There are no free lunches in real estate

Understanding real estate portals

Some online-only agencies call themselves “home finders” or “house hunters.” They are primarily aimed at foreign buyers, and advertise their services as free. In reality, they are a marketing tool for listing agents, and they receive a cut of the vendor agency’s fee when a client they bring in buys a property. The fact that they share in the commission probably means that the vendor fee is inflated accordingly, and the buyer ends up funding the spread. More importantly, because they hardly know the properties they advertise, sales agents for those portals usually can’t give proper advice to buyers and cannot represent them throughout the purchase. For obvious reasons, they rarely do pre-visits on behalf of clients, and will let the vendor agent do the viewing. Those portals can be useful during the online selection process - but you must be aware of their limitations as "local" agents.

“Free” search agents aren't free

Some estate agents may market themselves as buyer’s agents, saying that they can do a “free search” for buyers because they share the commission of the listing agent. What they will do is review their portfolio of listed properties, and check with their contacts to see if they have anything suitable. But no more. Obviously, this restricts the number of properties that the property finder can show you, and also diminishes their independence when negotiating on your behalf. House hunters can be lulled into the idea that in such cases the agent is working exclusively for them. This is not the case.