There are great real estate agents and terrible real estate agents. Within each category are agents whose behavior puts them at the top and bottom of the spectrum.
In other words, the best real estate agents are truly stellar. The worst agents? Well, let’s just say that if you wind up with a terrible real estate agent you’ll probably have war stories to share about your home purchase or sale at the next cocktail party you attend. (Unfortunately, stories about terrible real estate agents are shared more often than stories about great real estate agents.)
When hiring a real estate agent to help you buy your next home, the trick is to find a one who really listens to what you have to say; who will go the extra mile to help make your purchase a little less stressful; who will help you be objective when you become emotional about plunking down the single biggest chunk of cash ever; and who can help you understand and work with local market conditions.
I suspect that most buyers spend more time thinking about the curtains they’ll hang, the granite countertops they’ll install, or the boxes they’ll need for their move than the agent they’ll hire to help with the purchase of the property itself.
Why is that? Why isn’t creating a home buying selling team the top priority when beginning the process of buying a home?
Perhaps it is because going through the process isn’t perceived as being that much fun.
But that’s where hiring a great real estate agent can make all the difference. What qualities should you look for?
- The real estate agent you hire should have an intimate knowledge of your neighborhood of choice.
The agent should have worked in a neighborhood for awhile, seen a lot of the housing stock, and know the history of the neighborhood, trends associated with it, and where the locals hang out. The agent should know about home values and should have the ability to come to you and tell you what other homes have sold for in the neighborhood and what other homes are listed for in the same neighborhood. The agent should also have information to back up why some homes are listed for more than others and be able to represent you when you are ready to make an offer for a home. The agent should know about the school district, shopping, commuting and recreational options. He or she should basically be a wealth of information, and be able to point out the flaws as well as the outstanding features of the community.
- The real estate agent you hire should be able to really listen to your wants, needs, dreams and desires, and ask questions that help you delve beneath the surface to figure out what’s really driving those wants and needs.
Real estate agents sometimes say that “buyers are liars,” because buyers tend to change their mind about what they really want to buy during the home buying process. But if an agent is able to draw out the buyer ahead of time, and help him or her focus on the important issues of the purchase, it will save everyone a lot of time.
- It’s also important to hire an agent who is willing to tell you what you may not want to hear — but should.
If you’re a buyer who is unrealistic about a local neighborhood, you’ll want an agent to tell you that what you want to buy can’t be found for the price and unworkable in the current marketplace. No one wants to have their dreams dashed, but you’ll come to see that your real estate agent is doing you a favor by not allowing you to run away from reality.
- A great real estate agent comes with laden with resources, similar to a hotel concierge.
(Some real estate companies talk about the “concierge” services they provide.) The agent you hire should be able to provide you with a handful of great home inspectors, mortgage lenders, and real estate attorneys for you to interview. (Be wary of the agent who steers you to one specific inspector, mortgage lender or real estate attorney. What you want is a choice of great partners.) If you need help locating service people, a handyman, or even a new pediatrician, a great real estate agent should have those names and numbers at his or her fingertips. Being a walking neighborhood directory for many longtime top agents is part of the service they provide.
- A great real estate agent stays in touch.
Top real estate agents use technology to help them communicate frequently with their buyers. Email, BlackBerrys, iPhones, cell phones, electronic newsletters, websites, digital photography and video help agents share properties that they’ve previewed, provide feedback, and keep buyers updated on the progress that is being made.
Finally, when you hire an agent, it’s like a short-term marriage. When the transaction is completed, when you’ve bought your new home, the intense relationship you’ve created comes to an end. With a great real estate agent, you’ll find you don’t want your time together to end. While these are just some of the qualities you should look for in determining whether the agent is a good match for you, you still need to make sure to get referrals and recommendations for the agent from other buyers he or she has represented recently.
What happens next? Dinner — ostensibly to discuss past and future deals, but really to move your relationship into the long-term friendship stage.
Aug. 21, 2008.