This is a great thread and thanks Michelle for your great explanation of why agents *can* be beneficial. I'm a new realtor myself and as I've done my training and gotten into the business it is scary how many stories I've heard, from people (not realtors) of things that have gone VERY wrong because people did not use an agent or had a bad agent. Michelle is absolutely right, it really depends on the agent. Having bought and sold several homes ourselves in different states, and different types of properties, my husband and I have had good, bad, ugly and indifferent realtors. But we would almost always use one for the many reasons that Michelle mentioned above, especially when we are doing a transaction in a state whose laws we aren't familiar with. The job of any type of "agent", real estate or otherwise (my husband is an actor and has an agent) is to be an expert in the legal matters governing a particular area, a good negotiator, an effective marketer, and someone who generally handles all the annoying details you don't have time or expertise for and who is loyal to you exclusively and looks out for YOUR interests. And for those efforts they get a commission. In our experiences with GOOD agents, they've been well worth the fee.
I am actually building my business around serving people interested in permaculture and homesteading and from what I hear and what I've experienced myself the main issues are a) finding a reputable realtor who takes their job of representing your interests seriously, and actually listens to what YOU want and need, as opposed to what they know and what's convenient for them and b) finding a realtor who has a clue about permaculture and homesteading and likes working with clients who have these interests when buying/selling a property. I know a lot of people who take a cookie cutter approach to real estate, they aren't the type of agent I'd want to work with myself, and not the type of agent I want to be.
AND if you really really want to just do a deal directly without an agent, and you can find a buyer/seller who wants to do this too, then go for it. Just do your legal homework, get surveys and inspections done and protect yourself.