10 Dos and Don’ts for Choosing the Right Real Estate Agent
Buying a home is one of the most complex and expensive purchases you will ever make … and it’s not a purchase I would recommend making on your own.
You have to know the market you want to buy in, know where the inventory is, how to negotiate, what contracts and inspections to perform … the time you have to invest alone can cause you to pull out your hair.
There is a reason we hire real estate agents. But whom should you choose? What should you look for in an agent? It’s not an easy choice, but here are five things you shouldn’t do and five things you should do.
1. Don’t choose the first agent you meet
Let me ask you a question: would you marry the first person you met? Of course you wouldn’t. The same logic applies when it comes to choosing a real estate agent … even if the agent is a referral.
While it’s not a long-term commitment like a marriage, buying or selling a home is a huge, high-stress endeavor, and you want to make sure you’ve picked the right person to help you navigate those waters.
Get as many recommendations as you can, and take the time to interview several real estate agents. Ask each agent questions like these:
- Are you a member of the National Association of Realtors?
- Will you show me houses listed by other realty companies?
- How familiar are you with the area?
- What is your strategy/plan to help me find a home?
- Do you work weekdays and weekends?
Compare the answers with your other interviews, and choose an agent who best matches your personality, style, and goals..
2. Don’t hire someone just because he or she says what you want to hear
You want an agent who will challenge you. Who will tell you when you are wrong. Who will keep you from making a huge (six figure) mistake.
Look for someone who is assertive but not obnoxious. Ask her how she would respond if you wanted to make an offer on a house she knew was beyond your budget … make a lowball offer in the wrong situation … or any other ethically difficult situation.
3. Work with a Buyer Agent
Did you know that all real estate agents are deemed to be working for the seller unless there is a written agreement that says otherwise? That’s why a Buyer Representation Agreement is a smart move for anyone in the market to buy a home.
Buyer’s agents come in a few flavors:
General Buyer Agent: Most real estate brokerages have designated buyer agents that primarily work with buyers. These agents usually don’t have a lot of listings, so the potential for conflict of interest is a bit lower. Any agent or broker, however, can enter into a Buyer Representation Agreement with you to help you find a home and protect your interests.
Accredited Buyer’s Representative: The ABR designation signals that an agent has taken advanced courses specific to buyer representation, and along with meeting other requirements has been accredited for working specifically with homebuyers.
Exclusive Buyer Agent: Exclusive buyers agents never work for sellers, because they don’t take listings and neither does the brokerage they work for. Instead, these agents work exclusively for buyers. This is the only form of buyer agency that completely eliminates a conflict of interest between your agent/broker and the seller.
If you’re working with anyone other than an exclusive buyer agent, the possibility exists that you will want to buy a listing that is held by the agent you’re working with or the brokerage firm that agent works for. This is a situation called dual agency, and it means that the seller has already received the bulk of the guidance from the brokerage, but your representation might become more neutral.
Now, there is nothing illegal about dual agency, or anything necessarily unethical about it. The problem is that a real estate brokerage is put in a situation where it has to balance loyalties between both parties, which can lead to some sticky negotiating situations.
4. Don’t hire agents who don’t know how to negotiate
Real estate is full of part time, inexperienced real estate agents. These are the last people you want to help you buy your new home (and a good reason why you should choose a member of the National Association of Realtors).
But even for those who have made it a full-time career – and thoroughly enjoy what they do – if they are afraid of conflict and don’t have sharp negotiation skills, they are not going to maximize your experience.
Look for a real estate agent who’s not afraid to make tough requests or knows how deal with a lowball offer.
5. Don’t hire agents because they have high transaction numbers
That might sound counter intuitive … wouldn’t a successful agent have a better chance of being successful with you considering his wonderful track record?
Well, no, not really. See a successful agent might not have what you are looking for. You and that agent may define success very differently.
One agent may define success by the number of transactions he closes a month, the amount of commission he makes, the number of awards he’s accumulated.
Another agent might define success with the number of healthy relationships she’s built, satisfied clients she has, or the number of recommendations she gets.
