In part 4 of my “Buying in 2018” series, I will explore how to choose a real estate agent. The order of these first four steps isn’t that important, you may choose to work on them simultaneously or in whatever order works best for you. If you missed the first 3 columns, here they are:
One of the most important yet underrated steps in the homebuying process is choosing who you plan to work with. This is, and should be, an intentional choice. The person you choose will be responsible for helping you make one of the biggest investment decisions of your life, a decision that will impact your financial future, day to day happiness and overall life trajectory. I can’t emphasize this enough, choosing the right agent matters.
Tips for finding a real estate agent:
- Start the process before you find the house you want to buy. You may notice a common theme with my last few columns, one which I cannot emphasize enough, do not start your home search by looking at properties. Please do not go to an open house, with the intent to submit an offer on that house, before you have an agent. Don’t get me wrong, I love DIY, but not when it comes to a major financial investment.
- Accept that you may not fully understand why who you decide to work with is so important before you begin the homebuying process. You will understand by the end of the process. The majority of horror stories that I hear from buyers are a result of working with the wrong person (or with no one). Working with a good agent does not guarantee that you will have a smooth transaction, but it does guarantee that you have someone representing your interests and have the best possible chance for success. Real estate transactions, more often than not, will come with challenges, overcoming these challenges requires skill and experience.
- Ask trusted friends/family/neighbors for recommendations, and for an assessment of their experience. Recommended questions include: What challenges did they encountered throughout the transaction and how did their agent handle them? How available were they? How responsive were they to their specific needs? Do they feel that the agent they hired was a strong negotiator? If someone isn’t a raving fan, there is no need to think twice. There are plenty of great options.
- Research online and in person. An agents online presence doesn’t necessarily mean that they are great, nor does a lack of online presence indicate that they are bad, but you can gain valuable insight from websites, testimonials and content created by an agent. Also, it is 2018, if someone does not choose to invest in their business with a basic online presence, I personally would have some questions about why. Many real estate search websites let you see what agents are most active in a certain area as well as their profile and reviews. Consider attending an open house that is being held by an agent you are considering, this can be an easy way to meet casually in person to see if you have further interest.
- Interview more than one agent, ideally in person or virtually if in person isn’t an option. Personality compatibility matters and being able to read nonverbal cues gives you a much better sense of whether someone may be a good fit for you. They should offer you an in person meeting, indicating that they are available to help and are interested in figuring out if you are a good fit for their business.
- Make sure you are ready to commit before you sign a written contract or agency agreement. If and when you sign this agreement, make sure you understand what you are agreeing to and what your options are if you find yourself in a position where you want to make a change.
If you’re wondering what questions to ask when you are interviewing an agent, I have a list of suggestions below, but I encourage you to add to this list with whatever is most important to you.
There is no one right answer to any of these questions, but it should give you insight into what your experience would be like working with the agent you are interviewing and will allow you to compare different options and styles. An inability or refusal to answer these questions is a huge red flag, as is anyone who spends a significant amount of your time together trying to sell you on why they are the best agent in the world — next they will be trying to sell you a house that you don’t want to buy.
A buyers agent is a consultant, a leader and a guide, and they should be someone who you want to build a working relationship with and they need to be someone who you trust.
- Will you be my primary point of contact throughout the entire home search and transaction? If not, who will be? Do you have other agents/team members who I will also be working with?
- In the last year, how many buyers have you helped to purchase XYZ (example: a condo, in Dupont Circle). If not in the last year, what experience do you have that you feel I will directly benefit from?
- When I find a house that I want to make an offer on, how will you help me to get my offer accepted?
- Do you have recommended service providers? How do you select the service providers that you recommend?
- What types of relationships do you have with others in the industry and how will I benefit from this?
- May I contact one or two of your past clients as a reference?
- What is your general availability for showings and appointments? What are your working hours? How quickly do you typically respond to calls and emails?
- What resources do you have for off market or coming soon properties?
One last important note, in case it seems that I’m not addressing the elephant in the room if I don’t cover this last point. If you choose to prioritize a discount or rebate in your selection of a real estate agent, you will get what you pay for.
Feel free not to believe me, but you won’t know what you don’t know, or what you missed until it’s too late, if at all. When it comes to hiring an agent, shopping around for the lowest price will cost you more than you save, every time. How do I know this? I experience it first hand on the other side of the of my transactions frequently.
I love nothing more than figuring out that the agent on the other side of the transaction is incompetent or a weak negotiator, because it means I can leverage their weakness to benefit my client. This may seem harsh, but regardless of compensation, if you work with an agent who isn’t willing or able to advocate strongly for your best interests then you are at the risk of being on the receiving end of a bad deal.
Questions, complaints or general real estate conversation? Send me a message at [email protected].