my lesson.

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #19 on: March 09, 2016, 01:59:25 PM »
Zephyr911 is correct, except for one thing.  Never sign an agency contract.  That locks you into paying a commission to your buyer's agent no matter what you buy.  If the agent turns out to be an idiot, you are stuck.  I never work with a buyer's agent that wants me to sign an agency agreement.  Bring me the right deal and represent my interests, the commission is yours.  Don't do your job and  I move on.

onlykelsey

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #20 on: March 09, 2016, 02:01:01 PM »
"Zephyr911 is correct, except for one thing.  Never sign an agency contract.  That locks you into paying a commission to your buyer's agent no matter what you buy.  If the agent turns out to be an idiot, you are stuck.  I never work with a buyer's agent that wants me to sign an agency agreement.  Bring me the right deal and represent my interests, the commission is yours.  Don't do your job and  I move on."

Agreed.  I think good buyer's agents (at least in my market) take on this risk, and simply ask that you not waste their time if you're working with other agents.

Grigory

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #21 on: March 09, 2016, 05:54:38 PM »
I actually have more than one friend who's bought a home in Seattle in the last year or so... I could ask for recommendations if you're interested.
Thank you for the offer, but it's a bit too early at this point. As soon as I finish filing my taxes (tough to do with multiple streams of income!), I'll start shopping for mortgage, and then - and only then - for an agent.

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Out of curiosity, where in Seattle can you have a condo for $150k? I might want one too........ hehe
I'll let you know once the ink dries. ;)

lhamo

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #22 on: March 09, 2016, 06:49:04 PM »
There are a few units in the south part of town for under 150k:

https://www.redfin.com/city/16163/WA/Seattle/filter/property-type=condo+townhouse+multifamily+other,max-price=150k

Grigory, your agent should go over this with you but PLEASE be sure not to put in an offer until you have read at least 1 year's worth of the condo management association minutes, and seen the audited books.  One of the dangers with condos/co-ops is if you buy into a unit where the reserves are not adequate and the building needs expensive work, then you can get hit with a special assessment of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.  The condo association minutes can also give you a good idea of the atmosphere in the building -- are fellow tenants responsible, law abiding, and willing to deal with each other civilly. 

I personally would be VERY cautious about buying at the low end of the market.  Anything going for under 150k in Seattle is cheap for a reason.   You might be buying yourself a big batch of headaches.  It doesn't cost too much to upgrade -- I am renting in an excellent building near northgate and the 2br/2ba below me just went for $265k in December and a similar unit across the street (not sure what the building is like) just went for $245.  I've seen 1brs nearby for around $180-190.

zephyr911

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #23 on: March 09, 2016, 07:51:31 PM »
Zephyr911 is correct, except for one thing.  Never sign an agency contract.  That locks you into paying a commission to your buyer's agent no matter what you buy.  If the agent turns out to be an idiot, you are stuck.  I never work with a buyer's agent that wants me to sign an agency agreement.  Bring me the right deal and represent my interests, the commission is yours.  Don't do your job and  I move on.

Agreed.  I think good buyer's agents (at least in my market) take on this risk, and simply ask that you not waste their time if you're working with other agents.
Interesting perspectives there. However...

The agency contract does not exist to force you to stay with an agent once you pick one; it exists to bind them to a higher standard of service. It does so by producing a fiduciary relationship that would not exist otherwise. And if you decide you want to end it, you have that right. It's called a mutual release and it happens all the time.

So, no, if they turn out to be an idiot, you're not stuck.

Sometimes, and not always, agency contracts make a client liable for commission after agency termination IF and ONLY IF the agent performed work that specifically led to the sale. This is more common on the seller's side. The buyer's equivalent is rare, because the buyer wasn't going to be paying anyway. Just like commission, terms of agency are 100% negotiable within the bounds of law, and you can theoretically ask for modifications to any of them, even if they're printed as boilerplate. I think this is one of the least-understood aspects of real estate, so I try to point it out wherever appropriate. Read everything, ask what it means if you're not sure, and ask what's a legal requirement and what's just common practice.

FWIW, those retroactive payment clauses exist entirely because of past clients trying to get the advantage of agents' services and then do side deals later after pretending they weren't going to buy/sell... it's really not intended to screw the consumer, and it very rarely does.

Grigory

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #24 on: March 09, 2016, 08:45:42 PM »
Grigory, your agent should go over this with you but PLEASE be sure not to put in an offer until you have read at least 1 year's worth of the condo management association minutes, and seen the audited books.  One of the dangers with condos/co-ops is if you buy into a unit where the reserves are not adequate and the building needs expensive work, then you can get hit with a special assessment of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.  The condo association minutes can also give you a good idea of the atmosphere in the building -- are fellow tenants responsible, law abiding, and willing to deal with each other civilly. 
That's an excellent point - thank you!

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I personally would be VERY cautious about buying at the low end of the market.  Anything going for under 150k in Seattle is cheap for a reason.
Well, I was sort of planning on getting an ace agent who would know about the newly-foreclosed condos or the ones that haven't yet been listed on all the big sites. As much as I like all the fun stuff in central-ish Seattle, I may have to suck it up and get one of the far more reasonably priced places in West Seattle. And then there's always Renton, with their ridiculously cheap $60K condos... Not anywhere close to civilization, but according to Google, it's just a 20-minute drive to SLU. (Without any traffic, that is.)

