She Bought a House Without Using a Realtor. Did You?

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This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

In October, Diem Nguyen bought a home in the San Francisco Bay Area for $1.6 million — without a realtor.

The 36-year-old tech worker used Aalto, a home-buying and selling website that looks at first glance like Zillow or Redfin. House hunters can browse on-the-market and off-market homes in certain parts of California, see market data, and even submit offers.

The best part: Buyers get up to 1.5% of the purchase price as cash back — for Nguyen, $24,000 — to cover their closing costs, buy down their interest rate, or increase their offer price, according to Aalto’s website.

Because Nguyen had bought a home in the same area in 2021, as well as other investment properties in the Midwest, she and her partner decided they didn’t need the additional hand-holding a broker provides.

“We didn’t need a lot of guidance with bidding or the discovery process this time,” Nguyen told Business Insider.

But Nguyen is in the minority. About 88% of homebuyers this year used a real-estate agent, Zillow found. Most buyers use a realtor because it’s relatively risk-free. First, there’s no cost to them: Sellers tend to pay 4% to 6% of the purchase price to their broker, who splits the commission with the buyer’s agent. Second, new or inexperienced buyers may benefit from the guidance a veteran realtor can offer, from referrals to mortgage lenders to help discerning whether an asking price is outrageously high or suspiciously low.

If nothing else, working with an expert can quell the anxiety that comes along with buying a home.

But now a slate of class-action lawsuits against the country’s biggest professional organization for real-estate agents and several brokerages — accusing them of conspiring to keep home prices, and their own commissions, high — might alter how, and how much, agents are paid. The suits could also result in more buyers and sellers opting to forgo a broker for their transactions.

Here’s the story of one person who did it, and a summary of the pros, cons, and risks.

Buying a home without a realtor has pros and cons

Nguyen said she felt confident navigating Northern California’s housing market because she had done it once before.

“We’re very comfortable with the Bay Area,” she said. “We have friends who own houses in the Bay, too, so we know roughly what to expect.”

The cash back Aalto offered was another incentive for Nguyen to forge ahead without a broker. (Aalto does have a team of real-estate agents working behind the scenes, but they are salaried rather than paid by commission. Aalto makes money by charging sellers a fee of 1% of the purchase price of their home.)

Buyers passing up a realtor sometimes do so because they believe they’ll pay less for the home, according to a blog post from lender Rocket Mortgage. The sellers, they believe, will save money on the commissions they’d otherwise pay to the agents, and either come down during negotiations over the price of the home or pass that savings onto buyers in other ways.

But as real-estate and personal finance experts Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin wrote in the Washington Post in 2020, buyers working without a broker may overpay, buy the wrong home, glean incorrect information when relying solely on Googling, or skip an inspection.

Real-estate agents do more than just find a home on Zillow, Glink and Tamkin said in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune: They can help answer questions about the market and paint a fuller picture of the property you plan to buy.

For Nguyen, choosing to buy without broker representation ended well for her, but it might not for everyone. She prefers newer homes, which tend to come with fewer maintenance issues and costs.

“If I am really into a unique older home, I might look for a good traditional agent who would be able to give us way more advice,” Nguyen said. “I think it depends on the buyer.”

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