Buying a new home with an agent

Families considering buying a new home in one of Las Vegas’s many expanding master-planned communities might wonder if it’s important to have a real estate agent help find a model that suits them and help them through the process.

After all, the models are there for the looking, and the builders’ agents can walk buyers through the process. What’s the value of engaging a real estate agent? What might be the downside?

Mike Sweeney is the Las Vegas new-home sales manager for Finance of America Mortgage and executive director of Train + Tour real estate education, which takes agents on tours of new-home communities and coaches them on the new-home process. He has two main reasons why buyers should use an agent for a new home purchase:

1) It doesn’t cost the buyer anything, and

2) It provides an expert on your side to deal with the expert on the builder’s side.

“Would you defend yourself in court and not use a lawyer?” he asks.

Agents’ commissions come from the builders, and they rarely if ever discount the price of the house just because no agent is in the picture. So the service is free, at least to the buyer. That may be built into the price, but it doesn’t fall to the buyer’s side if it isn’t used.

Certainly, the builder has an agent who walks the buyer through the process, and they generally know what they’re doing and do it well, Sweeney said. But the builder’s agents work exclusively for the builder, not the buyer. Their responsibility is to the seller. A buyer’s agent not only comes without cost but also owes 100 percent of his or her fiduciary responsibility to the buyer, he said, “so why not take it?”

Having an expert on your side also more likely ensures that you will ask the right question and seek the right information. People seldom buy homes, so they’re not as familiar with what information might be important or even critical. Most people know that it’s important to learn about nearby schools and area crime, but that doesn’t include everything that might affect your quality of life, or future home value.

“You don’t want to buy a house and find a freeway in your backyard in three years,” Sweeney said.

Agents should also help buyers make sure they understand fully what the purchase entails, including obligations to pay annual assessments for land and infrastructure improvements after the sale, known as LIDS and SIDS (Local Improvement District and Special Improvement District) – a fairly common feature in Las Vegas housing developments. They also should make sure you understand the costs, benefits and restrictions of your homeowners association.

Other values of a new home agent can provide:

■ Help you find the house and community that fits your circumstances and interests, including costs, commute time, schools, price, features and things you want to avoid, which can save time and heartache.

■ Help not only with financing but preparing buyers to get the best financing — and then making sure that runs smoothly. Sweeney says it’s not uncommon for a new-home buyer to want to purchase a houseful of furniture on credit or buy a car right before the house closes, which endangers the financing.

■ Make sure buyers understand what their homes will look like compared with the juiced-up models with all the upgrades and options loaded into them. Sweeney said some buyers are overwhelmed by the “wow factor” of model homes (“That’s why these guys spend so much on the models”) and are disappointed when they see their own house, without all the upgrades. A good agent will make sure a buyer’s expectations match reality.

■ Add an experienced eye during the walk-through so things that are unfinished or not done right are corrected before the move-in. Most people don’t do a critical walk-through often and don’t know what to look for, Sweeney said, “especially first-time buyers.”

■ Mediate issues – it doesn’t hurt to have someone on your side who knows the builder and vice-versa if problems arise.

■ Walk you through the entire process from beginning to end. “They keep you involved from when the pad is poured until the blue tape at the walk-through,” Sweeney said.

Disadvantages of using an agent are few but worth noting. Almost all builders require that the agent accompany the buyer on the first visit, and that means visits have to be more planned than a spontaneous Sunday afternoon “let’s go look at houses” jaunt.

Sweeney also recommends against hiring an agent just because he’s your cousin or neighbor but doesn’t specialize in new-home communities. If you can have someone on your side without costing anything, get an experienced professional.

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