One agent is all about himself. The other is all about you. Choose the one who is in alignment with your personality and goals.
6. Do choose an agent who deals with homes in your price range
To most non-experts, selling a home seems pretty straightforward … no matter if the home costs $50,000 or $5,000,000. Truth is, you should choose an agent who is an expert in your price range.
Just as doctors specialize, so do real estate agents. Price ranges vary, but you could break them down into:
- Under $120,000
- Over $120,000 but under $300,000
- Over $300,000 but under $1,000,000
You should also look for agents familiar with the style of home you want to purchase:
- Second home
And naturally, choose an agent who is an expert in the area you want to live.
7. Do pick an agent who matches your personality needs
Good real estate agents approach the art of buying and selling houses differently because they know that each client is different in personality and needs. Some agents even specialize in dealing with particular client types. In her New York Times article Who’s Got Your Back?, Vivian S. Toy identifies four such real estate agents:
- Hand-Holder – This person will be slow to speak, slow to make a move, and will be patient when you have a thousand questions to answer. He won’t mind answering the same questions ten times. He understands the anxiety behind buying a home and will help you calm down.
- Authority – This person is loaded with knowledge about the market and inventory, understands the ins-and-outs of real estate, and is confident in that knowledge and experience. He or she is a take charge type.
- Team – This is a group of people who specialize in certain aspects of real estate, usually led by an authority (the face on all the promotional material). This team is on call at all hours – an efficient and effective, well-oiled machine. The only downside is you will never work with the person you met on your introductory visit (if you met him at all).
- Legacy Broker – This person is someone who has been the go-to person in a certain family or social circle. She values the relationship with the larger group, so you know she won’t steer you wrong. However, this kind of agent is difficult to find … and it’s hard to get inside that inner circle.
8. Do choose a full-time, seasoned REALTOR
When it comes to buying a home, you want an experienced, professional real estate agent by your side. Someone who eats, breathes, and sleeps real estate. Full time agents have a few distinctive traits that set them apart from part-timers.
- They are real estate specialists
- They will work to lower your risk
- They will work for you at their own risk
- They understand the current market
- They have and know inventory
- They understand the complexity of the transaction
In addition, look for agents with additional training. You’ll know this when you see acronyms behind their name. Here’s what those acronyms mean:
- CRS (Certified Residential Specialist): A network of 33,000 agents who receive tools and training to help buyers or sellers make the residential transaction as smooth as possible.
- ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative): Another designation that signals to buyers that a real estate agent is serious about honing their skills.
- SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist): This designation gives a real estate agent the knowledge and skills he or she needs to help buyers over 50.
While agents without designations can be as superb buyer agents as those with designation, one thing you know that you are getting with an agent who has additional designations is a commitment to excellence and professional growth.
9. Do ask friends for referrals
Getting recommendations from friends is an essential step in finding a great real estate agent. But when asking, be very specific. What your friends and family like in a real estate agent may not be what you like. To evaluate a recommendation, ask your friend or relative a few questions:
- What about this agent do you like?
- What was your experience working with this agent?
- What didn’t you like about this agent?
If you like what you hear, jump on the real estate agents’ website and find out as much as you can about them. Feel free to visit them at an open house.
10. Do choose an agent who responds to communication
How soon did he return your call? Did he return your call? Does he respond to text messages, emails, social media or blog comments? For how long? This may seem minor, but how soon and how often an agent responds to your communication will tell you a lot about who he is and how he works.
Keep in mind that some agents will put their best foot forward when first meeting, so first impressions may be deceptive. Ask for some references, then follow up with them to see what they thought about the agent’s responsiveness.
Let me repeat, speak to more than one agent, but once you’ve found the right agent, make a commitment to working with him or her for a specific length of time.
How do you do that?
Sellers will sign a Listing Agreement that clearly defines the working window (usually 3 to 6 months depending on the market). Buyers, on the other hand, will sign a Buyer representation agreement. This defines the length of the service and what specific things the real estate agent will do for you – keeping everyone focused.