Choosing a real estate agent who is qualified, knowledgeable and the right match for your needs will make all the difference in the success of selling or buying a home. If you don't do your homework before choosing a house agent, you're taking the same risk as you would choosing apples from a barrel in the supermarket produce section. Some of the apples are sweet, others are sour, a few are only for cooking and the rest look too green and not quite ready for eating. You think for a second and then reach in and grab the first one that looks good, only to find out later that it wasn't exactly what you expected.
For an apple, it may not matter. But that kind of decision-making often happens when people choose a real estate agent to help them buy a home. On the surface, all real estate agents seem alike. They all charge about the same fee, usually around 6 percent of the sale price, and most agencies offer similar services. But in reality, differences can be huge. Consumers who don't do their homework can wind up getting bad advice that could cost thousands. To choose a top-notch, professional real estate agent, do the following.
When choosing a house agent, the best place to start is by asking friends for referrals. If you're new to the area, do an informal search of the properties in the neighborhood. If the same name pops up on lots of signs, you've probably found someone who specializes in that particular area. This can be a real plus, since the agent will probably be well-versed in the homes, schools, municipal services and other important information concerning the area.
Once you've narrowed down the list of possible real estate agents, make an appointment to meet with each agent in their office. Before you start talking about houses, find out as much as you can about the agent. You should ask:
- How long have they been licensed as an agent? An inexperienced agent may be fine for uncomplicated purchases like condos or townhouses. But for the most part, you want to look for somebody who has at least five years of experience. Getting licensed is relatively easy, but staying with the business for at least five years isn't and shows a strong commitment to the profession.
- Is the agent part-time or full-time? While all agents have to start somewhere, working with a part-time agent may not be in your best interests. Part-time agents have other commitments that can get in the way of giving you full-time attention. In addition, agents who are part-time may simply not be successful enough to have developed business adequate to support a full-time commitment.
- What awards has the agent won? Most full-time realtors worth their salt will have made it into the "million dollar club" at the very least.
- How accessible is the agent? Do they maintain office hours? Can you call them at home? On their cell phone? Buying real estate can be a traumatic experience with lots of surprises along the way, so you'll want an agent who's easily accessible when you need to reach them.
Take note if the agent is good listener. Do they cut you off before you've finished a sentence? There's nothing worse than wasting time looking at houses you have no interest in because the agent has not listened carefully to your needs.
Once you feel convinced that a real estate agent can do a good job representing you, you need to decide what kind of contractual relationship you will have. It used to be that agents always "represented" the seller of the home. Nowadays, things are very different and you can choose from the following three options:
- Buyer's Agent: This is clearly the best choice if you are buying a house. The buyer's agent works only for the buyer and is bound to represent you above all other interests.
- Seller's Agent: The seller's agent works only for the seller of the home. This means that they essentially look out for the seller's interests, and not yours.
- Disclosed Dual Agent: In this type of arrangement, the agent works for both the buyer AND the seller. This often happens when an agent sells a property they have also listed for sale. The problem here is obvious. The agent is serving two masters and cannot put the interest of one above the interests of the other. As a home buyer, you're better off working with an agent who is bound to look out for only you.
One mistake many inexperienced home buyers make when they're choosing a real estate agent is to call real estate offices based only on a sign in the front yard of an advertised property. What they often don't realize is that the agent who shows them the house becomes their agent for the sale. Cold-calling a group of real estate offices is a lousy way to select the professional who will help you through the biggest purchase of your life. Selecting the house agent first--based upon the agent's experience, reputation and your personal comfort level--is the best way to be certain that your agent truly represents you!