In my experience, the question “Do you need a realtor?” is pretty polarizing. Most people either quickly respond with “ABSOLUTELY!” or “ABSOLUTELY NOT!” – but these answers are almost always based on their own experiences, and it can be difficult to determine the best route to take if you don’t have all the facts, or at least an accurate pros and cons list.
Here’s the deal. I have purchased two homes and sold one with the aid of a realtor, and I’d hire her again in a heartbeat, so that’s the camp I’m in. But in the interest of making this article fair and balanced, I’ve interviewed a few people who chose to tackle the buying and/or selling process sans realtor. Read on to learn more about our experiences, and hopefully, our stories will help you definitively answer the question “Do you need a realtor?” for yourself.
1. How quickly are you looking to buy and/or sell?
If you don’t have a lot of time, you’ll probably want to use a realtor as they have access to listing websites that the general public does not. Also, if you’re selling a home, a realtor can help you stage it to look more attractive to potential buyers.
For example, my husband and I sold our home in two days with the assistance of a realtor. She helped us reorganize each room to make them look larger, and because our property was immediately listed online (on sites other realtors were combing for their clients), we had eight showings right away. Three of those eight people made offers, a bidding war ensued and we sold our home above the listing price.
Those who aren’t in a rush are better candidates for embarking on the journey without a realtor. Mark and Debi Brownell, who live just outside of Nashville, TN, chose to sell their home without a realtor because they “weren’t in a hurry,” and they found the process “pretty simple.” The Brownells listed their property on forsalebyowner.com, and after multiple showings, they received a solid offer. Because they didn’t have to pay a realtor, the couple saved $15,000.
Of course, there are exceptions. If you’re selling a property in a desirable area where the market is hot, house hunters are probably driving through your neighborhood regularly – so a “For Sale” sign in your yard would likely suffice, and you could end up selling your home quickly without paying realtor fees. The same applies if you’re trying to buy a home in a popular area, too, as long as you’re keeping a close eye on the neighborhood.
2. Do you have a good friend who works as a realtor or a lawyer?
There’s a lot of paperwork in involved when buying and selling properties, and those documents contain legal jargon most people aren’t very familiar with. This is the main reason my husband and I chose to hire a realtor – we wanted to understand exactly what we were agreeing to, and we didn’t want to do the research ourselves (nor did we have the time). Maybe that seems lazy, but it was priceless to know we had a trusted advisor helping us navigate the process while having our best interest in mind.
However, maybe you have a close friend who works in real estate or law, and he or she wouldn’t mind looking over the documents before you sign on the dotted line. For Nashville area resident Kimberly Hayes, this was the case when she and her husband purchased their home. She says they received free guidance from a realtor who “made sure everything was in order.” But Hayes says she “doesn’t know how many realtors would be so kind,” and I agree. Who really wants to work for free? Plus, someone who’s working without pay may not be quite as diligent as someone whose professional reputation could be impacted by your happiness with the end result.
3. How well do you understand the market in which you’re trying to buy or sell?
In short, you must have a strong understanding of the market you’re in so you know how much to ask for when selling a property, as well as how much is fair to pay when purchasing a home. Realtors have easy access to “comps” – what comparably-sized homes in the area recently sold for – and that’s important (even more important than the price for which a home appraises). For example, in a city’s most hip and happening neighborhood, homes are likely to sell for more than they’re worth because buyers are willing to pay for the location. Of course, the opposite is true in areas that aren't so desirable, and a realtor can help you determine what to ask for or offer in these situations.
Judy Baker, who lives in Greenbrier, Tenn., says it was too late by the time she and her husband realized they “way undersold” their home. The couple made less of a profit than they probably would have if they’d hired a realtor, and she says they “may try [not using a realtor] again, but we would do a lot of market research first.”
The flipside? If you know the area well or have friends who have recently bought or sold a property nearby, you likely don’t need a realtor’s help with this part of the process.