What does a Buyer’s Agent do?

Michelle gives an insight in to her role as a buyer’s agent. How it’s different from being a real estate agent for a vendor, what she does day-to-day, and the value she provides.


  • What legislation do buyers agents fall under;
  • How they equalize the balance of power;
  • Taking the emotions out of purchasing decisions;
  • Research and due diligence conducted to ensure the numbers add up; And
  • Much More


  • None


Michelle May – Sydney Buyers Agent

Marcus Roberts – Mortgage Broker




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Please note that any views or opinions presented in this podcast are solely those of the speakers, and do not necessarily represent those of any business. These views and opinions are general in nature, and do not take account of your personal objectives, financial situation and needs. Please consider whether it applies in your circumstances and seek professional advice wherever appropriate.


Marcus Roberts: Hi, and welcome to the Sydney Property Insider, your weekly podcast series, talking about all things property in Sydney. Hi Michelle, how are you today? 
Michelle May: Good. How are you? 
Marcus Roberts: Good, really well. We’re going to be talking today about what it is you do in your day to day world. So what does a buyer’s agent do? How do you work, and the value that you bring to clients. Maybe before we get into that, or we jump on in, let’s talk about the weekend’s results. So, auctions in Sydney for this past weekend. 
Michelle May: Yes, so, Saturday 17th of February, Domain reported a clearance rate of 67%, with 510 auction listings. So we were seeing still an increase. Last week, there was just over 400, I believe. So the market’s still growing, warming up still. But with that clearance rate, we do need to mention, and I have mentioned before that, obviously the 67% is based on the reported results. Not all auctions get reported back by agents because sometimes they just forget, or they’re not sold, or they’re still negotiating. It could well be that the 67% is based on 25% of those auctions that were listed, so bear that in mind when you’re looking at those numbers. 
Marcus Roberts: Yeah, that’s a really good point. We typically have been using the domain.com.au results, but Domain has it’s competitor realestate.com.au. Often you’ll see very different results. 
Michelle May: Absolutely. 
Marcus Roberts: For the listeners out there, what are the real differences between the two? My understanding is that RealEstate looks at more the state based, rather than the city itself? 
Michelle May: Yeah, correct. And it’s also who the agents report back to. There’s some listings that only ever get advertised on realestate.com, and not on Domain. So for those people who are looking to buy, always make sure you setup your alerts on both of them, because they may well have different listings on there. 
Marcus Roberts: That’s a great point. So what we’ll do is, in the show notes, we’ll also provide the links to both of those email subscription pages, or where you would go to subscribe to those results, and that way you can see the data the same way that we do. On a weekly basis, both RealEstate and Domain send out a weekly email, usually it’s over the weekend, it’s on a Sunday afternoon, I think? Or a Sunday morning? Or is it late Saturday night? 
Michelle May: Saturday. 
Marcus Roberts: Saturday night? Oh well. 
Michelle May: The first thing I do is copy it and put it onto my Instagram. 
Marcus Roberts: You’re better than I am. It’s not the first thing that I look at, but I see them over the weekend. Good to know. So Michelle, today. Buyer’s agents. You’re a buyer’s agent? 
Michelle May: I am. 
Marcus Roberts: For those that have never used a buyer’s agent in the past, or those that have heard the term but don’t really know exactly what it is, today would be a really good chance to let the listeners know exactly what it is that you do, and how you add value. One of the questions that I’ve had, certainly in the past, is how is a buyer’s agent different from a real estate agent? 
Michelle May: Firstly, we both work under the same legislation, but a buyer’s agent should only work for the buyer. A buyer’s agent is contracted by a person who is looking to buy either a home or an investment, and so they should be looking after the buyer’s interest only. A selling agent, a real estate agent, is there to sell a property for the vendor, so they are only working in the best interests for the vendor. We’re on opposite sides of the spectrum. 
Marcus Roberts: Which is good, because often with people that are going out and buying a property, they’re almost ganged up on with selling agents, vendor, everyone else’s needs, and then little old me as the purchaser, as the person buying the property, we have no one to rely on for that third party opinion. So, someone who’s working on our behalf. 
