What am I paying an agent for?
With the rise of Zillow, Homesnap and Apartments.com, the question is on the lips of homeowners more and more often, and the National Association of Realtors knows it, and is paying big money to advertise the idea that you can't sell a house without a real estate agent. What what service is a real estate agent providing?
Access to tested forms
The NAR has paid lawyers big money to put together contract forms that you can use in your transaction. These have been tested, year after year, and revised as needed. They really are, at the moment, the industry standard.
What to watch out for: Only an NAR agent can use these forms, but they are not qualified to give you legal advice concerning this legal document that you are signing.
An objective and experienced third party
Your agent should be experienced in your market and objective about your home. They should always provide you with a comparable market analysis (CMA) that gives you a range of value that your home likely falls within. They should tell you what's wrong with your home just as much as what's right. They should be able to give you a breakdown of what types of financing won't work for your home, and what will.
What to watch out for: 2020 saw the number of new agents spike to all-time highs and the number of Realtors exceed the number of houses for sale nationwide. This means there is a crop of greenhorns that have just hit the market. This combined with the fact that agents receive 0 training in home valuation and 0 training in loan finance regulation, means that you need to interview your agent and ask tough questions to determine if they are qualified to represent you.
Your broker/agent's job is to represent your best interest. In your absence, they should fight for your goals to be achieved. An agent who knows how to negotiate is skilled, and knowledgeable is invaluable.
What to watch out for: Beware agents who just want to make the deal "work." I am shocked how often a buyer's agent, sometimes in front of their buyer, will attempt to influence the appraiser to come in as high as possible. While the possibility of equity is of some importance, the idea of trying to influence an appraiser so that the buyer is under water on day one of home ownership is an ethics violation of the highest order. An objective advocate will argue for your interest even if that means that their commission is a little lower.
The age of easy money with little training and experience is over. Demand that the NAR give you training in finance regulation and home valuation so that you remain relevant to a market that is increasingly asking, "Do I really need an agent?!"