This post is not legal advice. For legal advice, consult an attorney in person and do not rely on a blog.
I’ve written elsewhere about the practical steps in buying without an agent. The Big Question, of course, is this: Will that save me any money? If it does, then every buyer should at least consider using a real estate attorney rather than a real estate agent to buy a home.
As an initial matter, you must understand where the money starts and where it goes in a typical transaction. It starts, of course, with you, the Buyer. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “Oh, sure I used an agent to buy my house — he was free! I didn’t pay him anything!” As a practical matter, that is just not true .
Remember that, of all the parties involved in the transaction (seller, buyer, listing agent, buyer’s agent, title insurance, escrow, lender, mortgage broker, etc.) only one brings money — you, the Buyer. Everyone else gets paid from the Buyer’s money. So while you may not pay your agent directly, you most certainly do pay him out of your pocket (or, more accurately, out of the money you have borrowed from the bank, and which you must repay, with interest).
And exactly how does your agent get paid with your money? Well, the seller previously signed a contract with the listing agent where the seller promised to pay a certain percentage in exchange for the agent finding a buyer. The “typical” percentage paid is 6%, although there is some degree of variability with figure. Per the rules of the MLS, that commission is then shared with the buyer’s agent when the house is sold (or, more accurately, with the buyer’s broker, but I won’t get into that for simplicity’s sake). Most sellers and listing agents agree to give 3% to the buyer’s agent, on the theory that anything less will attract less interest from buyer’s agents (I’ll get into the ethical issues of that dilemma in a future post).
The listing agent has a contractual right to the full commission. If you go without an agent (e.g., drafting the offer yourself (discouraged) or using an attorney), then the listing agent will not need to share any portion of the commission. While the agent has no legal obligation to accept anything less than the full commission as set by the listing agreement, the agent is free to accept less than full payment if he is so inclined. So, the buyer can structure the offer such that, if the listing agent cooperates, the selling price is reduced by 3% (or whatever percentage was to be shared with a buyer’s agent). The seller will presumably lean on the listing agent to reduce the commission, as everyone gets what they expected out of the transaction.
All that said, clearly the seller and not the buyer pays for the buyer’s agent – suggesting otherwise is simply a helpful analytical approach. But equally true, the buyer can benefit by reducing the seller’s anticipated and already-accounted-for costs. When the buyer does so, the seller is likely to pass most if not all of those savings back to the buyer in the form of a reduced price.
So regardless of the perspective, in the final analysis a buyer can pay less by reducing the fee paid to the buyer’s agent. So smart buyers do so by skipping an agent and reducing their offer by the 3% to be saved by the seller.
Finally, what about all of the extra work for the listing agent? Yes, there may be a more work, such as being there for the inspection since there is no buyer’s agent. But don’t forget that, in any one transaction, a listing agent makes a very fair fee. What is the average amount of time a good listing agent invests in a listing? And, assuming a 1.5% commission to the agent (after the broker’s cut), what is the average fee? Given a median home price of $400k, the agent will make $6k. Assuming 50 hours of time, that’s $200 per hour. A little “extra” work (it is, after all, all part of the job) is not unreasonable if necessary to secure that amount of compensation.
So, if you’re thinking of buying a house, consider ALL of your options and figure out what is best for you. If you want to save a lot of money (we’re not talking pennies here), consider using an attorney instead of an agent (you should absolutely use a professional given the value of the transaction, and realistically these are your two options).