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How to buy a house without a realtor

A great real estate professional plays an important role in buying or selling a home. While you can buy without an experienced agent, you may decide that you prefer to have someone assist you as you navigate the complexities of finding a property, making an offer and preparing to close. This is especially true if it’s your first time buying a home. If you do want to handle this work yourself, though, you can — and there may be some situations where you simply don't need an agent to accomplish your goals.

What does a real estate agent do?

Before you decide whether or not to work with an agent, it's important to understand the steps in buying a home and the jobs an agent normally handles.

A real estate agent is trained and licensed to buy and sell homes on behalf of a client. They can represent either a seller, and are known as a listing or seller’s agent, or a buyer, in which case they're called a buyer's agent. Usually, the same person does not act as an agent for both parties in a real estate transaction, but most agents are trained to work with either buyers or sellers.

Buyer's agents may help with the following work during the home buying process:

  • Find available properties in your price range with the location and features you want.
  • Educate you on the real estate market and what you can expect.
  • Set up showings so you can tour potential homes.
  • Discuss the amount you should offer.
  • Submit an offer on a home you’re interested in buying.
  • Set up home inspections with the proper professionals.
  • Negotiate with the sellers or their broker if any issues about the condition of the property arise.
  • Assist you with paperwork.
  • Help you schedule your closing day and make sure you are on track for closing.

Experienced real estate agents can also reassure you when complications come up and help smooth out any problems with the seller. They provide expertise on the housing market in your community and ensure that all real estate laws are followed. They also communicate with all parties which can help keep things less stressful for you.

5 reasons to buy a house without a real estate agent

While you can decide to work without a realtor on any real estate deal, there are some situations where you may have an easier time handling thing yourself. These include:

  1. The seller is a close friend or relative whom you trust and are comfortable negotiating with directly.
  2. You have worked as a real estate agent or have been trained and licensed in your state. Even if you're not currently active, you have the background to manage your own real estate purchase.
  3. A family member or very good friend works as a real estate agent and is willing to advise you without compensation.
  4. The house is for sale by the owner. Sometimes sellers in this situation wish to work with a buyer directly in order to keep the price of the house lower by not paying commission. Or, you may want to work without an agent and request a lower price from the seller. This can be risky, but it may be worthwhile if the property is ideal for you.
  5. You have gone through several real estate transactions, understand the market and know what to expect. You may have connections to local pros like home inspectors and title companies.

How to buy a home without a real estate agent

You'll have some work to do before you begin the homebuying process, like saving for a down payment and making sure  your credit score is in good shape. Once you're ready to go, you can start the actual work of buying a house with these key steps.

  • Preapproval. It may be a good idea to get preapproved for a mortgage and get a conditional letter of approval from your lender that explains how much you can borrow. You might need this letter when it comes time to make an offer.
  • Explore the market. Research the different neighborhoods you’re interested in. Know their names, boundaries and how much recently sold homes in the area cost. Use online tools to identify properties that might fit your needs and budget.
  • Hire a lawyer. Find a real estate lawyer who can help with legal issues and reviewing paperwork.
  • Ask questions. Prepare a list of questions that you want to ask a seller or listing agent. These might include easy questions like "Are appliances included in the sale of the home?" and "How old is the roof/furnace?" to more complex questions like "Why are you selling?" and "What's the biggest problem you’ve encountered in this neighborhood?"
  • Request disclosures. Request a list of disclosures from the seller. At a minimum, sellers must report the possible presence of lead paint. In some locations, they must also disclose asbestos, mold, water or pest damage if they know about it. Sellers also must answer questions truthfully when asked.
  • Make an offer. The offer letter should include contingencies, proposed closing date and terms and any requested interested party contributions or concessions. You should also list any items you expect to come with the home, like appliances or outdoor structures. Because this is considered a legal document, have your lawyer check it over before submitting your offer to the seller or listing agent.
  • Apply for your mortgage. If you’re conditionally approved, you may have already submitted a lot of the paperwork for your application. You'll need to finalize the application and provide any additional documentation to ensure you'll have funds by the closing date.
  • Finalize repairs. Negotiate and sign off on any issues discovered during the inspection or lender’s appraisal. You might ask for repairs to be done, a reduction in the asking price of the home or allowances to address any problems.
  • Title. Find a title company. Your lawyer may be able to recommend a good company, or you can ask friends who have recently purchased a home. You’ll also want to get title insurance to cover any potential problems with the title.
  • Do a final walk-through. This is typically done a day or so before closing so you can check on repairs and make sure the home is ready for you to take ownership.
  • Close on the property. You’ll need to have your legal ID, a check or proof of wire transfer for the down payment and closing costs. It typically takes around two hours to sign documents.

What to consider when you buy without an agent

When you don't use a real estate agent, you'll need to put in considerable time and research for the things an agent would normally handle. If any of these are sticking points, or you think they sound like a hassle, you may want to consider using an agent instead.

  • Researching the market. You'll need to spend significant time researching comparable homes in your price range, common features in local properties and, of course, what homes are on the market.
  • Calling for showings. In hot markets, new listings are snapped up quickly. You'll need to pay close attention to what's new and arrange showings through the listing agent or seller quickly.
  • Finding your own professional team. Agents have worked with many professionals and know who is good, and who should be avoided. You'll need to find a lawyer, home inspector, title company and possibly other pros like contractors to get everything done.
  • Negotiating any problems. From needed repairs uncovered during the inspection process to convincing the seller that they should leave their appliances; you'll likely have several items to discuss. Sometimes these conversations can be contentious. You may need to be willing to compromise in some areas or abandon the deal.
  • Completing paperwork. You’ll need to create legal documents, and you must pay close attention to details in the documents you provide and the ones you receive.

If any of these tasks make you uncomfortable, or you don't think you can do them, it's important to use a real estate agent to help buy your home.

Whether you use a real estate agent or go out on your own to buy a home, you may need help with getting preapproved and applying for a mortgage. Speak to a Home Lending Advisor for more help.

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