Is there a perfect real estate agent? Well no one is perfect, but finding one that is perfect for you is worth taking the time to do so. I’ve moved dozens of times and some of the agents I’ve dealt with have been a good “fit” with me and my values and personal style and others have been like a bad date that never seems to end. And the ramifications of an agent that does not work well with you can mean a waste of time, a loss of money, and regret. And no one likes any of those things.
So what can you do to find a great real estate agent?
Here’s our approach:
- If you’re buying: Set up a priority list for finding your new home. Read this article: “How to Buy a Home” for help. Why a priority list? Because the clearer you are on what you are looking for, the easier it will be for the agent to understand you and help you find what you want.
- If you’re selling: Go through the Home Seller’s Checklist and set up your target timeline. See “How to Sell Your House” for help. Again, if you’re clear on your expectations, then things should go more smoothly.
- Make calls to 6 people in the community whose opinion you respect. These people will know of good agents or a wise friend who knows a good agent. If you’re moving to an area where you do not yet know anyone, a call to the Better Business Bureau, a house of worship, a civic leader, or a community group that you intend to join can yield some helpful leads and new connections.
- Don’t hire your best friend. I know that sounds terrible. We should look out for our friendships, and the people who know and care about us can often do a great job of securing our best interests. But what I’m saying here is it may not be a good idea to hire your BEST friend. This will be a business deal, and if for whatever unforeseeable reason things go bad on this deal, it could sour your entire relationship. You need to be able to be frank, focused, and professional in your dealings. I know of one friend who hired her sister to list her home and another friend as her mortgage broker. When her sister got distracted by a pending divorce and her friend’s mortgage company went belly up mid-sale, this thoughtful woman was left with some serious unfinished business and relationship problems to boot. An agent/client relationship that is primarily professional can provide more room for you to objectively reach your goals.
- Once you have a short list of (3-5) prospective agents it’s time to check the “fit”. Go to their websites and walk your way through their process of leading a buyer or seller to sales. Is the site easy to use? Is it professional? Does it instill confidence? What does your agent’s page tell you about them? Are they family focused? Experienced? Familiar with the marketplace and communities? Image conscious? Intelligent? Professional? A lot can be gleaned from the images and text on their web pages.
- After reviewing web sites, select the 3 or so that impressed you and call their offices. Is it easy to get in touch with them? Do they call you right back? Are the reception staff professional? I believe verbal contact is the most important thing here. If you rely solely on e-mails, you may not get a real sense of that person’s communication skills and personality. And these skills and characteristics are going to be what gets the job done when you hire them.
- Ask the important questions. Get out your A Moving Success Binder (TM) (see Checklists), set up a tab for Real Estate Agent Selection and write down the answers to these questions. What is their approach to listing a house/serving as a buyer’s broker? Will you get to deal with that person directly, an assigned staff member, or do they use a team approach? How many ways can they be reached? cell, office, pager – write down all of these numbers. Does the agent have the time to meet my requirements (example: one week house hunting trip during the week of February 15 thru the 20th? Listing the house within 2 weeks?)
- If you’re buying: take a test drive. I’m sure agents may cringe reading this, but the truth is that they too want to work with clients that are a good fit. When it comes to buying a house: set up a face to face appointment or (if distance is an issue) a skype or phone call to discuss specifics. Does this agent talk “at you” or do they listen well? Is this someone you can see yourself spending time with working through critical questions? Is he or she organized? Does the agent instill confidence in their knowledge of the marketplace and community? Rule out any agents that seem a bad fit then let your “favorite” two or so begin to send you listings that meet your criteria. This is the research phase of the buying process. See which of these agents makes connecting you to property listings a priority and give it a week or so. The winning agent is the one who during that first week or so is responsive and helpful without a written contract.
- If you’re selling a house: set up a timeline. In a listing contract, many items are included that protect the interest of the agent (commission amounts, exclusivity, etc.) In addition, it is in your interest to set up a clear written plan with your prospective listing agent as to how many ads, where they will be listed, how many open houses, and how many showings you would like to see in that critical first month. Go over this with your listing agent. If these goals are not met then make it clear that you will consider ending the contract. This may sound harsh, but you are handing this person an opportunity to make a significant amount of money and you want to make sure that they do the best possible job for you. Are you comfortable with their appraisal value and proposed listing price? When will you consider price drops/marketplace review/improvements? If expectations are clear then you are more likely to reach a profitable outcome for both of you.
- Listen to that little voice. In the management of your move, remember to trust your gut feeling on things. If things don’t seem quite right, speak up! We once placed a bid on a house that had been on the market a while, gone under contract, then curiously popped back up on the available listings; later that afternoon at the county planner’s office, we discovered the house was built on a former hazardous waste site (nearly everyone in the town knew about!) I wondered why hadn’t our agent mentioned it to us? I quickly called our agent and respectfully asked her to explain why she hadn’t mentioned it to us and it turns out she was honestly not aware of the former use of the land. She was able to withdraw our bid and regain our trust.
- Perfection is not possible. Keeping in mind that all agents are imperfect people just like ourselves is very important, because having unrealistic expectations can be detrimental to all parties involved. This is a partnership. You are selecting someone who will work with you, counsel you, and guide you through a very important change. If you are not comfortable with some aspect of your dealings, speak up. If it does not seem right, then step back, re-evaluate.
Questions? Comments? Lessons learned? We’d love to hear from you.