This post is not legal advice. For legal advice, consult an attorney directly (i.e. not via a blog).
This is Part I of a multi-part post.
Part I: Visiting the Property
Several months ago, I authored a post about buying a house without utilizing the services of an agent. It generated quite the conversation (concluding with this tasteful comment from our friends at Bloodhound Blog: “Entirely self serving, badly argued with serious errors of omission, it generated some pleasant acrimony in the comment section…”) and eventually led to the promise of a “blogging death match” between me and Ardell — okay, Ardell, it’s ON!
It used to be, way back in the 20th century, that a potential buyer had no way of searching the “market” for the perfect home. There was no single “market” (as in marketplace) for consumers because properties were invariably listed on the MLS, and MLS data was private and accessible only through an agent. Thus, to search the marketplace, the buyer needed to hire an agent who could then search the data for the perfect home.
The advent of the internet changed all that, of course. Today, while agents (or more accurately, brokers) still control the data, it is available publicly through innumerable search engines . Thus, a buyer can now find the perfect home without ever speaking with an agent — until it is time to actually visit the property before making an offer (buying a home sight unseen based on pictures on the internet is only for the very brave and the very foolish). As a result, most buyers at that point simply contact an agent (we’ve all got family, friends, friends-of-family, and family-of-friends who are agents and who would love to assist) who can then provide them with access to the property.
But that service (and perhaps others! Good agents are a veritable repository of helpful information concerning property) comes at a significant cost. The typical buyer’s agent expects to be paid 3% of the selling price as a fee for his or her services (with some portion of that going to the buyer’s broker). This substantial sum (do the math yourself — it is a lot of money for even an “affordable” starter home) travels a circuitous route from the buyer to the agent. When listing the property on the MLS (still the de facto marketplace) the seller signs a contract with the listing agent (more accurately, the listing broker). That contract entitles the agent to a certain percentage of the sales price (typically 6% but there are many exceptions). That commission is then shared via MLS rules with a buyer’s agent, with 3% usually going to the buyer’s agent. Accordingly, at closing, 3% of the purchase price is paid by the buyer to the seller, who then pays it to his listing agent/broker, who then pays it to the buyer’s agent/broker.
So if you want to see the property but don’t want to hire an agent because you don’t want to pay such a significant sum, how do you get in to see the property? Easy: Contact the listing agent. Way back when property values were skyrocketing, some listing agents felt that they should not have to assist a buyer in seeing the property. Those days — at least for now — are over. As TJ commented on my last post:
I think the time when sellers and sellers agents have the luxuary to pick and choose buyers on petty criteria’s like if they have a buyer’s agent or not is soon going to be history.
Contact the listing agent, let her know you want to see the property, and schedule a mutually convenient time. In this market, the listing agent should be more than happy to show the property to a prospective buyer.
[Part II coming soon: “how to get that 3% back into the buyer’s pocket” which will further discuss the services that might otherwise be provided by the agent.]