If a New Home is Your 2012 Goal, Hire a Buyer Agent First

J Philip Faranda December 28, 2011

Rye Playland Dragon Roller CoasterChristmas was not long in our rear view mirror when the calls started up again today. We love inquiries on our listings; that's what we work for. However, there are calls, and then there are calls. I can tell with some calls that these folks are first time buyers and just starting out. You have to start somewhere, but two calls in particular made me reflect on them more like they were incoming freshman who would need to get their feet wet than capable buyers. I just said to my wife that I wish I could fast forward to July with those two people after they learned the ropes. 

The details aren't important (although you might smile). What is important is that every year, a fresh batch of would-be buyers enters the market, and many jump in haphazardly without an advocate, representation, and without advice from a professional. Many get disappointed, hurt, or both. And most of the stories I'll hear in six to nine months will start out with the one of the following:

  • We didn't use an agent. 
  • We used a terrible agent. 
Very recently I read a blog post from a technology consultant who shared how he would be changing agents in January. He found the person at an open house and figured they'd be fine to work with without really vetting them, and 6 months later he didn't have a result. He resolved to choose a better agent this time around. I applaud him for the lesson learned and for not indicting the entire industry over the lack of professionalism of one person. 
First-time home buyers should heed that lesson. It is not enough to get a buyer agent, although you absolutely should get one soon if you want to start shopping for a home in 2012. The agent you hire should be one who will help you make the largest purchase of your life with the minimum of headaches, and at the best terms possible. They should know what questions to ask, what strategy to negotiate with based on the facts on the ground, and 100 things you can't think of because you don't do this for a living. What's more, a good buyer agent will have the backbone to tell you when you are making a mistake instead of yes-ing you to death. 
Happiness is a warm 90 Lb PuppyEven in the current down market, real estate mistakes in Westchester County are really expensive. The median home price is well over half a million dollars, and annual property taxes of $10,000 or more are commonplace. There is a lot to think about, and the agent listing a home you call on yourself was hired to eat your lunch. A casual throwaway remark can cost you $25,000. How do I know this? Because I have advised my clients to make moves based on those casual remarks when the buyer uttered them. But if you have your own agent, I can't hear a word you say because we'd never speak. 
Unfortunately, there are people out there who think that they can research everything on their own and use a compliant agent as a door unlocker and carrier pigeon. They don't understand that online information is the booby prize! Data doesn't make you as good as a capable agent any more than reading medical journals would make you a physician. It gives you a false sense of security, and great suggestions to your Aunt Ethel the real estate agent as to what to say in negotiations. But it doesn't tell you that the house down the street, while it did sell for XX dollars less then my listing, smelled like a litter box and was filled with wood paneling. 
I could give 1000 other examples but the take away is that you have a clear advantage when you hire a good buyer agent to begin with. Get someone with a proven track record, references, and whom you feel you can work well with. You'll thank me in about 6 months. 

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