What is buyer agency?

At Catskills Buyer Agency, we represent buyers only. We never represent sellers or take listings. So we never have a bias to show you “our” listings over properties listed by another broker. Our  goal is to find the right property for our clients, regardless of who it’s listed with. Buyer agency saves you time, because we don’t show you properties that don’t fit what you’re looking for.

Most likely, unless you’ve bought real estate in other parts of the country, “Buyer Agency” is a new concept for you. Exclusive buyer agency is common in the west and south, but is relatively rare in the northeast.

Think of us (there are three of us that work together at Catskills Buyer Agency) as your personal shopper for real estate, who can take you to  every “store” in the area to find you just the right place — and when you find it, we work on your behalf to get it at the best price and terms for you. Best of all, our services don’t cost you a penny extra (except in a very unique instance, see How We Get Paid, below).

I’ve answered some of the most common questions about buyer agency below. Just click on a section to open it.

Is Catskills Buyer Agency a regular real estate brokerage, or something else, like a buying service?

Catskills Buyer Agency (CBA) is a fully licensed real estate brokerage. Personally, I’m licensed by the State of New York as an “Associate Broker”  affiliated with Catskills Buyer Agency.  We’re members of the Sullivan County Board of Realtors and both the Sullivan County Multiple Listing Service and the Hudson Gateway MLS. As Realtors, we can show and sell every property listed by other Realtors here in the county,

What is buyer representation?

Think of buyer representation as “acting in your interest as a buyer.” Most real estate agents in New York largely represent sellers, and focus on listing property for sale. As listing agents, their fiduciary responsibility is to the seller, not you, the buyer (although in New York there’s provision for ‘dual agency’ where a brokerage represents both parties. But it’s sort of a strange Chinese all that isn’t as impermeable as regulators would like.)

What does this mean in practical terms? When a broker has fiduciary to a party, whether the buyer or the seller (known as the ‘principal’), they have loyalty to their principal, and are prohibited from doing anything that would counter the principal’s interests. So, for example, a listing agent is prohibited from disclosing to a buyer what a seller’s bottom line is (unless they have permission from the seller to do so), or indicate that a property may be overpriced. Likewise, a buyer agent, when submitting an offer, can’t disclose the buyer’s bottom line or indicate that the buyer is willing to go higher, unless given permission by the buyer.

Note that whichever side an agent is on, they are required to disclose anything material that can impact the other party. So if a listing agent is aware of a defect in the house, like wood destroying insect damage, issues with a roof or septic, or elevated radon levels, they are required to disclose that to a potential buyer. LIkewise, if a buyer agent is aware of something on the buyer side like difficulty in qualifying for financing, they’re required to disclose that to the other side.

It can be helpful to put this in the context of buying a car. When you go into a car dealership, you have no illusion that the salesperson represents the interest of the dealership. Their job is to get the best price and best terms for the dealer. You can arm yourself with a lot of information to help you negotiate, but you’re essentially on your own.

With real estate, however, you don’t have to be on your own. You can choose to have buyer representation, which gives you a professional working on your behalf on your side of the table.

Does working with a buyer agent save time?

Absolutely — if you’re open to guidance. Each of us at CBA has worked with hundreds of buyers, and see hundreds of houses every year. We’re very experienced at distilling down down the key factors our clients are looking for, and then suggesting properties that fit.

Most of our clients start out with wish lists that are long or diffuse, or involve factors that are mutually exclusive. Most buyers have also done a lot of online house hunting, and have a list — often a long list — of houses they’re interested in and would like to see. Given the buyers, the wish list and the list of houses, very often a lot of the houses would be a waste of time to see. Not that they’re bad houses, per se, but just not really a fit for what the buyers are looking for. For example, for someone who wants to snowmobile or ATV, that house with 20 acres priced at $199,000 may seem very appealing. But I may now that the house sits close to a busy road, so not a fit if they want privacy and quiet, or the 20 acres may be very steep or rocky, and not that suitable for ATVing.

If you’ve gone the traditional home shopping route, you’ve probably spent a lot of time schlepping to houses that aren’t at all what you’re looking for. You pick out 8 or 10 to see, set up appointments and then at the end of the day find that you may have liked one or sort of liked two.

TIme is valuable, for both you and us. At CBA we spend a lot of time working with buyers before a trip to identify a small group of houses that are best fits. I probably spend about half of my ‘non-showing’ time talking buyers out of seeing particular houses. If bright and open are key factors, there’s no point in looking at darker log homes. Our idea of a successful appointment is showing a carefully curated group of five houses and having the buyers say at the end of the day, “Wow, we liked three of them.” We also often suggest some properties that may not seem to fit the wish list, and so didn’t come up on a buyer’s radar.

The bottom line is that we’re really good at match making buyers to houses. Of the buyers we go out with that end up buying a house with us, more than half buy one of the houses they saw with us on the first day.

How do we get paid?

