November 13, 2023

The Sitzer | Burnett verdict is in. At the same time, other lawsuits are being filed. While the industry has been upended into chaos and the ultimate outcome is unknown, now more than ever, the spotlight is on buyer agency.

Trying to articulate all that we do is never a finite list as each buyer and transaction is uniquely different between numerous factors involved regarding the property, seller(s) and financing. Working with buyers involves advocacy, education, information, guidance, encouragement, patience, protection and accountability.

Here are 18 things we do to create value for those we represent. Use them to guide your communication and your unique value proposition as you talk to buyers in the days ahead.

1. Education

It is critically important that any buyer coming into a marketplace be educated on the local market regarding the inventory and options in their price range, making offers, processes, forms, contingencies, inspections, financing, closing costs, local customs, insurance challenges, the local terrain/landscape such as fire or flood zones, etc.

3. Accessibility and availability 

Speaking of “all the time and anytime,” one of the biggest values a buyer’s agent brings is their accessibility and availability. You cannot put a price on someone in a profession who is inherently expected to be available to respond to anything and everything that comes up during the relationship with that buyer.

Whether that is a question, running down information, dropping everything to show a new listing that the buyer has to get in to see right this minute (and then they ultimately decide not to write an offer), writing an offer, or what have you, the agent will find a way to be there or, if they can’t physically be present, they will have someone in their place.

The buyer’s schedule becomes their schedule, so an agent may have to cut something short they had scheduled in their personal life or cancel it altogether. Many give up precious time with family to be available to their buyer clients. Agents dealing with an illness, whether they are at home sick or in the hospital or dealing with a family member’s health issue, it does not matter.

The buying public does not care, has zero sympathy and expects their agent to be available to them. Any seasoned agent has had those 11th-hour situations arise during a funeral, at the bedside of a dying family member, maybe after they just gave birth or had surgery.

The hardest part the consumer does not understand is that, despite an agent doing all these things, if the buyer opts not to buy with them or “goes in a different direction,” then all this time and interruption spent in the agent’s personal life is for naught.

There is no other profession with the burden of accessibility and availability that does not receive any compensation for their time upfront, no matter the ultimate outcome. Perhaps this will change with the use of buyer agency agreements.

4. Research and tracking down information

Every property search involves looking things up and finding things out or helping point the buyer in the right direction (to be the source of the source) to get the information they need to make an informed decision. Whether that is reaching out to a homeowner’s association to find out about

  • rules
  • regulations
  • covenants
  • restrictions
  • budgets
  • special assessments
  • pending litigation
  • HOA dues
  • other fees
  • building permits
  • checking with city or county building departments about regulations or other requirements
  • checking what flood or fire zone a property is in
  • and the list goes on.

The kind of information varies widely depending on the properties the buyers are interested in and there is an endless stream of things buyers want and need to know.

Again, if an agent billed for their time involved in all of this, a buyer would be quite surprised at how all added up. If you have ever seen an attorney’s bill that has fees for “legal research,” the amounts charged can be mind-numbing.

5. Strategy 

Every buyer needs a strategy when determining which property to buy, how much to offer and any number of factors that are involved in crafting an offer. Nowhere was this more evident than during the pandemic real estate boom where failure to plan was planning to fail.

Strategies had to be continually adjusted and refined for each property that came on the market that a buyer was interested in because of lessons learned from offers that didn’t get accepted in the past. Buyers who worked with agents who were savvy strategy-wise and knew how to craft a winning offer had much more success.

6. Offer preparation 

Speaking of strategy, offer preparation is a critical part of buyer representation. It is extremely important for an agent to go over all the details that need to be completed as part of the offer process and ensure all flows in a logical manner with contract timelines and contingencies.

This is detail-oriented work that must be precise. Failure to include something or accidentally omitting something or overlooking a contingency that needed to be included could have serious consequences. From the downpayment to the amount financed (if applicable), timeframes for financing, appraisal and inspection contingencies as well as any other specific requests are critical to establishing a clear roadmap to work from at the beginning of the transaction.

All timelines must not overlap the closing date and should not create an impossible situation with meeting a deadline. It is not a matter of checking a few boxes on forms and sending them off to the buyer to sign electronically.

7. Offer negotiation 

Besides offer preparation, negotiation is a huge part of the buyer representation process. Working out all the details and differences between a buyer and seller to establish the terms of the transaction is critical.

