How to Buy Without an Agent: 3 Steps to Buying a Home for Less, Step 1 Find the Home

Welcome to my Three Step "How To" Guide to Successfully Buying a House Without Using a Real Estate Agent. I am a real estate attorney, as well as a licensed real estate broker, and I've helped hundreds of successful home buyers and sellers.

Craig provides the following insight for informational purposes only, and without any warranty or guarantee whatsoever. This blog does not create an attorney/client relationship, and Craig is not your attorney unless you have a signed fee agreement with him. Now with that disclaimer out of the way...

Okay, it's time to get this show rolling!!

STEP ONE GOAL: Find the home on which to make an offer.

Use Online Listings First

You can do all of your initial shopping online - that's real estate in the 21st Century. Heck, it's why this blog post even exists!

It's not hard to find a web site where you can search the MLS listings. Most - but not all - homes for sale will be listed on the MLS.  Most firms that are members of the local MLS will have a search engine on their sites. 

Insider's Tip: In some markets (like Seattle) inventory remains historically low. As a result, there can be multiple offers on a home, resulting in a bidding war. Be prepared for this competition if you are looking at new listings. Also contact the listing agent immediately to find out if the seller will be looking at offers on a specific date in the future (very, very common). If you want to reduce the risk of getting caught up in a bidding war, look only at "stale" listings (more than 30 days old or so).

There are also the national sites like ZillowTrulia, and Redfin. These sites not only show the homes for sale, they also provide lots of additional data. This can help you better assess whether a leading candidate based on appearance really might be "the one" (factoring in schools, or likely expenses, or likely appreciation, etc.).  So at least one of these sites should be part of your "search matrix."

Many listings these days include video tours of varying quality. The best of them use video game "first person" technology to give you an immersive virtual experience. Emphasis on "virtual."

Because buying a house requires an actual live experience. You gotta get inside the house before you can reasonably decide to buy it.

Get a Tour of the Leading Candidate

 When it's time to get inside a house, you have essentially three options for arranging a tour:

  1. Open House
  2. Listing Broker
  3. Any other Real Estate Broker

Needless to say, each have their drawbacks. Access is the single biggest hurdle you're going to face in buying without an agent.

Open House - You could limit your search to homes that are scheduled for Open Houses. This is the easiest way to get a tour. But that's a pretty poor solution, for obvious reasons.

Listing Broker - It is in theory the listing broker's job to give a tour to an interested buyer. But the listing broker probably disagrees, and with good reason. After all, if you're looking at a home on the MLS, there is likely a 3% commission offered to a buyer's agent. So from the listing agent's perspective, maybe it's the "job" of any other broker, chosen by you, to open the door.

Given this reality, the listing agent may be a little irritated with your request. But he is unlikely to turn you down entirely. He may instead send another broker, whether a friend, or another broker in the same office.

Whoever lets you in, be prepared to answer the question, "So, are you working with someone?" The agent who shows up will, understandably, use the opportunity to try and get your business. At this early juncture, it's likely best to keep your answer vague. If you answer, "Oh, we're working with a lawyer for the offer, but we want you to open the door for us," it won't go over too well. Too early for that message.

Any Other Real Estate Broker - this category is wide open. Any broker can probably let you into a home, you just have to agree on what will be paid - and how - for the service. It's not a question that many brokers are used to having. So find a broker you might want to use, and start asking!

Most agents would gladly just meet you at the property, without ever talking about how they will get paid. That is because they have a reasonable expectation that you at least might ask them to write up the offer, and they will get paid the selling office commission. Needless to say, it isn't fair - it's down right deceptive - if you don't tell the agent up front what's going on. You won't be using her, other than for the tour, because you want that 3% for yourself. Have that conversation.

Finally, you can search for "a la carte real estate services" or "real estate broker paid by hour" or some similar phrase on the internet. This should lead you to brokers in your area who can easily assist with just access.

So you've gotten inside. What's that? This one really is "the One"???

Up Next, Step 2: Buy the House