In most cases, we’re paid a portion of the sales commission offered by the seller. For example, if a seller lists their house with a 6% sales commission, a portion of that, say 3%, would go to the “selling broker” (CBA) at closing. The one exception is in the case of a “For Sale By Owner” (FSBO) house (where no commission is offered.) If we show you a FSBO (pronounced “fizz-bow”) and you decide to buy it, we negotiate a net sales price with the seller and a fee is added to that net price to arrive at the gross sales price. Of the dozen or so houses I personally sell a year, one or two may be non-listed or FSBO properties.

Can we work with you and other agents at the same time?

In Sullivan County, no. We only work on an exclusive basis with clients in Sullivan County. It avoids confusion, like double scheduling to see the same house with different agents. Or the touchy situation when a buyer has seen a house with another agent, and then come to us because they decide they want to a buyer agent to handle the purchase.

Every house we see together builds on the picture we’re gathering of your likes and dislikes. That helps us hone in more and more closely to what may work for you, as well as make suggestions that may be outside of what you said you’re looking for.

When you work with multiple agents in an area, one agent isn’t aware of what may have been communicated or represented by another agent, or a key requirement you may have communicated to one agent but not the other, or an assumption you voiced that wasn’t corrected or clarified. A classic example is a client who had previously seen a number of properties in one of our lake communities with another agent. They had made it known to that agent, but not us, that the ability to rent the house out for short term vacation rentals was a key factor. That agent, who wasn’t that familiar with that community, told them that short term rentals were permitted — which was technically correct. But what she didn’t tell them was that short term renters don’t have access to the community recreational facilities, including the lake, which is a key factor for vacation. Had we known that was a key factor, we would have directed them away from that community. But they got an answer from another agent, so never brought that up with us.

This isn’t just a buyer agent issue. While, of course, we think that buyer representation is the best way to buy a house, sticking with a single agent is also important. If you’re working with a seller agent that you have a good rapport with, gets what you’re looking for, and is happy to show you properties across the spectrum listed with other agents, stick with them.

Finally, consider this situation. You’ve seen two houses you like — one with another agent and one with us — and are trying to decide between them. In discussing the house we’ve shown you to help you make a decision, we’re in a difficult spot. The only way we make anything is if you buy the house we’ve shown you, and not the other one. So we can be put in the position of advocating for the house, rather than advocating for you, the buyer, in terms of which house is the best for you. Frankly, that’s not a position we want to be in.

Will we work with you or one of your colleagues?

There are three of us that work together at Catskills Buyer Agency —Judy Siegel, the managing broker for the company, another liensed salesperson, Kathy Rieser and myself. I’m the most visible because of this website. (Kathy and Judy, while experienced in real estate, aren’t big web people.) We each focus on different parts of the market. Judy and I, for example, both handle a lot of lakefront, but from there, Judy has more of a focus on primary homes as well as the central and eastern parts of Sullivan County. I tend to focus on the moderate to upper end of the second home market (from $200,000 up), Kathy has carved out a specialization in the affordable to moderate range, under $200,000. She knows the inventory of affordable-range houses much better than I do. So when you contact me with what you’re looking for, I may suggest that you’d be better served working with one of my colleagues.

Do you handle all types of property?

No. We stick to our knitting. We generally don’t handle commercial property although Judy Siegel, the broker for CBA, handles some commercial property n the central part of the county), or work much with investors (where ROI is a primary factor). If you’re looking for rental investment property, or flips, you’re better off working with another broker. Our bread and butter is owner-occupied, single family homes (both primary and secondary.)

We also don’t handle a lot of raw land. We know lakefront very well, and also much of the larger acreage inventory available. If you’re looking for an inexpensive building lot, say a 5 acre wooded parcel under $50,000, it wouldn’t be something we’d handle. However, if you give me a call or drop me an email about what you’re looking for, I’m happy to direct you to a Realtor who can help you.

Likewise, we do very little with handyman fixers or mobile homes, both of which require a somewhat different skill set.

Do we have to sign anything?

When you look at residential property in New York State with a real estate licensee (broker, associate broker or licensed salesperson), we’re required to disclose to you who we are representing when showing you the property (either representing you, the buyer, or the seller.) A licensee is also required to give you a copy of the state’s Agency Disclosure Form at “first substantive contact”, explaining the different types of real estate agency relationships. and get a copy signed that you have received it. Note: the agency disclosure form is NOT a contract.

Beyond this, we do not generally require a buyer agency agreement, formalizing the agency relationship, until such time as a buyer makes an offer or seeks our advice on due diligence items in preparation of making an offer. There are some situations, however, when we do request a formal buyer agency agreement prior to the offer stage. This is generally the case when a buyer is retaining us to search for and/or purchase property which is not listed, and therefore there is no formal commission arrangement between the seller and a listing agent. In the case of unlisted or “For Sale By Owner” property, the buyer/client would be responsible for paying the commission, which would be outlined in a buyer agency contract.

How do we start working together?

Send me an email about what you’re looking for, or give me a call at 845-468-5710. If you’ve been searching real estate websites (including the MLS Search on this website), send along the MLS numbers of houses you’ve found that caught your fancy. Please include a general budget range — I certainly won’t hold you to it, nor only focus on properties at the upper end of your range, but knowing what price range you’re thinking of helps focus my efforts. If you send an email, please include a phone number, as I may want to follow up with you on the phone. Often on the phone, I can get a much better sense of what you’re looking for and what might work for you.

