2007-06-15

Home buying 101

Well, as a first time home buyer, I learned an awful lot. Here's a partial list:
  1. Realtors aren't worth it. I apologize to the people I know that are real estate agents.
  2. Neighbors are enamored by the "new guy."
  3. The utilities will cut off your gas, power, and water with impunity.
  4. Owning a home makes you feel entitled, even required, to shop at Home Depot.
So, lets talk about realtors -- the other stuff is pretty self explanatory. Let me first say that I found my house on craigslist after 3 weeks of using MLS and arranging with realtors to see homes. Of the dozen realtors I talked to and houses I looked at, I only felt like one was honest and fair. Some were downright slimy. I ran into two situations as a home buyer: (1) the realtor I met was the one listing the house, or (2) an agent who wanted to help me buy a place (to be my "buyer's agent".)

In the first case, some of the the listing agents hardly wanted to talk to me because I didn't have an agent, as if I wasn't serious about buying the house. One listing agent sent his underling apprentice to show the house, but he couldn't get the little key box thingy open to get in. When they did show the house, all I know is that looking at homes that were listed as for sale by owner was so much more pleasant. FSBOs were willing to talk about the home honestly, it's pluses and minuses, and actually had information about how much utilities cost, what the neighborhood was like, and all those things. Realtors tend to gloss over a lot of those details.

In the second situation, my buyer's-agent-to-be always used this line, "You know, the seller pays for the agent, don't you?" as if, somehow, the 3% that goes to him for helping my find a house doesn't somehow affect the final price. I had one listing agent (the one I actually felt comfortable talking to) who told me directly, "Well if you don't have an agent, we'll go ahead and take 3% off of the price." I think that's always how it should be. In general, I found it a little audacious that I could call a real estate company to look as a house, and they would send out an agent to try and represent me in buying a house that one of that company's own agents was listing. How can that not represent a conflict of interest? It's like two lawyers from the same firm representing both the plaintiff and defendant in a case.

I'll be honest, I think that realtors (especially for buyers) are on the way out. I was worried about all the paperwork and the legalities, but there are standard contracts in most states, and the reality is that the title company and your mortgage lender/broker do almost all the work. After all, those two entities are largely indifferent to the price and are highly motivated in helping you buy the home -- they want your loan and want it to be on the up and up. Realtors love to quote statistics that home buyers get lower prices when they use an agent, but at least one recent study reported in the NY times disputes that. Besides, don't the realtors also say that they get the highest sale prices, too? Is that with or without the 6% commission?