Back in the Market: Will I Need an Agent?

In the final post on the topic, Coldwell Banker Real Estate Market Specialist Les Christie determines whether home buyers need an agent to guide them despite the wealth of information available online. Odds are, they do.

In the first and second Back in the Market posts, we explored the emergence of technology and how the home buying process has changed – even when it comes to mortgage financing. In the third installment, we’ll determine whether or not you’ll need an agent’s help with all of this information at your fingertips. Hint: you probably do.

With all that help available, who needs an agent?

Most people, it turns out. Even with all that wonderful data available online, buyers and sellers should use the tech tools only to get a good sense of market conditions before plunging deeper into the process. Agents are still involved in 90 percent of home sales (and rightly so) — roughly the same percentage as before the tech revolution.

According to a poll of home buyers reported recently by the National Association of Realtors, 53 percent of buyers said that the main reason for hiring an agent is to help them find the right place to live. That requires a certain amount of give and take between agents and buyers, with agents carefully listening so they can suggest the best matches.

In that way, said Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage independent agent Doug Harwood, the buying experience has changed less over the past 20 years than you might think; the agent still provides an experienced, knowledgeable sounding board for buyers, curtails inappropriate impulses, and points out issues that the buyers, caught up in the heat of the moment, may overlook.

“What they don’t know is who they are, in relation to the potential purchase,” said Harwood. “That’s where I come in to help them identify the tradeoffs and still come to a good conclusion.”

Many buyers are unrealistic, he said. They come with a laundry list of must-haves like a big back yard, a playroom for the kids, and a fireplace in the master suite — all at the right price.

“People always think they can get more than they actually can,” said Harwood. “My job is often to pare down those expectations.”

Tech does make finding a good agent easier. There are lots of online tools to help with that job. In the old days, people hired friends, relatives, and neighbors to market their homes or sought recommendations from recent buyers and sellers. Using that method, getting a good agent was hit-or-miss. Nowadays, many people still rely on word of mouth — but with a twist.

Now people can put together a group of agents from recommendations but, before making a final choice, they can check out the agents’ online reviews to see just how good others think they are and how good a fit they will be for them.

A good partnership with an agent can take much of the pain out of home buying or selling and lead to a better outcome for both agent and client.

So, while buyers and sellers may find themselves surprised by all the changes in the real estate market after a 20-year absence, one constant is that there are still guides ready, willing and able to take them safely through the experience.

Les is a Real Estate Market Specialist for Coldwell Banker Real Estate.

Born and raised in Whitestone, N.Y., and never having lived outside of NYC, Les is a graduate of City College of New York in Manhattan. Les switched careers in his late 30s, studying writing at New School and Brooklyn Polytechnic, now the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering. Les has written for several magazines and copyedited books on early childhood education prior to joining CNNMoney as a personal finance writer, where his main beat was real estate. His wife and partner of 42 years is a retired magazine editor who spent her career at the New York Zoological Society (Bronx Zoo). They are residents of the Upper West Side.

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