Couple buying a house and signing a mortgage

The vast majority of home sales are conducted through a real estate agent or Realtor, who will usually be paid a commission amounting to six percent of the overall sale price. Since that fee typically amounts to thousands of dollars, many people wonder whether they can—or should—buy a house without using a Realtor.

The good news is that there is no legal requirement that you go through an agent to buy a home. In fact, about 10 to 15 percent of home sales each year are done without a Realtor. But it’s important to make sure you understand what a Realtor does before you decide whether it’s a good idea to forgo one when it’s time to take out a mortgage and buy a home.

What does a Realtor do—and do you need one?

A real estate agent is there to work on your behalf. That means that he or she will help guide you through the complex process of finding a home, qualifying for a mortgage and making the purchase.

Realtors are typically well informed about the properties for sale in a particular area. If you opt to buy a house on your own, without a Realtor, you’ll have to do the house-hunting yourself.

When you find a house you like, you’ll also have to decide how much you want to offer. Again, because a Realtor is likely familiar with your local market, he or she should be able to help you evaluate the value of a particular home. Without a Realtor, you’ll have to handle this yourself as well. If you’re a confident negotiator, that might not be a problem. But many Realtors argue that they more than justify their commission with their negotiation skills. Once you’ve made an offer and it’s been accepted, a Realtor can help you navigate the extensive paperwork that’s required to purchase a home.

As you can see, you don’t need a Realtor to buy a home, but having one can greatly streamline and simplify the home-buying process.

When is it smart to forgo a Realtor?

Though most home sales happen through a Realtor, there are some situations where forgoing a Realtor might make sense.

If you already have a specific house in mind and you have a good sense of how much that house is worth, you might not feel as though you need a Realtor to walk you through the process. If you’re buying a home from a friend or family member, you probably don’t need a Realtor’s services. Because you won’t be paying the Realtor’s commission, you’ll have more room to negotiate on price.

Some homes are listed as “for sale by owner,” which means that the seller is also not working through a Realtor or real estate agent. Typically, such houses are cheaper than others on the market because you won’t be paying any fees or commissions to a third party. However, making a significant purchase without a professional involved comes with its own legal and financial risks. Make sure to enlist the help of a professional before signing any binding contracts.

Enlist a real estate lawyer

A lot of paperwork goes into buying a house. Because it’s likely to be one of the biggest—and most complicated—financial transactions you’ll ever make, you want to ensure you’ve got all the details down. That’s why, if you do decide to forgo a Realtor, you should hire a real estate lawyer to handle this part of the process. A real estate lawyer can help you draw up the sales contract and create any other necessary legal documents.