Using an online real estate agent: what are my options?

In this day and age, pretty much anything and everything can be bought online.

Want to buy a car? Done.
A mattress? Done.
A house? Thanks to online real estate agents, that can be done, too.

The final piece of the digital home buying puzzle has arrived. Using an online real estate agent gives you the guidance and tools you need to not only purchase a home -- but do it easily, conveniently, securely, and digitally.

So, what is an online real estate agent?

An online real estate agent is just what it sounds like: an agent who offers their services online. But, while all online agents work digitally, at least to some extent, every agent and their brokerage varies a little in what they offer, how they provide those services, and what they charge for them.

Some online real estate agents, for example, discount their commission rate and offer pared-down services to make up for it. Basically, you do the searching and home finding legwork, while they do the nitty-gritty stuff like contracts and crafting your offer.

Others offer more traditional services like sending you appropriate listings, showing you homes, and walking you through each step of the process -- only they do it online. They might charge the traditional commission fees (2-3% of the total sales price, paid by the seller), or they might do it at a discounted price.

If they’re able to use technology to cut their costs and increase efficiency, they may even offer a rebate on that commission -- which means more cash in your pockets come closing day.

Using an online real estate agent vs. a traditional realtor

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Online real estate agents are designed to be more convenient than traditional realtors. You don’t have to constantly meet with them in person or play phone tag for days just to communicate with them. Instead, you can contact them instantly and easily online -- either via email or through whatever digital platform they might operate on.

As we mentioned before, online real estate agents are also often more affordable than traditional realtors. Because they do much of their work online, they’re able to cut down on a lot of overhead costs. They may even use technology that boosts their efficiency and increases their service volume. Ultimately, this means a lower cost commission, discounted services, or some sort of cash back.

Online real estate agents may also differ in what services they’re able to offer. A steeply discounted commission rate might come with less guidance and only minimal help along the way, which some gung-ho buyers are happy to take in exchange for lower costs. Others might offer tiered services for certain flat fees or rates, while others offer the full array of services even at their discounted cost.

The moral of the story here is that just like online real estate agents are different from traditional realtors, there's no one-size-fits-all approach. These agents are also different from each other. It’s important to weigh your options and understand what you’ll pay, what you’ll save, and what you stand to gain from each option.

Benefits of using an online real estate agents

In addition to typically benefiting from discounted commission fees, by using an online real estate agent, you’ll also likely see a faster, more efficient transaction.

Online real estate agents tend to have technology platforms they can use to their advantage to help you sign paperwork, create offers, and track your closing online. This equates to faster closing times and a more hassle-free home purchase as a whole.

Online real estate agents are also just more convenient. Who wants to drive up to an agent’s office or spend hours on the phone with them? With an online agent, all you need is your phone or laptop, and you get the guidance and help you need in minutes. No waiting or commute times necessary.

Is it safe to use an online realtor?

It’s natural to be leery about making any sort of major purchase online -- especially one that equates to hundreds of thousands of dollars. But, keep in mind, your online agent isn’t going to be handling the transaction all on their own. There are dozens of other parties involved -- title companies, mortgage lenders, escrow companies, etc. -- and each of them is well-versed and experienced in the industry.

Your agent is merely the one coordinating the sale and keeping things on track. Any actual movement of funds will likely be done via wire transfer through the title or escrow company, and you’ll probably pay your down payment and closing costs this way, too.

Online agents will also typically use very secure platforms that allow you to sign -- and sometimes, even have notarized -- your important documents and forms, all online. If you’re worried about the transmission of these forms, most agents will be more than happy to send you a physical copy that you can sign and return in person, via fax or through the mail.

It’s important to note though: even many traditional agents use these digital signature tools. They’re considered industry-standard and are highly secure, safe and reliable.

What online real estate agents are out there?

There are dozens of online real estate agents you can choose from, and the right one really depends on the level of service you’re looking for -- as well as what sort of financial benefit you’d like to see.

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Some online real estate agents you can choose from include:

  • Open Listings
  • Redfin
  • Purplebricks
  • Reali
  • Owners.com
  • Knock.com
  • Opendoor
  • Door
  • REX Real Estate Exchange
  • Padxchange

There are also regional online real estate agents that specialize in specific markets and areas. Even Zillow is now in the business of buying and selling homes -- though it’s fairly new in the arena.

What makes Open Listings’ online real estate agent different

So what are the advantages of working with an online real estate agent from Open Listings? Well for one, they come with an entire team of home buying experts.

As Open Listings agent Ron Costa puts it, “What sets Open Listings apart is that we have an entire team of homebuying experts available every day, from 7am-10pm when you need their help. Someone is always a phone call or email away, and you don't have to wait for just one person to get back to you.”

On top of the entire homebuying team, Open Listings also offers:

  • A digital dashboard that helps you track your home buying progress and manage your tasks and to-dos all online -- no tedious calls or meetings necessary
  • Free property reports and neighborhood data, so you get all the deep-dive details a traditional agent would have on a home, without having to hire one yourself
  • On-demand private home showings, when and where you need them
  • A digital agent who’s knowledgeable in the exact area you’re buying in, giving you a serious leg up on the competition
  • Expert recommendations on creating bids, negotiating, setting up inspectors and more
    The ability to create, submit, and track offer all online

Oh, and of course there’s the 50% commission refund that saves buyers an average of $9,604 to use on closing costs, furniture, moving expenses, or to re-build your rainy day fund for future repairs or emergencies.

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Where to start

There are endless benefits to using an online agent -- convenience, lower costs, faster buying processes, etc. But to enjoy these benefits, the first step is to find the right agent.

To do so, you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you want reduced services or a full-service online agent?
  • How much guidance do you need? Is this your first time buying real estate?
  • Could you use cash back at the end of the transaction (new furniture, moving costs, etc.)?
  • How competitive is your market? Do you need help negotiating and crafting your offer?
  • Are basic online listings enough for you to gauge a property, or do you want additional details and recommendations?

At the end of the day, every online agent varies slightly in their offerings, pricing, tools, tech, and local expertise. Make sure you’ve evaluated all your options, and don’t before afraid to reach out, ask questions and read reviews before moving forward. You deserve the best possible guidance -- whether you’re buying your home online or not.

Looking to use an online real estate agent? Use Open Listings to house hunt 24/7, book tours on demand, get paired with a top-rated local agent dedicated to getting your offer accepted & closed, and get back an average of $9,604. when you buy with us.

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