When you're looking for that dream home, there are a lot of ways you can do it — scouring the ads and browsing online photos, attending open houses and driving around neighborhoods.
But more than likely, at some point — either in the beginning or at the end — you'll be working with a real-estate agent to help you seal the deal.
Home buyers are at a distinct advantage when it comes to the process, because real-estate commissions are usually paid by the home seller. So as the home buyer, you can use the services of a real-estate agent and the seller foots the bill.
But too often, real-estate agents say, buyers are gun-shy about working with an agent and lose out on the free expertise.
Or they don't know the difference between a buyer's agent and a seller's agent. Or they choose the agent who happens to be at the open house they attend — not realizing that agent is there to represent the home seller and not the buyer in the transaction. Sometimes, agents who are staffing an open house for the listing agent are newer, just getting their feet wet in the industry, and may not have as much expertise to help as another agent, experts said.
Simply put, a buyer's agent is an agent who is representing you, the home buyer. A seller's agent represents the home seller. Agents can be what's called a ''dual agent,'' but they say it can often be a sticky situation to be in the middle, representing both sides of a transaction. Some companies don't allow it.
Home buyers need to interview potential real-estate agents to find someone who is a good fit. Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations or call the local Board of Realtors.
''Choosing a Realtor is maybe the most important decision that a buyer makes, because the Realtor is really central to the whole process,'' said Jim Camp, partner and general manager with Cutler Real Estate and a former president of the Akron Board of Realtors and an agent for 43 years.
Home buyers need to sit down face to face with potential agents, said Carla Herbert, president of Harvest Home Realty in Munroe Falls and an agent for 24 years.
''A lot of times, they'll see the sign in front of a house and call the agent. That agent comes out and then (the potential buyers) realize after they wrote the contract, 'Oh, that agent isn't working in my best interest,' '' Herbert said.
That's not to say Herbert doesn't sell houses to people who call her off her sign and that she can't represent them well. ''But most agents are afraid to make it very clear to them, 'I am not representing you in this sale.'
''You're not going to hire a remodeler to remodel your home and hire the first one that walks in the door. You're looking for trust.''
Said Steve Baughman, a housing specialist with the Fair Housing Contact Service in Akron: ''Remember that professionals are selling houses and mortgages to benefit themselves. A lot of them do know what they're doing and care about their clients, but not all.''
As you interview potential agents, ask about their commission structure.
The pay structure for agents is typically 6 to 7 percent — 3 to 3.5 percent per agent in the transaction, but that is negotiable. Also, usually the rate changes for amounts above a selling price of $100,000. Sometimes agents may be willing to negotiate their portion of the commission to close the deal, but that will vary.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or email@example.com.