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #25 on: March 10, 2016, 05:57:12 AM »
Agents sell what is listed on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).  Agents do not have special knowledge of newly foreclosed properties.  When a lender takes back a property,  the case is usually reviewed by an asset manager.  In most cases, the bank retains an agent and lists it for sale.  If Fannie Mae owns the property, they often make repairs and do paint and carpet.  Other lenders may or may not fix up the property before listing it.  The idea of picking up a property from a lender at a fire sale price before anyone else finds out about it is a myth.

Almost all properties that go on MLS today are "syndicated" to Zillow, Realtor.com, and the other major sites.  A few brokers don't do that, but that's increasingly rare.  Their properties are still on the MLS for other agents to see.  A listing agent may have a "pocket listing," one that is not on the MLS.  Those listings are generally not bargains for the buyer.

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #26 on: March 10, 2016, 09:33:18 AM »
Agents sell what is listed on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).  Agents do not have special knowledge of newly foreclosed properties.  When a lender takes back a property,  the case is usually reviewed by an asset manager.  In most cases, the bank retains an agent and lists it for sale.  If Fannie Mae owns the property, they often make repairs and do paint and carpet.  Other lenders may or may not fix up the property before listing it.  The idea of picking up a property from a lender at a fire sale price before anyone else finds out about it is a myth.

Almost all properties that go on MLS today are "syndicated" to Zillow, Realtor.com, and the other major sites.  A few brokers don't do that, but that's increasingly rare.  Their properties are still on the MLS for other agents to see.  A listing agent may have a "pocket listing," one that is not on the MLS.  Those listings are generally not bargains for the buyer.
^^^^YES.
Especially in a fired-up seller's market like Seattle. There's no incentive for anyone involved to let a property sell without getting full market exposure. It's too quick, cheap, and easy to get it on MLS and syndicated, with potentially tens of thousands in added return. Maybe in my market, for a real low-end fixer, if anything.

Even foreclosure auctions generally end up on all the public listings now. That's one way to get a bargain, but with the amount of cash flying around there, even those will be highly competitive and a steal is unlikely.

GrowingTheGreen

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #27 on: March 11, 2016, 07:53:06 AM »
I don't know which agent you should go with, but in my experience, many sellers will not deal with you if you don't have an agent.  It doesn't cost you anything, as a rule, so I'm not sure what your opposition is.  Do you prefer not to have someone involved for non-financial reasons?

This. Being a buyer in many places doesn't cost you a damn thing in terms of commission for the agent.

redbirdfan

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #28 on: March 13, 2016, 12:00:24 AM »
Grigory,

Yes, you need an agent.  Foreclosure purchases require a lot of patience and communication between the listing agent and the buyer's agent.  The seller's agent is not going to hold your hand through the process.  If you are in the $150k or below market in Seattle, you really need to make sure the condo reserves are adequate and you need to check the financials of the condo.  At that price point it is not uncommon to find that a high percentage of owners are behind on their HOA dues.  Check to see if a formal reserve study has been done. 

Generally in Seattle you cannot buy homes that have been foreclosed before they are listed on the MLS (unless they are owned by a small local bank).  Once you start getting into pre-foreclosures and short sales things get more complicated.  You can check out a few of the companies that hold regular classes about purchasing local foreclosures: Vestus and JLS Foreclosures come to mind.

Before you start looking at properties you should get pre-qualified for a mortgage to get an idea of your price range.  REOs generally require you to submit a pre-approval letter with your offer.  Make sure you are willing to live in Renton or West Seattle for 5 years.  Nothing against either one but that would be a rough commute to SLU. 

randymarsh

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #29 on: March 13, 2016, 12:46:16 AM »
I spent the past month getting pre-approved and looking at condos. I've since decided to hold off and continue to rent, but I recommend getting an agent for your first buy.

There were numerous times she mentioned something as we walked through properties that I hadn't even thought of and I like to think I'd done my research on the home buying process.


thedayisbrave

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Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #30 on: March 14, 2016, 07:16:28 PM »
Please don't call the seller's agent.  Find an agent who will represent your interests.

Real estate laws vary by state but in NC, if you call the listing agent and ask them to help you they will become what's called a 'dual agent' and thus will represent both sides (that is with the seller's permission).  They have a duty to be fair to both sides but they are essentially rendered neutral in those situations, and just a messenger. 

As a first time buyer, you don't want just a messenger who relays info back and forth and remains neutral.  You want a buyer's agent who will be completely on your side.

Agents you see on the sidebar on Zillow, Trulia etc are a crap shoot - they may be great, experienced agents and they may not be.  Basically an agent just pays money to those sites to put their name and contact info on there - advertising space.  So there's no way to really tell.  Like others have mentioned, ask around... friends, family, someone is bound to know someone who is involved in real estate.  Or if you have any friends who have bought a house recently.  Ask for recommendations.  You'll likely have a greater chance of finding a good agent that way.

Full disclosure: I'm a real estate agent in NC :)

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    • Pinhook Development LLC
Re: First-time condo buyer: do I need an agent?
« Reply #31 on: March 15, 2016, 05:48:37 AM »
Full disclosure: I'm a real estate agent in NC :)
*whispers* hey buddy, you want some referrals? ;)