Michelle May: I definitely make sure that I equalize the balance of power in the whole transaction. I look after my clients, and make sure that they know all the facts about the properties that they’re interested in, and make sure that they don’t overpay, or in worse case scenario, make sure that we walk away from the wrong property. 
Marcus Roberts: As we’ve said many times so far already, taking some of the emotion out of purchasing decisions. 
Michelle May: Absolutely. 
Marcus Roberts: If you’re going out there on a Saturday morning and you’ve seen eight properties, by the end of it maybe you just want to throw your money at whatever comes up, because you’re just tired. You just can’t do it anymore. At the same time, you might go somewhere that might have a beautiful kitchen, you might lose sight of everything else in the apartment or in the house, because that kitchen is everything your hopes and dreams have ever been. So having a buyer’s agent on your side is a really good way of taking some of the emotion out of the circumstance. Yes, kitchen gets a tick, these are all the things that don’t get a tick. 
Michelle May: Yeah, exactly. The people that I typically help are … It ranges really, from first home buyers that accept that they don’t know a thing about what they’re doing, and need help. To investors who’ve bought multiple properties, or their first investment, and they just want advice, and are too busy in their everyday lives, in terms of career, that they’ve realized that it’s best to have a buyer’s agent on the job 24/7. I do work six days a week. 
Marcus Roberts: For sure. If you were a purchaser, having someone to give you back some of your own time, where you might be a really successful IT manager, you might be an accountant, you might be a doctor, you might be a nurse, you might be anyone of a number of occupations, not necessarily looking at property on a day-in-day-out basis. It gives some of your time back because having a buyer’s agent saves you that time, saves you those initial inspections, initial conversations with vendors and selling agents. 
Michelle May: What I typically see is that people start looking full of enthusiasm and wishful thinking, a lot as well. They look really diligently three months, six months, a year at a time, and then just give up, because they’ve been burnt a couple of times, they’ve missed out at auction, they can’t seem to find what they want. So they leave the market for about six months, and then they come back again. I’ve had clients who have been doing this in-and-out for six years. So if you imagine someone like me, who … It’s my profession. This is what I’ve been doing for the past 10 years. I know exactly what’s happening within the Sydney markets. I’m on the job, like I said, six days a week. So for me, I could keep going until you get what you want, and what is a good opportunity for you to buy, and you could get on with your life whilst I’m doing that. There is a definite success there at the end of it. Once you engage a buyer’s agent, you know you’re going to buy a property. You can put your mind at ease when it comes to that. 
Marcus Roberts: Yeah, and it saves you that … The things that I know, I’ve found with clients that I’ve seen over the past few years. Many people might come and want an approval in principal, or a preapproval, so that they can go shopping over the weekend, and go and look for that place that they’re dreaming of. After four weeks, they’ll take a three week break, or they’ll take a five week break. Having that time-out of the market, isn’t necessarily the best thing because you’re losing track of what’s going on in the suburbs. You might miss the dream property simply because of the fatigue that you have, from going week in, week out. That’s where my thoughts are a buyer’s agent can really help as well, just having that day in, day out, constant approach to the search. 
Michelle May: It’s also because once I’ve got a client onboard, and they’re going for the full search, which means that they give me a brief, they tell me how much they want to spend, and where they’d like to live, or where they want to have that investment. I then run with that. A major part of what I do is my connections with agents, which means that I’ll get access to off-markets and pre-markets before anyone else. They will show me through a property very early in the morning because they know that I’m shopping with a wallet, you know what I mean? I have my clients ready to purchase, and so they know that I’m not just kicking tires … 
Marcus Roberts: You’re not window shopping. 
Michelle May: No, absolutely. I’m there with a purpose, which means that if my client likes a property, I can get a deal done very quickly. There are agents that actually prefer to work with buyer’s agent because they know it’s a professional transaction, they don’t have to hold your hand through it. That gives me that advantage above other unassisted buyers, my clients obviously benefit from that. 
Marcus Roberts: One of the things you just mentioned, which was “the brief”. Talk us through that. I’m coming to you, I find you online or I’ve been listening to this podcast series, and I say, “maybe I do need a buyer’s agent”, you talk about brief. What’s typically involved in a brief? 
