Owning a home is one of your biggest financial investments, but making the leap into homeownership can be a daunting experience. Many consumers think the solution to easing the burden of this complex process is to hire a real estate agent when buying or selling a home.
According to the National Association of Realtors, 88% of homebuyers and 90% of sellers worked with a real estate agent in 2016.
Real estate agents may be revered as “helpers,” but shady agents could create problems that make it more expensive when you are buying or selling a home.
When you’re ready to buy or sell, watch out for these five red flags when working with an agent to protect yourself and your money from being blindsided.
Here are five lies your real estate agent might tell you.
1. “The home is in fantastic shape.”
Real estate agents have one goal: to make a sale. While most may do so with integrity, some can seek shortcuts.
Atlanta-based real estate broker John Hiram, who has owned and operated Independent Realty Co. for 21 years, stresses the importance of independent home inspections if unethical agents attempt to hide issues.
“Homebuyers should always rely on a professional to inspect a home in regards to its condition,” he says.
Without proper disclosure, he adds, you could overlook potential problems that could impact the home’s value and how much you pay for it.
Irit Smith experienced this while working with a real estate agent in 2011 to buy a two-bedroom, two-bath Los Angeles condo built in 1971. Smith says the agent omitted information about mold and asbestos in the disclosure, a required document that tells buyers about potential issues.
"I noticed within a month or so of living there that I can't breathe … and it ended up being that I live with mold,” Smith says.
Removing mold, which can involve investigating a claim and paying for displaced residents and cleanup, costs homeowners on average up to $30,000 per insurance claim, according to NAR's Toxic Mold research. Smith says she wishes she had hired her own inspector early on, instead of having to deal with mold remediation.
To avoid this, conduct an independent inspection on the home you are interested in, instead of simply taking the real estate agent’s or seller’s word for face value. A general inspection, which costs on average $315, according to HomeAdvisor, can save you thousands in the long run.
2. “You can afford to buy this home.”
Real estate agents sometimes mislead buyers who purchase more expensive homes and overextend themselves financially, risking foreclosure.
Kyle Hiscock, co-owner of the RE/Max Realty Group in Rochester, N.Y., says it’s imperative for buyers to consider multiple factors when discussing the price of a home with agents.
“I think there's a lot of deception and confusion on the financing end,” he says.
Hiscock says potential buyers tend to think their monthly payments are only based on the market price of the home due to relying on online mortgage calculators.
Taxes and insurance can be covered by escrow, which is money factored into your monthly mortgage payments set aside by your mortgage lender for these expenses, but without it, consumers must budget for these costs. Without doing so, new homeowners can sign into an agreement that they can’t afford.
Don’t just rely on online tools or your agent’s calculations to determine how much you can afford. For buyers, seek mortgage consultants or trusted lenders to help you understand the real financial obligation of homeownership.
Misleading price quotes can be just as damaging to sellers. Marisa Wright, an international property investor for 20 years and freelance writer, fell prey to deceptive quotes from agents while selling her first condo due to divorce.
“We got three real estate agents to quote, and they all assessed the property at about the same price,” she says. “As it turned out, the offers we received were all far below the price the (real estate agents) quoted.”
Wright, who originally wanted her ex-husband to buy the condohouse from her and only listed with the agent due to his inability to afford the prices they had been quoted, later learned that the agents were overquoting her in order to snag her listing.
She was able pull the house off the market so that her ex-husband could buy the condohouse from her and eliminate the agent from the equation.
“The lesson I learned was not to trust agent estimates,” says Wright.
3. “I can’t negotiate my commission.”
Despite what you may think, or may be told, clients can negotiate the commission rates, the real estate agent’s “fee” for his or her services, which is defined as a percent of the total sale price. The commission rate should be agreed upon when you start working with agents.
Fourteen percent of cases studied in the 2017 NAR Homebuyers and Sellers Report didn’t know that commission rates, which average about 4%-6%, could be negotiated. With the median cost of all housing types hitting $228,900 in January 2017, negotiating a commission rate could save a buyer thousands of dollars.
Certain situations can impact whether the fee is in the hands of the buyer or seller.
For buyers, if the home you want is listed as For Sale by Owner (FSBO), that means the seller is not paying an agent and isn’t responsible for commission rates.
“At that point, an agent could request that a buyer pay their agent's commission, which is negotiable,” Hiscock says.
Smith encountered a unique issue when negotiating commission rates with her real estate agent because the real estate agent had a relationship with the seller’s agent.
This led to higher fees and withheld information — a fact Smith learned after the sale was made.
"The real estate agent actually knew the seller's agent,” says Smith. “I think they played the game against us."
Make sure the commission rates and arrangements are clear in the contract before your property hunting or selling begins. Check with sellers and agents on their rates and fees before buying in order to avoid being blindsided later.
4. “Now is a great time to buy/sell this home!”
Agents sometimes do not reveal the entire truth about market conditions, which have a drastic impact on prices and getting the deal you desire. This is a major area where agents fail their clients, Hiscock says.
“I think it's important for a buyer, when they're buying a home, that they understand the pulse of the real estate market,” Hiscock says. “Is it a buyers' market? Is it a sellers' market? Can they expect to have competition when they're looking at homes?”
To determine the truth, scour data and reports from the NAR and real estate associations in your community and state, and use the U.S. Department of Housing’s Comprehensive Market Housing Analyses online tools. You also can sign up for local market trend updates from real estate companies and independent websites that cover the industry.
5. “There are other offers on the table.”
If real estate agents mention other potential buyers, it might pressure you to rush and make an offer, possibly for more than you intend to spend.
This is a fairly common tactic that agents use when pushing to close a deal, Hiscock says.
“A lot of the times I see buyer's remorse if a buyer feels pressured into making a decision when they're really not ready,” he says.
You should be suspicious if the property has been listed for 90 to 120 days, and a group of offers suddenly appear.
To avoid these lies, get everything in writing. Hiscock passes along emails, text messages, and any other information on potential buyers from the listing agents to his clients in order to maintain transparency and protect all parties involved.
Tips to find a reliable real estate agent
Encountering an untrustworthy real estate professional may seem unlikely, but out of the estimated 5.69 million existing home sales in 2016, there’s bound to be hiccups along the way. Here are three tips to determine if an agent is a good fit, knowledgeable, and trustworthy.
1. Do research and ask for referrals. More than half of first-time property buyers ask for referrals from family and friends. But make sure you conduct your own background research.
Hiscock suggests you learn about potential agents by checking their online presence and whether or not their state real estate license is up to date (you can search by name on boards’ websites). There you find out if the agent is credentialed, how long they have been in business, and whether they have received any complaints or discipline.
2. Interview multiple agents. Ask questions based on whether you want to sell or buy. If you’re deal hunting, ask the agents: What’s the variation between the listing and sale price on homes you have helped people sell and purchase this year? That way, you’ll know if the agent has a knack for helping clients save on home purchases.
3. Think about future costs. Find out if your agent has relationships with contractors, painters, plumbers, carpenters, and other people who can make renovations or repairs. Those relationships, which could result in discounts and quicker turnaround time, could save you money after you buy the home.
MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.