Who Are They...
Real estate agents are professionals instrumental in connecting the buyer with the seller.
Additionally, many real estate agents manage rentals wherein they introduce tenants to landlords and oversee the maintenance of the property on behalf of the landlords.
In most areas, real estate agents are required to be highly educated, licensed and are regulated by a governing body.
Some real estate agents are also Realtors.
To use the title Realtor, a real estate agent must be a member of the National Association of Realtors which in addition to several other requirements, requires Realtors to adhere to a strict code of ethics and offers Realtors additional educational and designation opportunities.
Though not required by rule of law, it might be a wise decision to seek the services of a Realtor.
What Do They Do...
Real estate agents bring together two or more interested parties, perform those steps necessary to successfully conclude a transaction and charge a commission for their services.
For sales transactions, they charge a commission to the seller while for rentals, the commission is typically charged the landlord.
Real estate agents generally calculate their fee as a percentage of the selling price (in the case of a sale) and as part of the rent for rental units.
How Do They Do It...
People who want to sell or rent the property leave details of their property with the real estate agent.
Along with all property details the real estate agent will typically have keys to the house to facilitate showings.
The other interested party (i.e. the buyer/tenant), gets access to this information and the property by contacting the real estate agent.
That's how the real estate agent becomes a hub of information.
Contrary to some common misconceptions, real estate agents typically represent the seller or the buyer but rarely both.
Why Should I Use One...
First and foremost, to protect yourself. Real estate transactions are highly regulated, highly paper (document) intensive transactions.
The real estate agent possesses an in-depth knowledge of the laws, rules, regulations, disclosures and documentation necessary to complete the transaction to the satisfaction of the buyer, the seller and the law.
Because real estate agents are most familiar with local real estate market conditions, it is wise and makes sense to seek the advice of one to get an idea of the current trends and pricing for properties within that market.
A good real estate agent will know the prices (or price range) of various properties of different types and at various locations within the region.
Because of the real estate agent's knowledge and expertise, property sellers often get a few thousand dollars more for their property.
Many home seekers, including seasoned real estate investors, use the services of real estate agents to locate the best real estate bargains most easily and quickly.
Furthermore, the best agents analyze the wants and needs of a home buyer/tenant and provide valuable input as to the kinds of properties available to them within their budget. Therefore, a good real estate agent will not just present a list of available properties to the buyer/tenant but will discuss their needs and make suggestions.
The good real estate agent, working in this manner benefits in at least two ways...
First and most obviously, when the real estate agent can complete the transaction the commission is earned and the real estate agent is paid...
and secondly, if they make the customer/client happy they earn a good reputation and often receive referrals (hence more business).
It is worth noting that there is a myth floating around that real estate agents only work on behalf of the seller, buyer beware.
This is not written in stone nor is it always the case. Real estate agents are, in most regions, highly regulated.
With few exceptions, real estate estate agents west brom agents work either for the seller (as is the case with many listing agents) or for the buyer (as is the case for a buyer's agent).
Additionally, some areas allow for a dual agency where an agent can work for both the seller and the buyer or as a transaction broker where the agent represents the transaction itself and neither the seller nor buyer individually.
However, in the case of dual agency/transaction brokerage, note that rule, regulation (law) and ethics do not permit the agent to act in favour of either party while in detriment to the other.
If you are unsure of the relationship between you and your real estate agent, do not hesitate to ask.