The agent must hover over every term and discuss the implications with the buyer so they can determine what they are OK with and what terms and conditions they want to negotiate further on to finalize the transaction.

Sometimes, offers do not come together for varying reasons. One of the most significant is a difference on prices: The seller won’t budge or wants a certain number and the buyer feels that the property is not worth the number the seller wants. Parties often walk away only to revisit weeks or months later, depending on the market climate.

Sellers, particularly in slower markets, may have since adjusted their asking price to an amount that the seller initially rejected by a buyer in an offer.

8. Finalizing offer 

Once all terms have been worked out, this is where everything comes together ensuring all offer documentation and addendums are finalized to accurately reflect the transaction. This is extremely important as the escrow, title and lender will all receive a copy of these documents, so if something is not correct, it could have major implications for the entire transaction.

9. Managing the transaction

Managing a transaction is often like herding cats. It is not enough to farm this out to a transaction coordinator; while they can assist with things like document preparation and obtaining signatures and contract timelines, the agent representing the buyer must take the bull by the horns to ensure everyone in the transaction is doing their job and handling their respective responsibilities.

An agent can never assume all is OK and everyone is doing what they are supposed to do. The agent needs to ensure that the buyer’s deposit has been provided in a timely manner to the title or escrow company, inspections are scheduled in a timely manner, the buyer is working on getting all required documentation to the lender (if not already provided), has paid for the appraisal and is working to secure insurance all upon going under contract.

The agent needs to continue to hover over the buyer and lender to check in on how all things are going and see if there are any issues that need to be addressed. When it comes to insurance, there are often all sorts of gotchas with insurance that may arise when a buyer is checking into insurance, from prior claims on the property they are buying to claims involving the buyer on properties they have owned.

With regards to the appraisal, the agent needs to communicate with the listing agent that the appraisal has been ordered and that they should expect a call from the appraiser to go out. Once that happens, the agent needs to monitor when the appraisal has been received by the lender and the outcome, etc. All these things are transpiring against the backdrop of contract timeframes that the buyer must stay within to get all completed.

10. Inspections and repairs 

This is often one of the most significant milestones in the transaction and can take several hours and days to complete, depending on the number of specialists the buyer wishes to have check the home and property. An agent often spends a tremendous amount of time at these events.

A general home inspection assessment may generate the need for numerous additional inspections, and so the race is on to find the appropriate people who can come out to the property to evaluate the issue(s) within the contractual timeframe allotted to complete the inspections.

While this may sound easy enough, contractors and various specialists are not on the “anytime,” “all the time” schedule that a real estate agent is. If you’ve ever tried to get a repair person out at a critical time, you know what I am referring to. Often, a request for an extension or additional time may be needed.

11. Repairs 

This can be an extremely stressful part of the transaction. Buyers rarely buy a home and are not around inspection and repair issues on a routine basis the way their agent is. With a plethora of reports and assessments comes trying to make sense of it all.

Many issues may look alarming, understandably, to a buyer who doesn’t have much familiarity with these kinds of issues.

  • How much will things cost to repair?
  • What issues are the most critical and what issues (if any) could wait?
  • Is there any hidden damage that could be discovered once repair work starts that could result in significantly more costs?
  • What should a buyer ask for from the seller?
  • Should they ask for repairs to be made, a price reduction, credit towards closing costs or some combination thereof?

This portion of the transaction can be a time-consuming task for the buyer’s agent, along with having to assist with obtaining estimates from various contractors. Most savvy agents have their trusted “go-tos” to help as a sounding board to get a ballpark idea for the buyer.

The agent is helping to coordinate communications with all these various people for the buyer as the reality is that most buyers simply don’t know who and where to turn for answers and information; in a transaction situation, they need these answers quickly.

Sellers will often want to obtain their own estimates for whatever repair issues are being asked of them, so the process can drag on for quite a bit of time while all of this information is being gathered to work out an acceptable solution.

If repairs are going to be made, the agent must hover over that process, following up with the listing agent to ensure all has been completed along with providing receipts from those making the repairs. If the documentation is not easy to understand or is unclear, the buyer’s agent has to go back and forth with the listing agent to get clarity.

