Choosing the Best Real Estate Agent for Your Needs
FFor most people, buying or selling a home can be one of life’s most important experiences. A home is a huge investment, financially and emotionally.The process of buying or selling can be complicated and stressful, which is why finding the right real estate agent to guide you is crucial. The right agent can be the perfect navigator to help you sell your home quickly or to get you into your new perfect home.
Your Realtor should be expected to help walk you through the entire process, from the first meeting to the closing table, acting as a guide through the jungle of rules, regulations, laws, paperwork and negotiations that is real estate. You can find agents through referrals, from friends, at open house events or through the Internet, but don’t just sign with the first person you meet. Interview at least two or three licensed agents to find the best match. Here are the important things you’ll want to know about the agent you’ll eventually hire.
Both sellers and buyers should ask about the agent’s true experience level and not just the number of years they’ve been licensed. A part-time but long-term agent may have put in less actual working time and have a narrower knowledge base than a busy agent with only a few years on the job.
Find out if the agent has taken any specialized training. You can look for designations such as CRS (Certified Residential Specialist,) GRI (Graduate Realtors Institute) or training in senior housing, as a buyer’s specialist or other advanced education. Realtors’ designations typically indicate an individual’s interests and expertise; since they pay for their own training, Realtors consider such designations an indication of professionalism.
You should be able to rely on an agent to recommend a mortgage lender (for buyers), a stager and a photographer (for sellers), a title company, escrow officers, insurance agents, appraisers, inspectors and others. Local laws differ, so ask your agent which of these experts you’ll need to hire.
At the interview, a seller’s agent will give a listing presentation with a suggested asking price based on a comparative market analysis. These CMAs show the final selling price of homes nearby and how long they took to sell.
If the suggested price presented by one agent is significantly higher or lower than the others, ask why. They may have a market-driven reason for doing this. In slower markets, for example, some agents might price a home high and then lower the price after a few weeks in order to lure bargain hunters and multiple offers.
Find out what kind of marketing your agent has in mind to help sell your home. Will they use only online sources, more traditional types of advertising or both? Will they hold open houses? How will they market it to other agents? Will they create a hard copy and online feature sheet? Good marketing can help sell homes faster and for more money.
Ask about the commission. Most agents are independent contractors who can choose how much they will charge you. A commission of five to seven percent of the selling price is typical. The commission is split with the buyer’s agent (buyers don’t pay a commission) and the agent’s company. Be wary if an agent offers to work for cheap. They may promise to save you money, but since they won’t be paid as much, they’re not going to want to put in much time or effort to sell your home. And, since the amount the buyer’s agent will receive is much lower, those agents will be reluctant to bring their clients to your home. And, while you can try to bargain for the commission, ask yourself this question: do you want to be represented by an agent who you can beat in a negotiation?
Some agents are neighborhood experts, but agents can specialize in other ways as well. You can look for agents who work primarily with a demographic group (first-time buyers or transitioning seniors, for example) or certain housing types (condos, gated communities, older homes, new construction).
For buyers, who will spend hours with their agent touring homes, it is even more important to find someone who isn’t just good at their job but who understands your wants and needs. Can you talk with each other easily? Would you enjoy seeing homes with your agent? Does their communication style match yours? If you don’t like each other, the relationship won’t work.
It’s also important that the agent you choose is a Realtor and not just a real estate agent. Realtors are members of your local Association of Realtors, the only people with access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), the main information exchange for thousands of homes. Only Realtors can post listings or search for homes for buyers on the MLS. Membership also requires agents to follow a strict code of ethics, professionalism and training. Realtors are better able to keep up with the constantly changing rules, laws and changing markets to better represent their clients. HLM
Sources: bankrate.com, homebuying.about.com and money.usnews.com.