A Realtor who works with a homebuyer is also called a buyer's agent. In one of their first conversations, the buyer's agent will ask the homebuyer to secure a pre-approval letter from a bank or qualified mortgage lender. The pre-approval letter states that the homebuyer has been approved for a mortgage loan from that particular lender. To qualify for pre-approval, the lender needs to see proof of income, bank account statements, savings account information and credit reports to determine the homebuyer's buying power. Pre-approval letters are more reliable than pre-qualification letters, which can easily be printed from a Web site or secured over the phone [source: Geffner].
Although pre-approval letters require time and effort to acquire, they carry several advantages for the homebuyer. Both the buyer's agent and the seller's agent know that a homebuyer with a pre-approval letter is serious about the investment. The letter gives the buyer's agent more incentive to work hard, because there's a better chance of a future commission. The seller's agent is also willing to put in more time with a pre-approved homebuyer because there's less of a chance that the deal will fall through.
Although everyone has access to MLS listings, experienced Realtors know how to search the database to find the best homes within the buyer's price range. Realtors also know how to read the subtle language in listing descriptions. A "newer roof" was probably replaced 10 years ago. A "charming" home is a code word for a fixer-upper. A buyer's agent can narrow the listings down to a dozen good fits for the client. Then the Realtor can call the sellers' agents to arrange for showings.
When it's time to look at the homes, the buyer's agent provides a crucial, objective opinion. Homebuyers have the habit of falling in love with a property because it has a great view or a huge kitchen, but they tend to overlook less favorable characteristics like lousy plumbing or a leaky roof. The buyer's agent can help the homebuyer see the whole picture like repair costs, the neighborhood, the local school system, taxes and so on, and they're not be blinded by one or two superficial features.
Once the buyer has found a home that he or she likes, the buyer's agent is the point of contact for all price negotiations. The buyer's agent knows how much other homes are selling for in the neighborhood and will fight for the fairest price. The Realtor may also arrange a title search to make sure that the seller has a legitimate right to sell the home.
Once the buyer and seller enter into an agreement of sale, the buyer's agent will arrange for a professional home inspection to make sure there aren't any hidden problems with the foundation, plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical systems. He or she may also schedule termite, radon and mold inspections. When the inspection reports come back, the Realtor will help the homebuyer prepare an official written offer or withdraw the offer based on the inspections. If the offer is accepted by the seller, then the Realtor will walk the homebuyer through the closing process, preparing all of the documents to complete the transaction.
Now that you know what a Realtor does, how do you find one? We'll explore this on the next page.