A top Realtor® is one who puts your interests before his or her own, and has the experience and know-how to get you the home that best suits your needs for the best deal possible.
Why is choosing a top realtor such an important part of the home buying process?
Buying a home is a huge financial commitment, and the difference between various choices can be significant. It doesn't help that home buying is foreign territory to most people, even if they have done it before. Practices, procedures, and terminology are well-known to real estate professionals but baffling to those outside of the industry. Following are some of the reasons why using a good realtor is so important in the home buying process:
- Realtors often know of properties that are not advertised and that you would have no way of knowing about unless you knew the owner.
- Realtors can be "the voice of reason" when you are overcome by your emotions (which is easy to do when house-hunting). If you fall in love with a property, a realtor can be there to help you recognize the property's flaws. Conversely, a realtor can help you to see the positive side of a property with which you might not be immediately impressed. In addition, realtors can provide information about the neighborhood, schools, comparative sales in the area, and other important home-buying factors. This objectivity and information is critical when you are making such a major decision.
- Realtors are skilled, experienced negotiators. When conducting a sale, there are many angles through which to negotiate beyond the asking price, such as financing, condition of the house when you move in or out, etc.
- Realtors can help you navigate the home buying process in general, making sure you are not rushed into making a decision, that you have time for inspections and appraisal, etc.
But remember - the above describes top realtors, not all real estate agents. Read on to learn how to discern between less than ideal agents and top realtors.
How can I determine if an agent is a top realtor?
Get referrals, and then check references.
There is simply no substitute for getting referrals from friends. But once you've gotten referrals, check references. Referrals can be flawed--a friend might refer you to a family member, regardless of their experience; they may refer you to someone who was great 15 years ago, but hasn't had much experience since; or to someone they've only heard is great, but whom they have no personal experience with themselves. Bottom line: you are leaving a lot to chance if you don't check out the past behavior of real estate agents. You should get references from an agent's three most recent clients and call them to verify that the agent is being truthful about his or her accomplishment.
Avoid the agent who works only for him or herself.
We just explained why it is important to work with a Buyer's Agent who represents your interests exclusively. But there is another common kind of agent: one who works primarily for him or herself. There are many ethical real estate agents, but there are also agents who look out only for their best interests. Their primary concern is how much money they can make on the transaction and how hard they have to work to earn it. Getting referrals and references, and conducting interviews is the best way to avoid these agents.
Avoid inexperienced agents.
Experience counts in the real estate field - ideally, you want to use an agent with at least five years of experience. A word of warning: the newest agents are likely to be the ones who take the "Up Desk," meaning they're the ones who answer the phone when you call a particular real estate office. They do it because they are trying to convert phone-in callers into clients. Frankly, you may not do as well being represented by one of these people.
Interview potential agents.
You'll want to ask potential agents questions about how long they've been in the business, how many deals they are currently processing, and other questions designed to tell you their level of competence. There are five basic questions you should ask a prospective real estate agent before you start to shop for a home. When interviewing potential agents, remember that it's important not only that you know what questions to ask, but also what answers to expect. Here are some questions to ask:
1. How long have you been licensed as an agent?
Check that the real estate agent currently has a license in good standing and ask him or her about their professional experience. Look for a real estate agent who has been in the business for at least five years. Ask the agent about his or her work schedule and how s/he wants to be contacted. Ideally, your agent is a full-time realtor who is easily accessible by email, cell phone, and in person.
2. How many homes did you sell last year and for what average price?
Ask your agent about his or her recent experience helping people in your area buy and sell homes. See if s/he will provide you with the contact information of former customers as references.
3. How many clients are you currently working with?
Look for an agent that works with a few clients at a time, but not so many that s/he won't have enough time for you. Ask if the realtor will be acting as a "dual agent", i.e., representing both the borrower and the seller. (As mentioned above, this is not ideal). If the agent will be representing you exclusively, ask whether s/he expects you to pay the commission instead of the seller.
4. Are you a discount agent? If so, they work for less because they offer less. Are you a part time Realtor? If so, how can they keep up with the daily listings and requirements of working with buyers and sellers at all while they are maintaining their other job? Just how professional can these part time agents be if they do not take this seriously?
Most real estate agents work purely on commissions from the sale. Some agents offer discounted commissions, rebates, or flat-fees for their services. Cheaper may not be better: a discounted real estate agent may not work as hard to help you find the best home.
5. How can you help me afford the home I want?
Your agent should be knowledgeable about the financing process and mortgage loan options available to you. You should ask him or her about tax and insurance policies that may impact your purchase. Also ask about the agent's experience in making tough negotiations. Is your agent going to work hard to get you the best price on a home?
During the interviews it is important to use all of your senses. What you want to identify are more subtle factors, using skills you have been using all of your life in evaluating people. Remember that your goal is to find someone trustworthy and with whom you communicate effectively, and these qualities have nothing to do with a canned sales presentation.
Use your common sense and be a skeptic.
A word of warning: there are many salespeople who are not nice people, but have been through what I like to call Charm School. They can do a good job of appearing to be nice when, in fact, all they are thinking about is how much money they can make off of you.
Here's another sad-but-true aspect of the home-buying situation: Although great numbers of real estate agents are honest, hard-working people with whom you can place your trust, there are also great numbers who are unethical and will try to manipulate you into doing something that makes them a big commission but puts you into a situation which can be damaging.
There are some real estate people who seem to be unable to talk with a client without launching into a sales presentation. They get so used to using superlatives that they can't have a simple give-and-take conversation about the facts of a particular neighborhood or home. Every house isn't the cutest one in town, and not every house is a terrific buy. Indeed, half are cuter than average and half of them are better buys than the other half. But you wouldn't know that from talking to some agents. These people are so intent on making a sale that they overlook their primary mission: listening to what the client wants and helping him or her get it.
Obviously, when selecting a real estate agent, you want to avoid this type of person if you ever want to get a straight answer. But even if you think that you're working with a person you think is right for you, it is important to review and summarize what has happened and been said after a day of looking at homes with an agent. Once you've done that, ask yourself this simple question about each point, "Does that make sense?"
Not everyone is suited for this business, so be sure you know what you are looking for in a Realtor,