I get asked this question a lot. The builders agent knows a lot about the neighborhood and builder but they represent the builder.
Now for the reasons you really need representation. There are so many! I’m going to start out by discussing how the buyers agent gets paid and go on to go over some of the many aspects of the transaction that your agent can help with.
Will the builder pay the commission?
In the Triangle Area of NC builders welcome agents who bring clients and generally pay a the same to half % less commission than resale homes although in this slower market there are often incentives that help with the difference. It is important to contact your buyers agent before visiting the property because the builder is paying for the agent to bring the customer, not because you want representation. Sometimes if you have already been to a site and registered without an agent the builder will go ahead and pay a commission to your buyers agent even if they weren’t with you on the first visit because they value the agents relationship and want future business. I would have your agent ask about this because the builder rep may just tell you no.
You do need to research your agent. You don’t want someone who brings you to the site and then just shows up at closing to pick up a check. New construction is different than a resale home so be sure your agent has a lot of experience with new homes.
There are several pitfalls here. Usually in a new home development you pick your lot from a pretty site plan. It really doesn’t tell you much . An agent who is familiar with new construction will want to see the development construction drawings. These show the areas of cut and fill, location of erosion control basins, drain pipes and stone (these can be ugly and dangerous), location of utilities (do you want a big green box in your front yard?), streetlights and landscaping. There is usually a topo map with the existing grade and the new grade after development. The flood maps have been recently been updated in our area and you need to make sure your new home won’t be in a flood plain.
Your agent should be able to look at the lot and see if there are any potential drainage issues. Water problems can be on going and affect the resale potential of the home.
Sure, you can research and find out if busy roads or power lines are planned, both the kiss of death for resale, but you may not be able to find out the inside information about what’s going on nearby that isn’t public record yet.
Sometimes even a good buyers agent can’t protect you from a builder who is having financial problems. Builders are pretty good at hiding this but an agent who has been around will know the signs and may have heard from suppliers who’s not paying their bills. Your initial deposit can be huge, sometimes as much as 10% and you need to be sure sure the builder isn’t borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.
A good agent will know what builders will do with price and incentives. The on site agents job is to get the best deal for the builder but a buyers agent with a good relationship with the on-site agent and other agents who have sold in the neighborhood can usually find out the real story. Builders won’t discount the price much if at all because they need to keep up the prices for appraisals in the neighborhood. They also don’t have the built up equity in the home that a resale would. The big exception to this is at the end of the year or the end of the builders fiscal year. They want the inventory off the books!
Builders will usually negotiate some incentives in addition to what if offered. A good buyers agent knows how to do this and ask for just the right amount of extras to get something without a big NO. I love driving through a neighborhood and seeing my clients homes with a builder provided fence that their neighbors don’t have.
There can be lots of options here for a pre-sale. Some builders want you to contract to purchase the lot from them then you go get the construction loan. Usually in this case you are responsible for the interest on the loan.
Others will want a large deposit with a contract, then they get the lot released from the bank and get the construction loan.
A production builder usually wants a deposit of 5% or so with a portion of upgrades pre paid and then the remainder at closing.
Many builders will offer to give you several thousand dollars toward closing costs if you use their lender. It’s really an advantage to them to have a lender who they are certain will be able to close the loan. If the builder owns their own mortgage company it may also be a good deal. If the builder has preferred lenders you should shop around because the lender will sometimes recoup the closing cost incentive by charging you a full 1% loan origination fee or give you a slightly higher rate.
I have found that sometimes if the builder has an in house lender and you are able to have another lender beat their deal they will still give you the closing cost incentive. This won’t likely happen if the builder doesn’t own the mortgage company.
I recently visited a site with a client. The on site agent showed us plans and pricing for a home that hadn’t been started yet. She offered to show us the same plan that was finished but sold. My client loved it. Looking around I noticed that the family room and kitchen looked larger the floor plan we had seen in the office. The agent insisted that it was exactly the same. I went back to the office, had her get the construction drawings of both houses and showed her the difference. My clients had not noticed this and if they hadn’t had an agent they may have contracted for a different home than they expected. A good new construction buyers agent can read the plans and help you visualize what the final product will be.
Your agent will know what options have the most perceived value for resale and will know what you can expect to pay for upgrades based on the builders standards. Your agent should help you with the selections.
Builders contracts protect the builder not you. In my experience they won’t change anything in the contract but you need to know hat you are agreeing to. It’s usually a good idea to consult an attorney to go over the contract with you so you understand what you are signing.
Your agent should keep a close watch on the house during construction and inform you of anything that doesn’t look right. Your agent should be a good sounding board and help you realize what it important and what isn’t.
Just because the home is new doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a private inspector. Your agent will know who is really good with new construction and should give you several names. A new home has a one year builder warranty by statute so theoretically you don’t need to have the home inspection until close to the end of the year. I like to go ahead and get it done and have any repairs made before closing. Most of the builders in our area are good with follow up but once you give them the check at closing you have lost your leverage.
I hope you have a good lender who has followed up through out the process and doesn’t come up with any last minute issues. A good lender will have the loan package to the attorney a couple of days ahead of time so everyone is comfortable the loan will close. There are lots of details and your agent, lender and attorney should work together to make this process worry free.
Here is a link to my post about Settlement and Closing in the Triangle.
I hope this post helps you realize why it is important to have a buyers agent when buying new construction.
By Marianne Howell Wright