Some buyers hire an agent to represent them in a home purchase or sale because they haven’t the time to deal with the details. They take the "wake me when it’s over" approach. This is a risky strategy.
When you hire a real estate agent, that agent owes you a fiduciary duty to put your needs first, even if the agent’s advice means a transaction won’t close and the agent won’t earn a commission. This is the same relationship you establish when you hire an attorney.
However, this doesn’t mean that you delegate your role as the decision-maker to your agent. You should never abdicate this critical role to anyone. It’s your money at stake. You will be living in the home. If you relinquish your role as decision-maker, you could find out you don’t like the place after you move in and want to sell it and buy another home that better suits your long-term needs.
Several years ago, when the market was escalating upwards at a rapid clip, you could buy and sell the same house within a couple of years and make money. Today, you’d be lucky to break even if you sold soon after buying, given the costs of buying and selling.
As in all professions, some agents follow the rules more diligently than others. Many agents wouldn’t let you put them in the driver’s seat. They know their role is to provide you with guidance, advice, point out defects, and let you know when there’s a red flag that might suggest you back away from the transaction.
Some agents think they’re doing their clients a favor by concealing problems that arise in the transaction. They figure they can handle the situation themselves. This should never happen. You should know if there is a problem — with the financing, appraisal, inspections, the seller’s resolve to sell — as soon as it arises.
You don’t want to discover when it’s too late that you could have fixed the problem if only you’d known about it.
HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Buying and selling homes is not convenient. It usually happens when you’re overloaded with other commitments, not when you’re bored out of your mind, waiting for something to happen. One couple looked for more than five years in several counties for the perfect retirement house.
They found it the day they were leaving the country for a month. They entered into contract, went on their trip, and handled everything long distance via phone and e-mail.
Don’t give power of attorney to your agent to act on your behalf if you are planning to be gone during the transaction. If necessary, give power of attorney to someone you trust who has no vested interest in the transaction.
What might seem like a good deal may cause buyers to be less cautious and skirt their due-diligence inspections. A novice buyer with seven children, who was represented by an inexperienced agent, bought a house in a rural area that relied on a well on the property for water.
The well was tested for capacity. The sellers were a couple and the water supplied from the well was adequate for them, although there was a large holding tank on the property.
The buyer discovered after the sale closed that capacity of the well was not sufficient to handle the needs of a family of eight. Neither the buyer nor agent completed the due-diligence inspections to discover whether the water flow was adequate for the buyer’s needs.
Just as sellers in most states have a responsibility to disclose material facts to buyers, buyers have a responsibility to protect themselves. Don’t assume that your agent will make sure you’re protected.
THE CLOSING: Stay involved in the transaction from beginning to end.