Money Essentials

Picking a real estate agent

Don't buy a home without professional help.

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Money Essentials Lessons

With all the tools and advice available today ranging from books and magazines to online advice like this lesson - it would be possible for you to buy your home almost completely without the aid of real estate professionals.

That's not necessarily recommended. The housing market, like politics, is basically local, and each state, city, and even neighborhood has a thicket of local laws or customs that you need to understand. For that, it helps to have a team of professionals to guide you.

You might want to start by finding an agent who can represent your interests in the search. This is not as simple as it sounds. Sure, 85% of sellers list their homes through an agent - but those agents are working for the seller, not you. They're paid based on a percentage, usually 5 to 7% of the purchase price, so their interest will be in getting you to pay more.

What you need is what's known as an "exclusive buyer agent." Sometimes buyer agents are paid directly by you, on an hourly or contracted fee. Other times they split the commission that the seller's agent gets upon sale. A buyer's representative has the same access to homes for sale that a seller's agent does, but his or her allegiance is supposed to be only to you.

To complicate matters, there are hybrid agencies called either single-agency or dual-agency brokers. In both cases, an individual agent in the firm may represent either sellers or buyers, sometimes both, in the same transaction. Potential conflicts of interest abound in this situation, so if you are seeking a buyer agent but no exclusive buyer agent is available, make sure to ask the agent about conflicts of interest.

There are now about a dozen Web sites that help connect buyers with buyers agents, among them,, and

Next start looking for a mortgage lender. Take your time, since you could be paying this loan for 30, even 40, years. Start on the Internet at places like and You may also want to check out the rates at,, or HSH Associates. These sites carry nationwide listings of mortgage interest rates and other related information.

Don't limit your search to the Web, though. Once you have an idea of the best rates from national lenders, get on the phone to your community banks and any other institutions with which you may have a relationship. Ask if they can beat the national rates. Often, the local lender can offer a better deal simply because he or she knows the local market and wants to keep your business.

You might also consider using a mortgage broker, a middleman who keeps tabs on rates from a multitude of lenders. The mortgage broker isn't paid directly by you but gets paid by the bank. However, the fee - usually 1.5 to 3% of the loan amount - may get transferred to you in the closing costs. Most search engines have extensive listings of mortgage brokers. There's also a trade group, the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, which can put you in touch with a broker in your area.

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