The Question Buyers are Embarrassed to Ask

Dated: November 15 2019

Views: 360

How much is hiring a REALTOR going to cost me?  And then, there are tons of subsequent questions:  when is the money due?  What if I don't have the money?  Is it part of my down payment?  Are some REALTORS more expensive than others?

Raise your hand, if you're the person, who reads the last page of the book just so you can "know" and then finish the book without being stressed the entire time?  I feel you.  So, let's cut to the chase:  the vast majority of the time, your agent's fee is built into the purchase price so you never actually have to write a check for their services.  There's ONE exception and ONE lie you will hear.  I will tell you more about those.

If it's "built into the purchase price," who ACTUALLY pays?

The short answer is that both the buyer AND seller pay.  Here's how:  if a seller has a percentage of commission built into the price of their home, they are agreeing to give that percentage to the REALTOR(S), when the home sells.  That's money that the seller is investing into agents so, obviously, they aren't keeping that money for themselves.  Annnnd since the buyer is paying the seller's price for the home, that means that they're also helping to pay for the percentage that the seller had built into the purchase price.

What's the lie?

I hear agents say to buyers, "I'm FREE for you to use!  The seller pays for me!"  I'm sure that your Grandma taught you the same thing that my Grandma taught me:  NOTHING IS FREE.  Real estate agents are essentially consultants, who are hired to offer you counsel and protection.  Those consultants have invested money and time into their education.  As is true for any consultant, there's a fee for that service.  A buyer IS paying, but it's built into the cost of the home so while they don't usually have to write a check to their agent, they are investing in that service.

What's the exception?

Buyers who purchase homes by owner (or from a non-traditional source), MAY have to pay an agent, if they want their services.  I say "MAY" because many "for sale by owners" do still offer to pay for a Buyer's Agent 1) because they know buyers are not trusting of sellers, simply because they have opposite goals 2) because they know nearly all buyers prefer to have the counsel of a buyer's agent and 3) they appreciate having an agent involved in the transaction to ensure the transaction stays on track since the agent knows how to vet out the buyer and faciliatate the process.

How much is the "exception," and when do I pay it?

Everything in real estate is negotiable.  Let me say it, again, for the people in the back:  EVERYTHING IN REAL ESTATE IS NEGOTIABLE, including commission.  You can actually hire an agent for a specific service.  Let's say you have already found a home that was for sale by owner, and you negotiated the price with the seller but were unsure how to navigate the other terms.  You could offer a fee to the agent simply to draw up the contract and explain the fine print and advise you of how to keep the transaction on track.  Or maybe you just want an agent to handle the process and make sure you get to closing smoothly.  OR maybe you find a home that is for sale by owner, but you don't have a legal, banking or trade service background so you pay an agent a percentage or flat fee to handle everything, just like if the home were on the market traditionally.  In this case, depending upon the home's value, you could build the agent fee into your purchase price OR you might pay their fee separately.  These instances are rare but the good news is that it's FREE for an agent to call the owner of a property that is not listed traditionally to see whether or not they have made considerations for a buyer's agent.


OK, I heard all of that, but do I pay more if it takes me longer to find a home?  What about if I make an offer on a home but it doesn't work out?

No.  Whether it takes you 24 hours or 24 months, a REALTOR'S commission is based upon a specific transaction, not on the length or scope of service.

So is it LIKELY that I'm going to run into that "one exception, when I have to figure out how to pay an agent?"  And what if I find a home I like but they aren't willing to pay a Buyer's Agent and I'm not able to pay the agent any other way?

REALTOR'S take a vow.  We abide by a Code of Ethics so unless you have made an agreement with your agent, stating that you have set money aside for this kind of situation and agreed to pay the agent no matter what , you could purchase the home without an agent because ethically, an agent CANNOT stand in the way of you purchasing a home because of their paycheck.

Is it really worth it to have an agent?

Keep reading.  Let's pretend like you trust me, even though you're reading a post BY A REALTOR so it seems obvious that I would say, "yes."

Ok.  Well, yes.  But hear me out.

  • for most people, buying a home will be their largest investment
    • a google search bar cannont counsel or educate you enough to protect your largest asset
    • if you have a friend or family member, who is knowledgeable, make sure they know about these kinds of investments - not all investments are assessed or weighted the same way; also, it's a good idea to ask that person how many homes they've purchased and how recently - the market changes every quarter and the process and rules governing real estate can change annually
  • most people are not EXPERT negotiators (I'm talking FBI level)
    • wildly, I know a lot of great sales people, who are awful negotiators.  Real estate negotiations are different from other kinds of negotiations.  There are many moving parts; a buyer's goal is to be protected, and a seller's goal is to be profitable.  It takes skill, strong problem-solving skills, well timed efforts and expert communication to facilitate the best terms
  • Zillow's Zestimate is not calculated using industry standards
    • agents are educated to price homes with many of the same standards as appraisers.  There are specific ways that a bank requires an appraiser to evaluate a home to determine it's true value.  It takes a lot of time along with analysis of each individual home in a macro and micro area for an appraiser to be able to determine a value.  Zestimates are just averages of an entire area.  Do you want to buy based upon a computer-generated average or based upon a number that an agent specificially verified for the exact home you're purchasing?
  • no one fights for your best interest unless they're hired to do so
    • how can you fight for your best interests if you don't know the ways the law can be designed to protect you?


Absolutely.  100%.  Have people done this successfully?  Yes.  Totally.  But if you didn't HAVE to take a risk...why would you?

Blog author image

Tammy Woodbury

My husband and I are the founding members of a top selling Real Estate team in Anderson, SC. I have been a native of the area for over 20 years and attended elementary, middle, high school and college....

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