Furthermore, a buyer’s agent often encourages their buyer to have their inspector or other specialists reinspect all repairs to ensure they were done correctly prior to closing. This process in and of itself can become a “thing,” especially if requested items were missed or not done correctly.

Sometimes the issues are too great or potentially alarming — such as mold, extensive termite damage or structural issues — for the buyer to continue buying the home.

12. Appraisals

This is one part of the transaction where we have little control. The agent working with the buyer needs to ensure the appraisal is turned around in a timely manner to comply with financing and appraisal contingency timelines in the contract.

Sometimes, it can take forever for the appraiser to go out to the property, and it seems like it is taking longer than usual to turn the report around for whatever reason. This is where the buyer’s agent must micromanage this process so as not to jeopardize the buyer’s escrow deposit.

Should the appraisal report come back with a valuation or condition issue that needs to be addressed, the buyer’s agent must dive in to assess what is going on and determine what is needed to help resolve the issue. The clock is ticking and an extension on the buyer’s financing and/or appraisal contingency may be needed.

The seller’s agent won’t care if the timeframe for these kinds of contingencies runs out as they just want to get the transaction closed. Worst case, they look at the situation as their seller will get the buyer’s binder deposit if they are in default and cannot move forward.

The buyer’s agent is the one watching out for the buyer with every aspect of this because if an issue arises with the appraisal that cannot be resolved, they want to ensure the buyer can get their deposit back as part of the cancellation of the transaction process.

13. Managing title and escrow

These vendors are typically selected and paid for by a seller. With such a variety of companies out there, the consumer and agent experience could vary considerably. Considering these companies are pulling everything together for closing, it is critically important for a buyer’s agent to ensure they are communicating with the buyer to get what they need, but also to make the buyer aware of who will be reaching out to them and explaining the information they will be asking for.

Buyers might question why certain information is being requested, such as their Social Security Number, copy of trust documents or photo IDs. In today’s fraud-ridden environment, with suspicious emails appearing to trap unsuspecting buyers, sellers and agents into clicking a link or opening an attachment purporting to be a settlement statement, the buyer’s agent needs to help vet and verify who the providers will be in the transaction.

In addition, it is critically important for the buyer’s agent to confirm that they have the correct copy of all contract documentation and related addenda, confirm the sales price and other details, such as any seller-paid closing cost credits to the buyer, as well as make sure they are aware of any changes to the transaction as things progress, such as a price change or seller providing credits to the buyer in lieu of repairs.

If a home warranty is being provided to the buyer at closing, they need to ensure that this information has also been provided to the closing office and any other details as well.

Reviewing a draft copy of the settlement statement and going over it with the buyer and lender is critically important before going to closing. A buyer’s agent should request a draft copy showing buyer-side expenses (even if the lender hasn’t submitted theirs yet) to at least review with the buyer and to point the buyer to their lender estimate for an idea of the lender charges that will be involved.

In the event of any questions or discrepancies, this will allow time to have all corrected. The buyer should not be seeing the settlement statement for the first time right before closing and the listing agent should not be relied upon to ensure all is correct.

In other words, it is the buyer’s agent’s responsibility to hover over all the communication and details with the title and escrow companies to ensure all is correctly accounted for before going to closing.

14. Managing the walkthrough

Any experienced agent in real estate knows walkthroughs are ripe for a plethora of new issues to arise. Whether it is a seller who

  • is still moving out
  • has left the property a mess
  • put garbage and unwanted items in the garage
  • cut the power off which caused ice cubes in the freezer to melt and the ice bin to be full of water
  • let the lawn and landscaping go before closing
  • stopped pool service two weeks before closing, causing the pool to turn green
  • caused a host of move-out damage issues including carpet stains, scratched or chipped floors, drywall dings

this now becomes the buyer’s agent’s battle to fight.

Miracles often must be worked at the 11th hour as the agent is frantically sending photos of the evidence to the listing agent and trying to run down estimates to clean, fix or repair the damage. Some issues cannot be easily fixed, such as a floor being scratched, chipped or, if it is a lower quality luxury vinyl plank flooring product, ripped when movers are careless while moving furniture pieces.

Some listing agents simply shrug their shoulders and say “too bad, so sad.” The buyer is irate and does not want to close with the property in that condition, despite whatever disclaimers may be in the purchase agreement.