Michelle May: When you’re looking online, you’ve got an idea of what you want, possibly in your head. So the first thing I do when I meet with you, I ask you to write everything down. There are a million questions in my brief that I ask you. What’s your ideal this? What’s your deal breaker on that? Where would you like to live, how much is your budget? Also, things like, are you planning on having a family, are there any schools that I need to be aware of that you’re hoping your child will go to, how do you get to work, have you got family connections in the area, is it important that you get to them by public transport, for example. So all those things I take into consideration. That’s the starting point. From that brief, I can tell you, okay this is going to be feasible, or, we need to think outside the box a little bit. In order for you to be in that ideal suburb that you want to be in, maybe rather than looking at a house, we might have to look at a townhouse, or a garden apartment, because I know that a house will not be achievable in your budget, for example. 
Michelle May: That should all be discussed upfront. With a good buyer’s agent, there should not be surprises down the lines. When I meet with clients, I will be very upfront about what it is that I can help you with. I have turned people away who have wanted that “castle”, in a suburb that’s unachievable for them, and I have to tell them, I’m sorry but I can’t actually help you with that. This is what I can help you with, if you look in these suburbs, and you consider this or that, or compromise on a bedroom, or a garage, or whatever, we can work together. I don’t think there’s any point in having to manage a client after you sign them up. It’s much better to have that conversation upfront and be clear from the get-go. 
Marcus Roberts: One of the things you just mentioned there was around compromise, so I would imagine part of the briefing process, especially with couples, is that they might have the “couple view”, but they might have their own individual views. 
Michelle May: Yes. Absolutely. 
Marcus Roberts: [inaudible] compromises of those deal breakers and those must-haves, those absolute necessary items in your purchase, and having a talk through, which very often I’ve certainly heard before, couples don’t necessarily have. So they might have their own idea of what they want, and they might have communicated with their parents, we’re after a three bedroom, a little space outside. But they’ve not really gone to the depth that someone like yourself would go to. 
Michelle May: No, and I always have my couples write out a brief individually, so they actually get to think about it for themselves, as opposed to coming to me with a compromised brief already. I’d rather they set out their own briefs, and then we look at what we can compromise on. Sometimes one partner is more willing to compromise than the other, and if I don’t know that upfront, it’s like a bit of an elephant in the room. I’d rather they start off with writing out their own briefs, and then we can discuss this. As the search progresses, I will always take them out together with me on a Saturday morning, and we go through properties together, where I can go, okay, so this is how you look at property, let me show you how I look at property, and what I think is important that you should also consider. A lot of things that people look for in a home they get charmed by, the styling, and a lot of things. But what I look for is that it’s a good construction, that there’s enough internal light, or if there isn’t, that there is something that can be done about it. Is it a quality street? Is there going to be development around it? All that kind of stuff that people don’t necessarily look at initially, but certainly part of what I do. 
Marcus Roberts: For those people that might have never thought about buyer’s agents before, walk me through your day-to-day during the week. Saturday you’re certainly looking at properties, you’re doing inspections. What would you do on the other five days a week that you’re working? 
Michelle May: A lot of it is about connecting with agents, and making sure that they know what it is I’m looking for. Because I work for myself, I have a maximum number of clients that I work for, because I want to make sure that all my clients are looked after. That’s why I specialize in certain areas of Sydney only. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to have that connection with the agent, and therefore my clients wouldn’t have that advantage. For me it’s about making contact with agents, making sure that I’m on all those databases, that I pick-up the phone and talk to them. It’s only through that human connection, that they get reminded, “Oh yeah, Michelle’s looking for this and that, and I’ll show her through. The photos are being done today Michelle, have you got time to come and have a look?” I sometimes get as much as a couple of weeks headstart before the property would normally hit the market. For example last week, I’d been through the property already with the photos, my client got through it the next evening, and it’s still two weeks before it comes to market. 
Marcus Roberts: That’s great. So really, you’re getting the jump on the general public? 
Michelle May: Yeah, absolutely. 
Marcus Roberts: Because you have those connections, and because you have selling agents knowing you have clients looking for a specific type of property. Ultimately, you’re getting the jump on general public, and finding those off-market or pre-market type of properties. So that you can start doing your due diligence, maybe put in a sneaky bid if it could save the vendor, and if the vendor is ready to negotiate. 
