I understand completely why you would be feeling frustrated and angry with the Zestimate when you have been adding value to your home since you bought it. I try to get my clients to ignore the Zestimate - after all, Zillow hasn't seen your upgraded appliances, deck area, and landscaping. What Zillow knows is the average price per square foot for all of the homes sold in your area. Some of those homes will be well maintained and upgraded, like yours, while others may be foreclosures in dire need of major renovations. As that average price goes up and down, your Zestimate will likewise go up and down. It's the same way with the tax value that you get from the tax office each spring. If it's less than you think your home is worth, congratulations! You are paying less property tax than you might otherwise have had to. If it's more than you think your home is worth, I recommend you appeal the value. Unless an appraiser has personally gone through your home and compared it to sales of similar homes in your area, there is no way to be accurate on what your home is really worth. Zestimates are good if you want to know "generally" what homes are worth in a certain area. I live in Evans and work out of our Evans office, and I know that well maintained homes are going up in value around here based on actual sales this year. That's what's really important!
A pool does generally add to a home's value, but the amount of additional value has narrowed considerably this year. It certainly does not add as much as what it cost to install. For many buyers, a pool is considered more of a negative than a positive for the home...this is especially true for families with young children (concerned with safety issues) and empty-nesters/retirees.The only exception to this that I know is for USDA guaranteed loans in rural areas. In these cases, the appraiser will not include a pool to determine the appraised value. The house must stand on its own.
I always have my buyers do the inspection first - and here's why: the inspection costs about $250 - 300 whereas the appraisal costs about $400 - 500. If they are not satisfied with the condition of the property based on the inspection, then they have not spent a lot of money and can inexpensively terminate the contract, if they are still in the due diligence period. Here in Georgia, we usually have a due diligence period (commonly 14 days) where the buyer can cancel the contract and get back their earnest money with no penalty. The inspection is conducted during this time. If my buyers are concerned about issues revealed on the inspection report, we can go back to the sellers and negotiate for repairs. If an agreement cannot be reached at this point, we can terminate without having spent another $400-500 on the home. Talk to your seller; if his home is appraising for less than your contract, he's not going to be able to sell it to anyone else for more money and might as well work out with his "buyer in hand"!
You definitely want to work with an agent, even when buying from a builder. A builder may want a fixed price for a new home, that he can report to other homebuyers. What he won't tell you is that one agent can negotiate options and upgrades be included in that price, such as fencing, more closing costs paid by the seller, painting the floor and walls of the garage, even including some furniture from the model! All of these are actual items that we have negotiated from builders that our buyer never even thought to ask for! We paid the asking price, but got a whole lot more than was being offered.
The short answer is "no", but it helps to listen to several of the key reasons. There are benefits to both you and the agent when the relationship is defined and documented. Since your agent is paid by the seller through a selling commission, it is critical that you know how you are being represented in the deal. There are legal issues that become defined when a Buyer Broker Agreement is signed.What is the benefit to you? When you sign a Buyer Broker Agreement with an agent, you become a client of that agent, as opposed to a customer. This is an important distinction. As my client, I only represent you in a transaction. What you tell me becomes confidential information that I can not share with a seller/seller's agent. I can make suggestions to you and give you advice; I can share information that I learn about a property or the seller's situation that may not be publicly known. Even though I am paid by the seller through a portion of the selling commission, I only represent you in a transaction and you have my full loyalty that I am working only in YOUR BEST INTEREST as required by law.Otherwise, you are only my customer. I am paid by the seller and therefore will not disclose to you anything I find out that is not publicly known. I will show the house, but am prevented from giving you advice. I will fill out any forms as you direct me, but will not offer suggestions as to how to make the offer more to your benefit. I may or may not have your best interest in the deal.Obviously, I benefit by being assured that the countless hours that I spend showing you homes, researching, negotiating, etc. will pay off eventually in the form of a commission check from a seller. You do yourself and your agent a disservice when you spend time with one agent and then have someone else prepare the offer and receive the commission.That being said, you should spend a little (not a lot) of time first with an agent and make sure you trust the way they operate before signing a contract. Interview them, ask for referrals, have them show you a house - whatever you need to feel comfortable with them. Then, be prepared to move forward as their client.