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Real Estate in the Digital Age: Why you still want an agent by your side

Homebuyers and sellers today can instantly check listings, monitor price fluctuations, research their credit scores and find lenders - all from their smartphones.

The advent of mortgage industry apps - which mingle aggregated data with complex algorithms in easily accessible formats - enables many shoppers and sellers to approach the process with more confidence.

While technology empowers consumers to shop and sell smarter, it can't replace the service and expertise of an experienced agent. Real estate agents know the local market and have access to the freshest sales data.

For sellers, real estate agents can price a house in line with the market to maximize earnings. According to recent data from the National Association of Realtors, sellers using an agent earn $40,100 more per transaction. The median sale price for the 88 percent of sellers who worked with an agent was $215,000, versus a median sale price of $174,900 for the 9 percent of sellers who didn't use an agent, according to the association.

Buying a home is not like purchasing a plane ticket according to Greg Jaeger, president at USAA Residential Real Estate Services and a former real estate agent. He said buyers and sellers often fail to account for the psychological side of a transaction.

"An agent can help prepare the seller for offers that are intentionally too low," Jaeger said. "You're asking $250,000 for your home; I offer $200,000 and you're immediately insulted. An agent can keep you calm and focused on the end game."

Agents also help buyers navigate the rollercoaster of emotions in getting credit approved or viewing a home inspection report for the first time.

Jaeger knows of this psychological value not only as a former agent, but also as a father of a first-time homebuyer. His 24-year-old son recently bought an older home that was initially chockfull of cheaply done rehabilitation projects.

"The seller was pretty irritable about some items and flat out embarrassed about others," Jaeger said. "My son's real estate agent really earned his commission in making sure the proper repairs were on track and protecting my son from the ire of the seller."

Homes, neighborhoods and their governing state laws are as diverse as the people living in them. Real estate agents are entrenched in those ever-changing state regulations, contracts, laws and practices.

"When making one of the biggest financial decisions of your life, it's important to have a trusted, experienced counselor by your side," Jaeger said.

Many resources are available to help consumers find the right agent, including USAA Real Estate Rewards Network, a program that gives members access to USAA's network of real estate agents and rewards when they buy or sell.



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