Michelle May: Absolutely. A large part of what I do is once we have found the right property, is the due diligent part of it. That starts with pricing research. I don’t use those apps that you can say what’s my property worth, because they use algorithms that are based on nonsense, as far as I’m concerned. The only way to do proper price research is to really look at comparable sales in the area, relevant comparable sales. That takes knowledge of the area. One street can have a very different value than the street right next to it, because of the types of properties that are there, because there’s commotion, or there’s a bus route. You really need to know your stuff when you come to putting a price range on a property. I always tell my clients, the agent might give you this price guide, but let’s just not think about that, let’s just look at what we think it’s worth based on recent sales in the area, looking at if we have to go back further in time. What has the market done since last year? Has the median price increased or has it decreased? Taking that into consideration when it comes to the property that we’re looking at. So that’s where we start. 
Michelle May: From there on, if it’s an apartment, I look at the strata report. We order a strata report and really go through that with a fine tooth comb. We want to know that not only if the apartment is good, but whether the building has been looked after, where you’ve got an interested executive committee that are taking care of the building. You could be one of eight, or 1 of 24, or 1 of 200 people in that block, and you gotta make sure that you’re buying into a building that is going to be looked after for the future. 
Marcus Roberts: And that it’s run successfully, and it’s run in good parameters. Looking at things like the sinking fund, how have they used the sinking fund? Are there adequate reserves? What things have recently been done, what things need to be done over the coming 12 months? 
Michelle May: That’s something definitely we’ll need to discuss in a different podcast. 
Marcus Roberts: For sure yeah, that’s a whole story in itself. 
Michelle May: If you’re looking at a house, we’ll commission a building and pest, look at what’s happening underneath the floor. For example, is there any rising damp? Is there things that need fixing, or that perhaps aren’t immediately obvious when you walk through it? We get the contract reviewed, and look at if there’s any issues there. I’ve mentioned some deposit in different episodes, things like that. We need to make that my client, the buyer, is protected from that point of view. In the meantime, I keep talking to the agent, making sure that the expectations are still on a par with what we’re prepared to pay for it. Whether the vendor’s had good feedback, whether they’re looking to sell prior, whether the agent is interested in doing a deal before. Some agents, by nature, sell everything prior, and I know who they are. Other agents are incapable of negotiating, so they run everything to auctions, believe it or not. But they do. So putting in an offer prior would be a waste of your firing power, when it comes to auction. 
Michelle May: All that kind of stuff is going on in the background, whilst I’m still looking at other properties for this client. Just because I’m evaluating this one property, there may be something else that’s better, that’s just hit the market. I keep going until the point that we’ve exchanged contracts. Then I’m still involved until settlement. I do a pre-settlement inspection, making sure that once the vendor has moved out, the property is as it should be, or the inclusions are there, nothing’s been left behind. It’s a full-on process. Especially with a couple I’m like that third person in the marriage for a short period of time. Sometimes clients call me afterwards, Michelle I miss talking to you! It is quite an intense process. Usually I can find you something, if it’s the right thing that’s hit the market, within two weeks. In general, it’s a two or three month process, really. The depends on the time of year, what it is you’re looking for, all those kinds of things. I’d rather take the time and buy the right property, than buy you the first property. 
Marcus Roberts: The first property you see. 
Michelle May: That’s not how I work. 
Marcus Roberts: That leads us to a really good point. You’ve talked a lot about the value that you can add. One of the other pieces you’ve spoken about in prior episodes has been around the negotiation stage, of being that third party negotiating directly with the agent. To go back to the vendor and say, this is who we have. Ultimately having someone that’s impartial to the transaction. You’ve talked a lot about the value, all the way from the search and negotiations, to various things along the way. How do you charge? People generally know how real estate agents charge when they’re selling a property, but as a buyer’s agent, how do you get paid? 
