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What You Need To Know About Buying a Home: Part Two

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Curbed University delivers insider tips and non-boring advice on how to buy, sell, or rent a home or apartment. Additional questions welcomed to our inbox.

It's time to find a home and a Realtor (not necessarily in that order) now that you're familiar with what types of properties are on San Francisco's market.

Finding an Agent

In most cases, they're not really your friend, and you're not theirs-- in fact, it might be better not to use a friend as your Realtor. Sorry, but real estate agents are basically freelance cheerleaders, though the buyer's agent does have a fiduciary duty solely to the buyer and the seller's to the seller. Successful selling involves removing every objection in the path of closing and creating a sense of urgency, so don't expect a Realtor to agree with you if the kitchen's too small- it's cozy and charming. Hence the origin of Brokerbabble, that arcane language of property sales which rarely has much to do with reality.
You want to get the most for your money; agents want to get the most money for their client. That said, contrary to conventional wisdom, real estate agencies and brokerages do not make more money by holding out for higher sales prices for their clients; they make the bulk of their money in volume of sales. So both sides of a deal are going to be working to make things happen as quickly as possible. A buyer's agent and brokerage usually split half the standard 6% commission with the seller's agent, but one or both side will often agree to cut their commission to bring the buyer and seller together. Referrals are the Realtor's lifeblood. Look to friends and acquaintances to recommend someone they've been happy with to represent your interests and not just gaze upon you as they might their next meal.

Shopping: Looking Online

Many people today look at real estate online. It's become an acceptable form of pornography at work. Brokerages and individual agents have different approaches: some use friendlier templates to market properties than others, but most of the information comes from the Multiple Listing Service (MLS). Some discount brokerages (Redfin, for example) pull more data from the MLS than others plus public records, and include previous sale history, taxes, pricing history and the critical "days on the market" - how long the property's been for sale. Redfin also lists properties the same day they reach the MLS, so you may see something before your agent does. Some sites include Google and Bing maps, or both- to Google Streetview to get an idea of what the block looks like. In addition, we recommend Property Shark, for detailed property history when you want to know even more, like a permit history for work done.

More Shopping: Go to Open Houses

Looking at pretty pictures is one thing, especially since Realtors discovered Photoshop, but nothing beats walking through the actual property in question. If you have the time, start doing it months before you're actually ready to buy, if only to get a sense of the housing stock available in your price range. It's also the only way you'll get inside without an appointment and without the relentless sales pitch of your agent and/or the seller's.

Even More Shopping:

Make multiple visits- both weekday and weekend- with your agent to see properties you're interested in. It's your money. And try to visit in the evening as well- how much quiet are you expecting?

Next up: You've found the house and the Realtor who will help you purchase it. Now what?
· What You Need To Know About Buying a Home: Part One [Curbed]
· All Curbed U coverage [CurbedSF]