The broker hosting an open house works for the seller.
It's his or her job to get the highest possible price for the property. (Note: from here on it'll be he, his or him in order to simplify things and to make my third grade English teacher happy.)
The seller's broker is NOT the person to help you negotiate the best price.
It's legal for one broker to represent both buyer and seller, but in that case the broker's responsibility to each is limited. And the broker is prohibited from disclosing all the information from either side to the other.
Many buyers think they can cut a better deal if there's only one broker involved.
But any possible savings (and there's no guarantee you'll get them) will be cancelled out by the loss of time and the lack of a professional negotiator.
There's a lot of important information that isn't on the web.
Your broker will be familiar with a building's location. A good broker will tell you what to expect before you walk in the door and find yourself staring out the window at a brick wall, or smelling the cooking fumes from the restaurant downstairs.
If it's a condo, he will know how many of the apartments are owner occupied and how many are rented.
If it's a loft, he will know if it has certificate of occupancy, artist certification or other Department of Buildings issues.
In most cases, he can tell you what it sold for the last time it was on the market and whether or not the sellers have done any work since then.
Your broker can explore the financial situation of a given building. He can look at its financial statement and give you an idea of whether it's a disaster or in good shape before you pay a lawyer or an accountant to examine the statement more carefully.
Because he works for you, not the seller, he has no reason to paint the rosiest picture of the property.
He won't waste his time or yours looking at properties that just aren't right, no matter how great they look on the web and no matter how wonderful the seller's broker makes them sound.
The seller's broker is obligated to try to get you in to see his property whether it's right for you or not.
Your broker doesn't have to pretend the apartment is properly priced when it isn't.
The seller's broker's job is to make every effort to get the seller his price, whatever it is.
Your broker does a lot more than just help you find the right property.
If you get involved in a bidding war, he's already been through many and knows how to win them. He can advise you when you're about to bid more than the property's really worth, or over your head (he'll know what a co-op board will expect to see liquid after closing).
He can also recommend a few good lawyers who have represented buyers of similar properties and guide you to the best mortgage brokers, architects, interior designers and other suppliers.
Ask your friends whom they've worked with and liked.
Check the web pages. Talk to several. When you find one who seems compatible and who seems to understand exactly what you're looking for, ask him to send you information about properties that might work for you. Have him take you on a tour of them. See how it goes.
If you see something you like, ask your broker every question you can think of, and if you can't think of any, ask him what questions you should be asking. A good broker will either know the answers or get back to you with them in less than 24 hours.
A good broker returns phone calls and e-mails within the hour. A good broker will constantly send you new properties that might be of interest, or will let you know that there's nothing new on the market that day.
Be loyal to the broker you choose.
If you go to open houses without him, be sure to put his name and firm down on the sign-in sheet. Make sure that any other brokers understand that you are already represented.
Why? Well, for one thing, none of us can afford to invest time and effort in a buyer who may wind up buying through somebody else. And there's no reason for you to work with more than one broker. We all have access to the same properties.
But, if in the course of your search you find that this broker isn't working out as well as you'd hoped, tell him so and tell him what's wrong. If he gets huffy, or can't fix the problem, then find a different one.