Michelle May: The buyer’s agent gets charged by the purchaser. The client engages a buyer’s agent. There’s three main wages of charging. The first one is the percentage. Basically you say my budget is a million, or 2 million, or whatever the case may be. They go okay, we charge anywhere from 1%-3%. That can be quite hefty, when you think about it. I think it’s counterintuitive, not quite fair. Just because you have a bigger budget, doesn’t mean I should take more of your money. In fact, I find that the smaller budgets are much harder work, much harder to satisfy, because usually there’s a much bigger buyer pool and larger competition out there. Be careful with that. If you’ve got a budget of, whatever it is, question it, the percentage fee. The second way of charging is tiered fees. So, up to 500,000 it might be a set fee of say 15,000 or whatever, and then over 500,000 to up to a million, it might be X amount, and over that again. My issue with that one really is that, how are they going to charge you? Say your initial budget may have been 500,000, but what if you end up buying something for 515,000? Do they then charge you in the next tier? That to me is, again, not really great because it sort of takes away the buyer’s agent’s incentive to negotiate harder for you. 
Marcus Roberts: In that line of thinking, if you’re on a tier that there’s a separate jump at 500,000, you put in a first offer at 495, and the second offer goes to … Where does it go? Does it go to 499,999? Or does it go to 505,000? Simply because you’re worried. Okay, that extra dollar over that tier, means that I’m also paying a higher tier for the agent. 
Michelle May: It also, again, implies that because you’re spending more money, the buyer’s agent has to do more work, and therefore the fee is justified. 
Marcus Roberts: Yeah, which is not always the case. 
Michelle May: No, absolutely not. The third way of charging, is what I do personally, is a set fee which is agreed upfront. How I charge is based upon the complexity of the brief. How difficult is it for me to help you? That’s a combination of your flexibility on suburbs, your ability to come out with me and have a look at things. I’ve got clients that live in the States, and in Europe, for example. The tyranny of distance and the tyranny of timezones makes it harder to sometimes get deals across the line because clients are not actually able to sign that document as quickly as they should, or they need time to think about things, and in a hot market it takes longer. I have clients who lived in Griffith, for example, and obviously they wanted to see the property before making any decisions. Sometimes it would take two weeks for them to be able to come down and have a look at a property, and it would be gone. I take that into consideration. If you’re a local buyer, flexible on budget, flexible on suburb, I should say you have a decent budget, I will know exactly upfront whether I can help you or not, and so my fee will be lower than with someone who’s got needle in the haystack requirements. 
Marcus Roberts: Yeah, and that certainly makes sense. One of the things I like having heard you just say that, is with the flat fee type of approach. Your negotiation is based on having the right price for your client, and it’s not based on a percentage of the sales price. If you’re doing a percent of the sales price, how much extra effort are you going to put in, to try to save the client an extra $1000, knowing it’s going to cost you money? Having that flat fee is really transparent, and I think that’s a really valuable thing. 
Michelle May: It’s hard to put a value on a buyer’s agent to people who go, “Oh my God, that’s so much money to charge! I didn’t realize that’s what a buyer’s agent costs”. But I think for my clients even in the past year alone, there have been numerous clients who needed evaluation done prior to exchange. The bank comes back with a value of 1.3, and I then manage to buy for 1.225. That’s a saving of $75,000, and let me tell you, I don’t cost that much. 
Marcus Roberts: That was going to be my next point. Seeing your work in action before is the … Yes, if you think about a dollar, dollar basis. A million dollar property, let’s say 2% type of charge, just to make it simple, might be a $20,000 cost. However, if through your negotiations, you were able to get a $15,000 savings, then the actual cost of your service, might be $5,000. Which a large part is made up from the time-saving that you’ve had, someone going out and doing the inspections for you as a client. Or you could potentially save 30,000, and therefore the cost of the buyer’s agent actually becomes a value add. 
Michelle May: The other thing that people need to think about is when you hire a buyer’s agent, their first priority should be to buy you a better property. Not just a property, a better property, that you perhaps wouldn’t have thought of yourself. My main concern is always capital growth. People come to me with all sorts of properties that are just not good enough. My true value is not just from day one, it’s when you see and you have your house valued again in two years time, and you realize that your property has actually out-performed the market. That will always be my aim. That’s where you really gain from using a buyer’s agent who works that way. Let me just add, that not all buyer’s agents are concerned with that. Do check that. That is my value add, in that I make sure I will endeavor to always only pick a property that will out-perform the market. 
