The Mystery Housebuyer

Part II: The agent hunt

How to find your match

In the late 1990s, the National Association of Realtors was faced with its worse fear: What if people didn’t need Real estate agents anymore because everyone could find house ads online without the need of the NAR Multiple Listing Service?

But a funny thing happened on the way to the grave for NAR: Instead of shrinking, its membership grew by hundreds of thousands as the housing boom really took off. Why did people need a human agent when they could find available homes by themselves? Because a useful agent is one who can tell you things not included in an online ad.

When we realized we were serious about searching for a new home to buy, we understood we needed a real estate agent to represent us. Agents certainly still serve the function of pointing you in the direction of homes that meet your criteria, but they increasingly are seen as critical for an even more important reason. They help you navigate your way through the incredibly complicated and stressful process of searching for and buying a home.

Your friends’ referrals of agents is probably the most common method of finding someone, but don’t let your friends and family pressure you into using their agent just because they liked that person. The circumstances of those buyers might have been completely different from yours, so what you really need to know is how an agent could help in any likely scenario.

In our case, we lucked out. A friend recommended the agent who helped her buy her last home, but it was the way she recommended him that made him stand out. She said he really knew the business, would be a perfect guide and defender for us, would never pressure us to make a decision, and wouldn’t show us pointless houses outside our selected parameters. In every detail, she turned out to be correct.

That human touch — of market experience, of the ins and outs of the closing experience, of hand-holding through the nerve-wracking bidding process — is where our agent really paid off. He took us through the entire process, calming us when we wanted to freak out about complications from the lender (there are almost always complications), guiding us through the counter-offers, answering our text messages at 10 p.m. on Academy Awards night, encouraging us when we were getting particularly stressed, and giving us hard, useful facts when we needed to know the particulars of tax law or earthquake vulnerability.

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