With everyone’s back to the wall and the pressure on, the buyer’s agent has to figure out a way to make it right. Sometimes that means them coming out of pocket to deploy a cleaning crew or other repair people to just make things right because the listing agent and seller have checked out.

15. Managing the closing 

On closing day, the buyer’s agent needs to ensure that all keys and access cards or fobs to neighborhood amenities, garage remotes, security and garage codes as well as any other specific information about things in the property are provided to the buyer and that the listing agent has removed the lockbox and signage accordingly.

Sometimes things go missing at the 11th hour and the buyer’s agent must spring into action to hold the listing agent accountable to get what is needed or figure out a solution to address them if they are missing. Buyers cannot rely on listing agents to ensure that all will be left in good order.

Depending on how the walkthrough went and if any issues were uncovered, the buyer’s agent needs to make sure all has been addressed before the buyer signs documents and, if not, a last-minute plan may need to be hatched for this.

16. Post-closing issues

The stress doesn’t often end at closing. Buyers move into their new home only to discover that something may not be working properly. Thankfully, an inspection report documents what was and was not functioning as of a particular date/time. However, a slew of issues may seem to come up that may be just a stroke of bad luck.

The first person the buyer often calls is their agent as their “911” who they look to for help and advice. Their agent often knows just who to call to help the buyer through whatever challenges are happening, which is also why having a home warranty in place is a great risk mitigation tool when the dishwasher that was working just fine during the inspection has gone out a week after the buyers moved in.

As the buyer gets settled in, their mind will turn to all sorts of home improvement projects, and they will lean on their agent for trusted vendors and service providers to assist them with making the home their own. In some cases, the lawn they thought they would be able to tackle themselves becomes too time-consuming so they once again will lean on their agent to provide a trusted lawn provider to help.

17. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up

A buyer’s agent must continually follow up from the very early stages of incubating to converting the prospect to a buyer client, all the way through the property search, offer preparation, negotiation, and the entire transaction, as well as after closing.

Our job in representing the client is to make sure everyone else does their job. This is an all-consuming task that really never ends as following up is the continuous lifeblood of a real estate agent’s job. A buyer would be astounded if they received an itemized bill for the agent’s time expended on all of the follow-up involved in a real estate transaction.

18. Relationships 

When it comes to buyer representation, it is about having good relationships to help get things done. A buyer’s agent who is well respected and a highly regarded professional to work with has clout with listing agents and can help put transactions together for their buyer.

In some cases, who the agent is matters more when faced with a sea of competing offers and because of that agent’s professionalism and reputation, a buyer’s offer that may not be as strong as others can be selected to work with.

When it comes to solving problems, again, relationships matter. The agent who has trusted connections with various service providers to help solve problems in a pinch for their buyer client is worth their weight in gold. When the listing agent and seller have long checked out or created a sloppy or stressful buying experience based on their handling (or lack thereof) of various issues, the buyer’s agent typically has to come to the rescue to make all things right.

Buyer’s representation is quite comprehensive and involves ongoing communication, being extremely proactive, problem-solving, troubleshooting, double and triple checking, following up and assuming nothing is as it has been purported to be. Buyers don’t know what they don’t know and those who don’t have representation often find themselves in a problem or situation that can have serious financial implications.

Buying a property without representation is like playing a game of chess without knowing the rules. Every property and seller is different and brings about a unique set of issues to that property which can affect the entire transaction.

There are so many complexities, from the kind of financing the buyer is doing to the kind of property they are buying and how the transaction is structured. Hidden costs and fees are a risk at every turn with a property from HOA dues, special assessments, unknown repair issues, hidden damage and the list goes on.

A seller’s personal situation can also affect the transaction such as a legal separation, divorce, death or medical issues if they are still living in the home. Tenant-occupied homes present inherent risks that the buyer is exposing themselves to if purchasing a property that has a tenant living in it and/or who intends to continue occupying it as a rental property after closing.

A buyer’s agent works to be the champion of all things for the buyer, shepherding them through what is the single largest transaction they will likely ever make in their lifetime, whether that is a $300,000 home or a $30 million one. While our role is defined, the job description, the hours and time expended never are, and we are always working against many unknowns.

Cara Ameer is a bi-coastal agent licensed in California and Florida with Coldwell Banker. You can follow her on Facebook or on X, formerly known as Twitter.