Marcus Roberts: Which leads me to another thing you’ve just mentioned about how buyers are [inaudible 00:28:07], and we’re not saying for a second that this is the wrong thing to do, but have you noticed yourself that many selling real estate agents have setup their own buyer’s agency, within the company? Without naming names, some of the larger groups out there you would see on Domain or RealEstate.com.au … 
Michelle May: And they’re doing it for free, too. 
Marcus Roberts: And they’re doing it for free. So if they’re doing it for free, who is getting charged? Because if you’re not paying for something explicitly, there has to be a remuneration somewhere. No one’s working for free. 
Michelle May: You’ve got to be very careful with that. A buyer’s agent are worth listening to, get paid by you, and that’s the way it works. Just make sure that they’ve been in the business long enough to not be practicing their skills on you. This is a growing industry. There’s a lot of new kids joining this industry thinking that this is the way to make money. Every transaction that they do, they’re learning. Make sure that you’re not that client. 
Marcus Roberts: You don’t want to be with someone with training wheels. Last question, before we move on, if you don’t find a property … We’ve talked about the fact that you’re getting paid by the client directly, you’re not at the behest of another agency saying, Michelle, you’ve got to sell these people a property by March 1st, or similar. If you don’t find a property, what happens? How does that work? 
Michelle May: A lot of agency agreements with buyer’s agents will have a time limit on there, usually three months. To me, it’s one of those things. The clock starts ticking as soon as you sign the contract, so there’s an incentive for the agent to get you off their books, and to get you to exchange on a property that perhaps might not be what it is that you want. They then become sales agents to a certain degree. I don’t have a time limit on my agency agreements, because I do not take on anyone I do not think I can help. Literally, I’ve been doing this for a long time now, I’ve never had a client not buy property that they’re happy with. There are two exceptions, both of them because they moved away from the area, they moved out of Sydney, and so we ended the agreement. It wasn’t because we didn’t find a property. Their circumstances changed, and so they no longer needed one here. You’ve got to be very careful from the get-go, that you’re not being sold too. Make sure that the buyer’s agent that you’re using is a credible one. I know some buyer’s agencies, there are some names out there, that have sales targets, much like real estate agents, selling agents do. 
Marcus Roberts: So you don’t have a whiteboard at home? These are the number of visits, these are the number of calls, and this is the amount of sales that you need to do? 
Michelle May: No, absolutely not. I want to be able to sleep at night. I want to make sure that every person that signs on the dotted line is absolutely over-the-moon with what they’ve bought. It’s always eyes wider open. I make sure that my client knows about every positive and every negative, and they’re fully in charge of making that decision. 
Marcus Roberts: Well Michelle, that’s great. That’s a fantastic introduction, and especially for those people that have heard of buyer’s agents, but never necessarily known exactly what it is that they do. One last question I’ve just thought of now. If you’re doing a purchase for an investor, is your fee tax deductible? 
Michelle May: It is only tax deductible when it comes to selling it. It’s a cost of acquisition. Not at the time of purchase, but it will be once you come to sell it. But hopefully you don’t get to sell it for a long time. 
Marcus Roberts: Of course, because a lot of what we say is around buy-and-hold, it’s not necessarily around flipping properties. That’s an excellent point. Again, neither Michelle nor myself are accountants, so if you do have specific tax and accounting advice, we recommend you see, and seek advice from, an accountant. But generally, you’ve seen it as a cost of acquisition and it could be tax deductible at time of sale? 
Michelle May: Yep. Just double check, just to be sure. 
Marcus Roberts: Absolutely. Well thank you so much for that, Michelle. That’s excellent. For those listeners out there that have any questions for Michelle … More on how a buyer’s agent work, or any specific questions, we’d love to hear them. We’d love to be able to answer them. Please send your emails to [email protected] That’s a-s-k at sydneypropertyinsider.com.au. We’ve had some great questions already, and we look forward to getting some more and answering some more on the weeks ahead. Thanks so much Michelle, and we will be with you same time, same place next week. 
Michelle May: Bye. 
Marcus Roberts: Have a great week everyone. 
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