What A Real Estate Agent Can Do For You – And What They Can’t

I’ve had many personal trainers in my life, but one of the best I ever had sat me down before we ever met in the gym and asked me what my goals were for working out. Of course, my real goal was just to lose weight. But being somebody who doesn’t like to be pigeonholed, I named a number of things and left losing weight and looking better to eighth or ninth on the list. What he said next was a game changer for me. “Here’s what I can do. I can help you get stronger. I can help you change the shape of your body. I can help you be healthier and more fit. Here’s what I can’t do – help you lose weight. The only way to do that is through diet and I have no control over that.” Despite having had several personal trainers before, no one had ever actually explained that to me, and it really changed everything. I didn’t end up losing weight, because I didn’t want to make the dietary changes necessary,  but I never blamed him for that.

It was a valuable lesson to me in clarifying expectations. And now, I present the real estate agent version. Here’s what a real estate agent can do for you – and what they can’t.

What Real Estate Agents Can Do For You

  1. Agents can help you troubleshoot a home. The more experienced they are, the more problems they’ve seen crop up after close of escrow – especially if they are the kind that stay in contact with their clients long after closing, which all the good ones do. They cannot and never will be able to troubleshoot all issues you’ll discover after close, and believe me, I try. I always take it personally when a buyer of mine discovers, say, the siding was leaking (for years) and despite three inspections and zero disclosures from the seller, no one caught it. That is an expensive repair, but it happens.
  2. Agents can help you understand fair market value. Despite common perception that agents might just want you to pay more for a higher commission, good agents know that you make your money on the buy. Therefore, the lower the price they can get for their buyers,  the better it is for your long-term financial health and their long-term referral income from you. Not to mention the phone call all agents want to receive – former clients reaching out when it’s time to upgrade or move.
  3. Agents can help you craft a deal that is going to get accepted but also works in your favor.  Good agents find out what non-material things matter to the seller (or buyer), such as a longer close of escrow or the sometimes problematic seller to occupy after close. Great agents are adept at finding out the make-up of the negotiating agent as well, such as have they recently been sitting on an expensive listing that didn’t sell, do they always underprice or overprice their listings – things that can influence the agent’s recommendations to their client to, for instance, take a lower offer in case it’s the best they’ll get. 
  4. Agents can help you get a number of inspections. The more inspections you get, the more expensive it gets. That’s often an out-of-pocket cost and you don’t always learn the important thing that will cost you more. Agents love inspections because it seems to protect them if things are discovered later, but what a great agent can and does do is help you determine which inspections are most important – what things are worrisome or say normal for any home of that age price or location – and help you understand on the repair spectrum how soon you may be up for repairs.  

What Real Estate Agents Can’t Do For You

  1. No one can predict the future, and that includes your real estate agent. They can’t tell you what they don’t know – and there is always something that you won’t find out until you move in. It’s unfortunately true that some sellers try to hide information that they think might dissuade a buyer from buying. But having worked with a number of sellers, I can say that more often than not, sellers aren’t intentionally withholding information. Of course, it does happen, but good listing agents will not allow sellers to not disclose something (assuming they are made aware of it). 
  2. They can’t determine who your neighbors are. Sure, if you’re in a condo you can read the HOA minutes if they exist and see what type of characters that might be part of that homeowners’ association. And yes, you can read crime reports and demographics of a certain area. But invariably there is always something going on in the make-up of a neighborhood that no agent can be on top of because there are just too many moving parts in any deal.
  3. They can’t know all the local laws that are pending that may affect the property. I do hear from people who believe their agent should’ve known something that the buyer later discovers on their own. In some cases, I agree. But more often than not, there’s no way for an agent to have known unless they themselves specifically lived in that location for a long time and heard it might be coming. Of course, that is an argument for using a hyper-local agent (say one that lives in the building you buy in or the neighborhood you would like to be a part of) but that has its drawbacks too – sometimes those agents become myopic and get stuck in minutia. I find that having a good balance of both local knowledge and a broader vantage point is best for noticing trends that could be missed if you just serve one small bubble of an area. 

The Takeaway

Here’s what I advise buyers to keep in mind. Real agents are part of your team. Think of us as the coach. We can call plays, help choose those players and move ineffective ones on and off the field to help craft the best chance of winning the game, but in the end you are the quarterback who has to make in-the-moment decisions. Whether the team succeeds or not hinges on how each player performs as part of a well-oiled and prepared team.

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