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On Utilizing Real Estate Professionals

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to Curbed Chicago's tipline.

Why Do I Need a Real Estate Agent?
So, you're ready to make the "biggest purchase of your life"? Then it's probably time to buddy up with a buyer's agent. "But," you're probably thinking, "I thought agents were the enemy?" It's not as simple as that. While real estate agents do a lot of things that drive us crazy (leaving the caps lock on, email spam), they're a necessary evil, and the right agent can actually be a tremendous resource. And best of all, their services come gratis, until a sale is made.

But wait: If an agent's paycheck comes as a sale commission, they can't possibly represent your best interest! While it is true that a buyer's agent has a personal incentive to encourage you to buy a home, only a greedy degenerate of an agent would try to trick you into buying what they know to be a crappy home.

In some cases, a buyer will enlist the services of the listing agent, who already works for the seller (this is called "dual agency"). Although, dual agents would appear to have an obvious conflict of interest, the practice is perfectly legal, and they're forbidden from revealing one party's confidential information to the other (unlike double-agents). If you aren't comfortable working with the seller's agent, get yourself an agent that you trust, and circumvent the listing agent altogether.

Agents that aren't looking out for your best interest do exist, and they should be avoided at all cost. Many, however, are actually decent folks who know more about buying a home than you do, and because they get a lot of business through referrals, they have reasons to accommodate your needs. Our advice for buyers who are looking for their first real estate agent: Do your research, and ask friends and family for referrals. And if the agent you're working with isn't getting the job done, don't be afraid to dump them.

What Can an Agent Do for Me?
In the beginning of your home search, your agent should help you find a home that fits your criteria and provide information on the home's value by presenting you with comparable sale prices in the same neighborhood. The agent should be knowledgeable about the real estate market and the relative value of the homes they're showing you. Agents will handle the logistics of setting up a showing and getting access to the home you want to view, and they will often pick you up and give you a ride to the home. Once you find a home that you're interested in buying, your agent should be able to recommend a preferred home inspector and real estate lawyer (should you need one), but perhaps their greatest value comes at the negotiating table. With experience and market knowledge on their side, any agent worth their salt should be able to negotiate an appropriate price and help save you money.
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