Money Matters - Simplified

Bypass Real Estate Agents and Save?

By Selena Maranjian

These days, many buyers and sellers of homes are tempted. The price of homes has soared over recent years, and people are feeling pinched when they check out what they can buy. Sometimes, they mull over the idea of going it alone. After all, you can go to any open houses on your own, and you can make an offer on any home on your own. Likewise, you can put out signs and sell your home on your own, too.

So why not do so? Why not dump the agent and save some big bucks? After all, a traditional 6% commission on a $300,000 home is a not-so-insignificant $18,000.

Well, there are some good reasons to stick with the traditional buying-and-selling process. Real estate agents may sometimes look like they're earning some easy money, but appearances can be deceiving. Here are some things to consider.

A good buyer agent can help you spend your dollars wisely and save you money, despite what he or she earns in commissions. When I bought my own house, my agent told me several times to lower my bid. He said the house I was considering wasn't worth anything close to its asking price. He showed me dozens of homes and spent a lot of time doing so. When my parents used him later, he found a great house they hadn't even noticed yet, whisked them quickly off to see it, and helped them win a bidding war for it. He also persuaded my home's seller to sell to me.

If you're selling on your own, you might not have a really good handle on what your home is worth. A not-so-good agent might entice you with promises of high values, but a good one will give you a realistic expectation. On your own, if you just use some online resources, they won't always give you the most accurate information. The folks at Zillow.com, for example, have said that Zestimates, their estimates of home values, "are designed to be a starting point for consumers who want to learn about the value of homes. We make every effort to explain on our site the role of Zestimates as a research tool, as well as to clearly display our rates of accuracy for every area we cover."

Most of us buy or sell a home only a few times in our lives. Our experience with the process and its intricacies are rather modest, compared with a seasoned professional who has a bag of tricks to employ. For example, my house was being sold without its major appliances. My Realtor asked whether the seller would sell me the oven, fridge, washer and dryer for a dollar, and she said yes. I might not have thought to ask.

Now that I've sung the praises of real estate agents, let me also warn you about them. Thanks to the recent housing boom (which may be cooling off), the profession has exploded, with many people signing up to become Realtors. Not all real estate agents are created equal. When you select one, don't just go with the cousin of your good friend, unless you're fairly confident that he knows his stuff. Seek out glowing recommendations. It may be well worth it.

And meanwhile, with or without an agent helping you, you might find some useful information at sites such as Zillow, Tullia.com, Move 's (Nasdaq: MOVE) Realtor.com, IAC/InterActiveCorp 's (Nasdaq: IACI) RealEstate.com, HouseValues (Nasdaq: SOLD), and ZipRealty (Nasdaq: ZIPR).