Should You Use a Buyer's Agent?

To put it bluntly, Carrie and Ryan Fitzgerald of Washington, D.C. were "clueless" about home buying when they decided to purchase a condominium.

"We weren't sure where to start. A friend in Boston suggested getting a buyer's agent instead of a real estate agent, so we thought we'd give it a try," says Carrie.

She went online, and using the search words "buyer's agent" for the Washington area, came up with Steve Israel, a broker for Buyer's Edge of Bethesda, Md. Two months later, the Fitzgeralds signed a contract for a two-story loft condo.

"Steve totally exceeded our expectations," Carrie says.

An exclusive buyer's agent differs from other real estate agents or brokers in that they don't represent sellers. Some, like Israel, never list properties for sale and only work with buyers.

Nowadays, with many homebuyers starting their search on the Internet, it's common for buyers to pick up the phone and call the agent who is listing the home that they want to see. But is this a good idea? Buyers' agents argue that it's not and say this method could end up costing buyers money.

Is a buyer's agent right for you? Understanding how real estate transactions work can help you decide -- before you shop for a home.