Whether you’re buying a house or selling one, your real estate agent is an important part of the process. If you’re buying, this person could decide which houses you see and how much you offer for one you like. If you’re selling, they could determine who sees your house and how much you get for it. And in either case, you’ll be spending quite a lot of time together.
In short, if you want your home purchase or sale to go smoothly, a good real estate agent is crucial. Here are the steps experts say you should take to find an agent who’s right for you.
Find Names of Local Agents
The first step is to learn about real estate agents in your area. Stroll around the neighborhood and look for the names that show up most often on “for sale” signs – or better yet, “sold” signs.
An even better way to find an agent is to get a recommendation from someone you know, such as a friend, relative, coworker, or neighbor. This gives you not just the agent’s name, but also some information about what they’re like to work with. You can also pop into open houses in your neighborhood to watch how the agent interacts with potential buyers.
Compare Agents Online
Once you’ve come up with a list of local agents, go online to check them out. First, check with your state’s licensing board to make sure the agents are licensed and don’t currently have any disciplinary actions against them. If any of them do, you can cross those agents off your list.
Next, visit the agents’ own websites to check out their credentials. Titles such as CRS (Certified Residential Specialist), ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative), or SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist) can tell you what their specialties are. The site can also tell you if the agent has won any professional awards, such as the prestigious “Realtor of the Year.”
Also, look at each agent’s current listings. See how many there are and whether the properties are similar to the one you want to buy or sell. If you’re a seller, consider how the listings look and whether they’d be attractive to buyers.
Last but not least, take a look at online reviews. Just do a search for the agent’s name and see what pops up. Don’t be put off by one or two bad reviews if the rest are all positive, but pay attention to how the agents respond to these negative reviews. Do they just ignore them, attack the reviewer, or offer a reasonable explanation and apology?
Meet Agents in Person
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, select at least three agents to meet with in person. This will tell you things about the agent you can’t find out online, like how much they know, how they handle questions, and how well your personalities click.
Here are some questions to ask in your interview:
- How long have you been in business? An agent who has been working in real estate for at least five years should know the ropes pretty well. They must also provide pretty good service to have lasted that long in a competitive business.
- What area do you cover? Look for an agent who’s familiar with your neighborhood and the surrounding area. Someone who tries to cover the whole state can’t really know any area well.
- How many clients do you have at once? An agent with dozens of other clients won’t have much time to spend on you.
- Do you work as part of a team? On the other hand, if the agent is part of a team, there will be someone else who can help you out if your agent is unavailable.
- What’s your ratio of buyers to sellers? No matter whether you’re buying or selling, it’s good to find an agent who has done both. A sale involves two parties, and it’s good to have an agent who understands how both buyers and sellers think.
- Can you handle my situation? Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer, a house flipper, or someone selling an estate, look for an agent who’s used to dealing with clients like you. Ask what issues could affect someone in your position and how the agent would handle them.
- How do you prefer to communicate? Set clear expectations for how often you should talk to each other and what method to use – e-mail, phone, or text. Look for someone who’s prepared to communicate the way you prefer.
- What questions do you have for me? The agent should ask about more than your budget; they should really take the time to learn about your goals and priorities.
A final thing to ask for in your interview is the names and contact info of at least three clients similar to you – buyers or sellers – that the agent has worked with in the past year. These people can tell you things the agent won’t. Ask specific questions about the buying or selling process, such as how long it took to buy or sell the home, what the price was, and whether the client would work with the agent again.
Obviously, the agent will only be giving you the names of satisfied clients, so you’re unlikely to hear any real horror stories this way. However, if the very best references the agent could come up with still give you only lukewarm reviews, that’s a warning sign. If those are the happy clients, how must the unhappy ones feel?
All this may sound like a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Taking the time to find the right agent now will save you many more hours of work and stress down the road.
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