5 Things Your Real Estate Agent Is Probably Keeping from You

published Aug 18, 2018
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(Image credit: Jen Grantham/Stocksy)

Buying a home—especially for the first time—can be an overwhelming and confusing ordeal, and your real estate agent is your guide through that complicated process. So it’s only natural that you look to them for guidance and trust their advice and expertise on matters big and small.

But keep in mind that agents are looking to make a sale, so there can be times when some may resort to omitting a bit of info here or sugarcoating something there just to help everything go more smoothly. Mostly, this is harmless and is something a best-fit agent wouldn’t usually do.

There are also some things that real estate agents legally can’t tell you because of the Fair Housing Act. Agents aren’t allowed to tell clients anything that may potentially be construed as discrimination against protected classes (such as age, race, or income-level). For example, they can’t say whether the schools are good, whether or not the community is “family-friendly,” what the ethnic or racial makeup of the community is, or whether or not an area is “safe.”

We decided to consult with three real estate professionals to discover some common things that you real estate agent might be keeping from you. Here is what they had to say:

1. That the broker fee can be unnecessary.

These days, when you buy a house, you usually pay a broker or transaction fee on top of the listing price. Your agent may act like this is mandatory—but it’s not, says Chris Cusimano, an agent with Keller Williams in Boca Raton, Florida. “I personally don’t charge this fee because I feel like the buyers are already paying enough to buy a home as it is, and I am already earning a commission,” he says. “Chances are that the better agents out there wouldn’t charge this anyhow if they are truly looking after your best interests.”

If your agent does charge a fee, Cusimano says that you can try to negotiate it down to a more reasonable number.

2. The unsavory details behind a house.

Some agents and brokers will sugarcoat the history of a house to make a sale. That means, for example, they might not tell you that the sale is a result of a divorce or that a property was the site of a felony; a homicide; a suicide; or any other death, whether by accidental or natural causes, says Mark Hakim, an attorney with SSRGA in New York City.

“They often do not wish to scare off a potential purchaser. However, under some circumstances, if they happen to know and are asked in writing by the purchaser, they must disclose [the information].” States usually have their own disclosure laws. California homeowners must disclose most deaths, while those in South Dakota only need to disclose untimely deaths.

3. How much commission they’re earning.

Something that typically isn’t discussed between a client and a buying agent is how much commission each agent is earning on the deal. Usually, the only place that those numbers are stated is on the closing disclosure, says Andrew Hasdal, an agent with the Stephen+Ryan team of Keller Williams Chicago-O’Hare. “Clients do not need to know how much their agent earns per deal, but, if they ask, I will tell them and break it down.”

4. That they don’t have all the answers.

It’s natural for a potential buyer to have a million questions going through their mind when viewing a property for sale. But it’s also natural for your real estate agent not to know all the answers, Cusimano says: “There are literally thousands of listings on the market at any given time and several hundred [homeowners associations (HOAs).]” It’s simply impossible for an agent to know the age of every roof, the amount of every HOA fee, the garbage pickup day for every neighborhood, etc., he says.

And, truth be told, your agent probably hasn’t seen the listing they’re showing you in-person, he says. “Our current buying clients are all looking for totally different things, so there would be no reason to see a particular listing that we may be heading to.”

5. How much they actually know about renovations.

While looking at a home on the market, you may be tempted to daydream about how you could renovate it. But don’t take your agent’s word for it when it comes to which changes can be made, says Hasdal: “Unless the agent comes from a construction background, an agent won’t—or shouldn’t—tell a buyer what they would be able to change about a home structurally.”

He says that a common occurrence is when a buyer asks if they can remove a wall. Typically, the agent knocks on the wall to see if it’s hollow and then says yes or no based on that. “This is a big no-no, and the agent should suggest they bring in a licensed contractor or architect versus making an opinion,” he says. Or, if an agent makes an educated guess, they should clearly disclose that it’s only that—a guess.