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Home Searching On Your Own vs With An Agent

“We are helping our son with his first home (condo) purchase, and really think he should work with an agent through the entire process. He and his friends feel sure that he does not need to engage an agent until ready to buy, and then he might do well to work with the seller’s agent. Could you please share your thoughts about this issue and also about the various search sites that our son is intending to use?” — A Santa Monica Homebuyer’s Dad

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That is an excellent question, and there are a few related factors to take into consideration. When your family last bought a home, it was probably more than several years ago and therefore prior to the widespread use of the internet for home and other shopping activities.

Is the Traditional Home Buyer Model Outdated?

The traditional model of buyers beginning their home search with their own agent is admittedly somewhat offset by the tremendously easy use of online sites to very quickly research anything from available homes to cars to vacations at any time day or night. Former generations tended to rely on the expertise of trusted advisors in any given field.

Today’s generation, however, is far more reliant upon their social circle and closest friends. They also turn to the internet as a source of information and counsel. This can lead to misunderstandings, particularly with regards to any specific situation or individual need-satisfaction.

Home Search Now Lives Online

More than 80% of people today use such sites as Realtor.com, theMLS.com, Zillow.com, and Trulia.com in their home-searching process. Although each of these sites have their own small advantages, they and numerous others do share in common a few disadvantages, as compared with a local agent who knows the nuances and specifics of a neighborhood’s marketplace.

One drawback of completing the search process before contacting an agent is that the buyer may limit their selections and inadvertently exclude some possibilities that would have been very suitable. Also, in trying to learn the marketplace from the online perspective first, the buyer may not think of some nearby neighborhoods that would provide even closer matches to the desired criteria.

The Internet Does Not Know Everything About Neighborhoods

A professional, experienced real estate agent would know the specific questions that help counsel and advise a buyer such as your son. Although obviously your son’s friends surely know him quite well, their approach to providing support and assistance would not likely include the perspective that only can come from having been through the process dozens of times.

Agents Getting Both Sides of a Transaction

In California, it is permissible for a real estate agent to act in a dual agent capacity. This is what would occur if your son contacts the listing agent with the idea in mind of having that agent handle his purchase. While many agents can perform dual agency with professionalism and fair representation for both sides, there obviously is an inherent conflict that potentially could work to your son’s disadvantage with such an arrangement.

For example, the listing agent already has a clearly defined fiduciary responsibility to the owner of the property your son might be buying. That requires their utmost efforts to obtain the highest price and best terms for their pre-existing client. I think your son and his friends will be able to understand the risks involved if they choose this course of action.

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