Answer: From a legal standpoint, any agent licensed by the state can help with either transaction. But keep in mind, the skills that make an agent a great listing agent are very different from those that make an agent a great buyer’s agent.
I recently sold my own home and referred it to an agent at another company. (Remember, we’re an exclusive buyers agency and never list properties, even our own.) I selected an agent who really understands marketing. She has a flair for writing colorful descriptions, and knows how to most effectively promote the property online and, especially, on social media. It was critical that she have excellent photo taking skills or that she pay for a professional photographer. High quality photographs are key when you’re selling a home. She needed to have an eye for spatial concepts, color and composition so she could expertly advise me on how to easily and inexpensively improve the visual appeal of my home. I wanted someone with a list of capable and reasonably priced contractors for making necessary repairs. And, it was extremely important that she was truly knowledgeable about the appraisal process and how to position my home to maximize the selling price and defend it when the appraiser had questions.
When you’re buying, the most important skills your agent should have are:
- Listening. Except to explain the process and share knowledge about a home, neighborhood or region, the agent should be doing less talking than you. It’s imperative the agent truly hear what’s important to you.
- Empathy and a sincere desire to deliver on your goals. A great buyers agent has a deep understanding of your real estate goals and will go to great lengths to bring them to fruition.
- Broad marketplace knowledge. Which end of Carolina Beach floods at high tide on full and new moon days? Which downtown Wilmington properties will allow short-term rentals? Which Topsail Beach and Oak Island properties would you not be able to rebuild if they were destroyed by a fire or a hurricane? How close will the not-yet-constructed Military Cutoff Bypass be to the house you like? The list of questions goes on and on. A good buyers agent has an innate sense of curiosity and the desire to find the answers to the critical questions you may not even know to ask.
- Absolutely no conflict of interest that could put you at a disadvantage. To be clear ANY agent can be a buyers’ agent. If that agent’s company also takes listings, there’s a reasonable chance you will find yourself in a “dual agency situation.” That’s happens when the same company is representing both the buyer and the seller. It usually works out great for the company, not so much for the buyer (or seller, for that matter.) Google “dual agency” for how many ways this can go wrong. Obviously, the person who listed your home works for a company that takes listings, so s/he could easily put you in a dual agency situation when it comes time to buy. That’s not the case with an Exclusive Buyers Agent.
- More than cursory knowledge of mortgage lenders and programs. Does your listing agent recommend one lender when it’s time to buy? Or does s/he know enough about your situation, the available programs, and the other players in the market to direct you to an option that will, first and foremost, be successful; and second, cost you the least amount of money?
- Superior negotiating ability. To be frank, in a seller’s market, the listing agent doesn’t need very sophisticated negotiating skills. After all, buyers are lined up at the door. But, as a buyer, does your agent know how to negotiate and position your offer so it has the greatest chance of being the one that secures the house?
- Experience and relationships to get you connected with the most demanding home inspectors and the most reasonably priced closing attorneys. True story: I was in a large real estate agent meeting that was sponsored by a home inspector who cheerily informed us, “When you call us, you’re getting a home inspector who won’t kill your deal.” What??!! We don’t use that home inspector or any others like him. Good buyers agents recommend inspectors who give it to you straight.
A final consideration: many agents will discount the commission charged on the sale of your current home if you also use them to buy the next house. That seems pretty enticing, since it could save you $2,000-$7,500 in the short-term, depending on the price of the home you’re selling. The question no one asks, but should, is how much more might it cost you in time, headaches, and yes, actual cash, on the other end? Does that listing agent have all the skills listed above to ensure your purchase has the same positive outcome they delivered on the sale of your current home?