Before the era of online property listings, thick books were distributed to local real estate offices every few weeks. Agents sifted through them looking for homes that might be a good fit for their buyer clients. They’d then call their clients with the address and have them do a drive-by. Maybe they’d even fax the listing to their client. Either way, that information wasn’t available to the general public, and real estate agents held all the cards.

Today, everything you might want to know about a property is available with a few clicks. The history of a listing shows how long it’s been on the market, when the seller bought it and if the seller tried to sell it a few years back. Consumers can even see comparable properties to gauge home value.

Given the wealth of easily available property information, you might be wondering whether a real estate agent is even necessary anymore. Here are three reasons why agents are just as important as they were years ago — if not more so.

You need someone to interpret all that information

Yes, there’s a ton of information out there for the general public, but all that data is meaningless if you can’t interpret it or predict how it might affect your investment.

For example, imagine that you’ve found a home online you love, and you’ve discovered a comparable home that sold two months ago for $50,000 less. Your inclination might be to wait and not make an offer or to make a lowball offer. However, a good agent would know that the “comparable” you found has dry rot and termite issues on the back deck. They’d know there was work done in the basement without permits, which the new owner would have to take care of. An unrepresented buyer would miss out on this home without this inside knowledge.

Often, having an agent to bounce ideas off of, validate what you’re thinking about a home or highlight a disclosure you wouldn’t have noticed, gives you peace of mind —  and can save you a lot of time, trouble and money.

It’s the agent’s job to know the market

Trying to buy or sell a home is practically a part-time job, one that requires its own expertise.

A real estate agent’s livelihood depends on knowing the market and the history of all the homes sold in a particular neighborhood over the course of five years. Agents help a variety of buyers and sellers through the process over and over.

The sheer repetition of completing many deals is something buyers and sellers don’t have. Through that repetition, experienced agents learn when to avoid a certain inspector, when and why it makes sense to make a client put in an offer ahead of an open house, or how to navigate a title issue with the escrow company prior to a closing. A good agent immediately knows when a home that appears to be an amazing “deal” is actually too good to be true and can also spot an incredible opportunity that a buyer might miss.

You can’t afford to make a mistake

Years ago, people who bought homes could usually expect a slow but steady increase in their investment over many years. That was OK, because homeowners were in it for the long haul. Life was simpler then. People stayed in their jobs until retirement. They wanted to establish roots in their community.

Fast-forward to today. If nothing else, the past five years have shown us how volatile the real estate market has become. Prices went up and up and up, then crashed, and are now moving back up. The equity many people counted on was wiped out and, depending on when they bought, might never come back. At the same time, job security has become a thing of the past. Few people, especially those younger than 40, plan to retire with the companies they’re currently employed by. We’re a highly mobile society.

The point is, life feels more unpredictable than ever, and buying a home is a huge investment. With so much change and uncertainty, the stakes are high. If you make the mistake of buying at the height of the market or buying the best house on the block, and then you have to sell sooner than expected, you could lose a lot of money.


Brendon DeSimone is a Realtor and one of the nation’s leading real estate experts. He has collaborated on multiple real estate books, and his expert advice is regularly sought out by print, online and television media outlets like FOX News, CNBC and Forbes. An avid investor, Brendon owns real estate around the U.S. and abroad and is licensed to sell in two states. You can find Brendon online or follow him on Twitter and Google +

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

About the Author

Brendon DeSimone is the author of "Next Generation Real Estate: New Rules for Smarter Home Buying & Faster Selling," the go-to insider’s guide for navigating and better understanding the complex and ever-evolving world of buying and selling a home. DeSimone is the founder and principal of DeSimone & Co, an independent NYC real estate brokerage providing individualized services and a fresh, hands-on approach. Bringing more than a decade of residential real estate experience, DeSimone is a recognized national real estate expert and has appeared on top media outlets including CNBC, Good Morning America, FOX Business, HGTV, FOX News and Bloomberg. Consumers often call on Brendon for advice and to help them find a real estate agent. You can follow him on Twitter.

  • TLN2

    In my 40 years of buying and selling property I have only found only one agent that had the ability or desire to do the things that an agent should do as suggested in this article. The trend now seems to be “I will only show you three or four houses as not to confuse you.” B.S. Most agents are paid for and working for the seller. The agents goal is to sell the property for the highest price for which the property will sell. This is especially true in the rural areas.
    Know the market? Most have no idea how properties are appraised and do not offer realistic reasoning or advice to the seller. They have learned to list the house, (then you get 3% of the commission regardless who sells the property) and after the house sits on the market for a year or two they will tell the seller they need to lower the price. They will wait for the loan application and when the appraisal comes in tens of thousands or a hundred thousand under the asking price, they will try and get to seller to pay more than the property is worth. (This is especially true in the 2014 market.) You will hear it is customary for the buyer to pay the appraisal cost. Sure it is. Because it is part of the loan process. But it is also customary for the seller to sale at the appraised value! A good check of the confidence of the asking price is if the seller is willing to pay all or part of the loan application costs if they refuse to sell for the appraised value.
    “When to avoid a certain inspector”? The inspector is the buyers best friend. Hopefully, he will disclose things that the seller “failed to remember” or was “unaware.” You know, the motor bearing in the furnace that is so loud the neighbors could hear it (and was conveniently not running at the time of the tour); or the painted-over water damage; the rat hole under the flashing and the infestations in the attic. Problems are things sellers and agents want to avoid, so the most critical (but fair) inspector is essential to the buyer. The buyer should be present or have an agent present during the inspection. People are people and you judge how thorough the inspector was. I have witnessed one that did not even go on a flat roof. They will notice things that one who wants to buy a house fail to see. Like the dying tree next to the house.

    I agree that buyers should not go it alone. The buyer should get an attorney to review the documents, especially Home Owner Associations, zoning, covenants and restrictions. Also, the buyer should have an agreement that if the seller refuses to sell for the appraised value, then they pay for all or part of the appraisal and loan application costs. One may choose to pay more for a house of the appraised value. However, remember when it comes time to sell, that lower selling price is the cost of love.
    Most all agents are nice and charming….they are salesmen. Ask the critical questions and if you don’t find an agent that knows the answers then get another agent. Questions such as: what are the build cost per sq ft in this area and what is the average SELLING price per acre in the area. Talk to appraisal companies in the area and find out what makes a difference in the appraisal of a property. How much do the upgraded appliances and cabinets really add or subtract from the APPRAISED value of a home? Also have your attorney read any agent contracts before you sign. Make sure there is an out in the contract if the agent does not perform. A good agent is like a good home, you have to look at a lot of houses to find the right one, for the right price. Like the multiple listing book they may not be necessary, especially for the price.

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