If you’ve looked at some properties already, either here in Sullivan County or elsewhere, include the listing numbers of those properties (in Sullivan) or links to the listings (if outside of Sullivan). Any comments about why they didn’t work for you are also helpful. That will help me form a picture of what you’re looking for.

From there, I’ll research listings and email some on to you to take a look at. If you’ve emailed me some listings, I’ll give you my comments on them, particularly things that may not be apparent from the listings themselves. Usually we’ll go back and forth a few times with comments to narrow down a list of houses to see.

The next step is for us to go out together to look at houses. Because available inventory in many categories may be limited, there may not be that many houses for sale to actually see, but a trip up is still important. Often, I spend much of that first trip doing ‘drive bys’ on houses that have recently sold or are in contract, so you can get an idea of the market, different price points, settings and styles. Generally a first trip is about four hours and includes about five or six houses.

What do you do after we've found 'the dream house'?

While we’re very good at “making the match”, our real skill kicks in getting you to the altar. We work closely with you to shape an offer, including reviewing comparable sales, coming up with an appropriate value range for the house and identifying any issues that should be addressed in the offer conditions. A key reason that we have nearly a 100% close rate after accepted offer is that we work to identify as many hiccup points and address how they’ll be handled upfront — like underground oil tanks, private roads without road maintenance agreements or septic systems with unknown history.

For clients getting mortgage financing, we play out likely appraisal scenarios to determine whether there might be appraisal issues at different price points. While other agents often complain about deals falling through because of appraisal shortfalls, that seldom happens with our deals. Sometimes the best deal we can cut is above the likely appraisal range for a house, but our clients generally know that going in, so it doesn’t come as a surprise down line.

We’ll discuss financing with you, and help identify the best lenders for your situation and the particular property. A big reason for mortgage denials on rural property isn’t anything about the buyer or the property, per se, but rather a mismatch between the property and lender.

We’ll give you suggestions for attorneys and home inspectors, and if repairs are needed, we can follow up with contractors. We’ll also negotiate any repairs or price concessions following your home inspection.

Most importantly, you benefit from the cumulative experience of the hundreds of deals we’ve done before you. We have a good sense of when to push and when to back off, what to ask for and what to let ride, and how to solve an issue or smooth out an unexpected glitch.

We've found a "for sale by owner" house we love. Can you help us buy it?

The short answer is ‘yes’. But by definition, there isn’t a listing broker on the seller side in a “For Sale By Owner” transaction, so there’s no arrangement for a commission to be paid by the seller. So the commission for Catskills Buyer Agency needs to be paid by the buyer, either as a separate payment or added onto the net sales price of the house.

Our commission to represent a buyer in a FSBO purchase on a house they’ve already found and seen ranges from 2% to 4%, depending on the location, price and complexity of the deal.

Note that FSBO’s can be perilous, with a lower likelihood of actually closing. A big reason is that the seller isn’t represented by a Realtor who can give them guidance through the process, particularly about what’s customary or reasonable during the inevitable glitch points (and trust me, every deal has them.) Brokers, for example, are very skilled at coming up with mutually acceptable resolutions to inspection issues. FSBO sellers, on the other hand, can often be intransigent, and look at even the most reasonable inspection repair or concession requests as nothing more than attempts to get the price down. They tend to have a similar view of appraisal shortfalls as well.

The Benefits of Buyer Agency

  • No Property Bias
    While listing agents certainly can show you anything that is Multiple Listed by other agents, there is a financial incentive to them to show you their own listings first. If they sell you one of their own listings, they earn a bigger commission. Because we don’t list property at all, we  have no incentive to show you one property over another.
  • Wider Geographic Scope
    Most listing agents focus on a limited geographic area. They generally know the properties for sale in their area well, but not properties across the county. My colleagues and I cover a wide area of the county, including the most popular second home areas.
  • Unbiased Opinion of Properties
    Listing agents are prohibited, by their fiduciary responsibilities to the seller, from telling you that they think a property is overpriced, for example.We will. We also freely share opinions about other aspects of a property, besides price. If we don’t think a property is right for the lifestyle you’re looking for, we’ll tell you.
  • Expert Price Guidance
    We spend considerable time helping you shape an offer — reviewing comps, estimating likely appraisal value and projecting future marketability with minor repairs or updating.
  • Efficient Use of Your Time
    Going from broker to broker is time consuming, and it can take a while for each of those agents to learn your taste — so you inevitably spend a lot of time schlepping through houses that don’t fit what you’re looking for. Before every visit, we spend a lot of time going over listings with you to hone in on the best that meet your needs. We’ve  seen hundreds of houses here, and can tell you the pros and cons, so you don’t have to waste time seeing dogs. And with every visit, we get better feel for what you’re looking for. Your actual visit time is precious, and we’re committed to make every hour as productive as possible.