GOING IT ALONE
Purchasing a home can be a complicated process, which is why most people use a real estate agent. But what about those who are thinking of going it alone? Is it practical? It can be, according to some experts, if a person is prepared to do his or her homework and put the necessary time into it. "A buyer can certainly go at it alone," says Realtor Isabel Fontaneau. "What's important to realize are two things. First, it doesn't cost a buyer to use a real estate agent when buying property, and second, if the buyer still decides to do it alone, he'll still deal with an agent — the seller's agent. So basically, they'll end up dealing with the agent that cares about the seller's interests." Whether or not a homebuyer should go it alone or with a real estate agent is a question often posed to James Hart of Initial Impressions."As a home stager and property consultant, I am often asked whether our clients should enlist the help of an agent," Hart says. "I don't have a dog in this fight, but my answer is always yes." According to Hart, professional agents provide two important services to their clients. "The first is to escort traffic through the home. I have seen firsthand how tight-lipped and uncomfortable prospective buyers can be when the homeowner is present for a showing. You want buyers to be able to relax and appreciate the space." The second-most valuable role an agent can play, Hart says, is that of the negotiator. "As savvy a businessperson as a homeowner may be, they lack experiences in the nuances of real estate transactions. An agent will know which points are valid negotiating topics and which are not. For example, every agent worth his or her salt knows that a boiler on its last legs is not up for negotiation. If it still works, even if it is past its normal life span, its value is never on the table for negotiation. A green home seller might find themselves giving in on this point." Therefore, "what a seller saves in commission, they might very well find themselves losing in both time on the market and on the closing table," Hart says. But that is not necessarily true, in the opinion of Colby Sambrotto of USRealty.com, which helps owners sell their homes "for sale by seller" and pay no commission or attract a buyer's agent and pay less than 3 percent commission. It also provides new ways to track trends in real estate, including technology called PropertyScore, which helps people quickly find a home that best suits their needs. Sambrotto believes that going it alone to purchase a home is reasonable and wise. "A primary residence is the biggest purchase the average person makes," he says. "While it can take educating yourself about homebuying and more work, doing it yourself can save money that can be put away for other things, such as a child's education or retirement." Though owning a house is a goal for many Americans, the real estate market has been volatile in recent years, contributing to the concern and confusion of most buyers. Many buyers, even those who have placed 20 percent down when buying a house, have seen their homes go down in value, resulting in their losing money. People in this situation — with no equity in their house — often can't pay an agent. A 6 percent commission split between the buyer's real estate agent and the seller's agent is common, but sellers often search for alternatives to traditional selling techniques. Some buyers also are looking for alternatives, including going it alone. There are three basic steps to selling a property, according to Sambrotto. "The first one is pricing the property correctly," he says. "The second is marketing it properly. And the last step is the transfer of the title, which is when an attorney becomes involved." Sambrotto recommends that both buyers and sellers become familiar with the real estate market in which they live or are considering. "For example, the market is pretty good in the Northeast, whereas it is still slow in Florida and Nevada."