It’s essential that you know how to find a real estate agent that will work for your needs, if you’re even considering contracting one. A real estate agent can be an invaluable asset, serving as a guide, financial advisor, negotiator, and fellow house hunter on your team. However, you may not need one right away, and ending up with the wrong agent (i.e. just whomever happens to be named on the property listing you like) can be worse that not having one at all. Remember that you can always begin your search without an agent or Realtor, and then contact one later.
Before you begin: The first thing to know about real estate agents is that they are generally working for the buyer, not you. This doesn’t mean that they won’t be a valuable asset, or help you in the long run; but it does mean you should exercise caution in choosing one. In general, finding an agent is easy, finding a good one can be hard.
How to Find a Real Estate Agent
1. Choose your agent based on the agent, not on the property listing.
One of the first pieces of advice we can give you is that it’s a good idea to choose your agent before you choose the property. This doesn’t necessarily need to be the case, but if it isn’t, then keep in mind that even if you find a great house (or several of them), you should search for an agent based on more than the property listing. All too often this is the defining factor in how potential homebuyers choose an agent, but is this really how you want to go about making one of the largest financial decisions of your life?
It may be the property you want, but that doesn’t mean the listing agent is going to be helpful in reaching your goals.
Of course, many agents represent both buyers and sellers without issue, and it may never be a problem for you. The person named at the bottom of that listing may or may not turn out to be the right agent for your needs. However, do yourself a favor and look into your options before committing to anyone (See our ‘final considerations’ note on “buyer agents” at the bottom of this article for more information).
2. Choose your agent based on his or her own reputation, not on the national firm.
Another aspect to consider is that, if you choose an agent that works for a reputable national firm, base your opinion on their personal or office track record, not the reputation of the firm itself. There are literally thousands of offices for such firms in every region of the country. This doesn’t mean that one office is just as good as another, or the right agent for you specifically.
3. Personality is important, but not the critical factor.
Of course you need to get along with the agent you choose. You’ll likely be dealing with them directly for some time, even after you’ve made your property choice. Unfortunately, having very charming, upbeat, or seemingly helpful personalities can cause us to overlook an agent’s professional flaws. We’re not saying you should go with someone you find disagreeable based on reputation alone, only that you should try to be objective when it comes to evaluating an agent’s industry experience and qualifications.
Being knowledgeable, professional, and honest is more important than liking the agent personally.
4. Look for someone who offers full-disclosures.
This almost goes without saying, but beware of agents who leave out negative information about a potential home or your financial situation. No home is perfect in every single respect (at least that we’re aware). Your agent should inform you of all the benefits and disadvantages they are aware of regarding every property you look at. For example, is the home in perfect condition but come with an untreated wood deck? That wood could be tempting bait for termites later, even if it looks fine now. These are the types of things your agent should be willing to point out.
Also be careful when considering a property that is above your initial price range. If someone tries to sell you on a house that seems too expensive at first by promising you will qualify for a specific loan, verify the information yourself. They may be telling you the truth about your loan options, but they may also be trying to make a larger commission. You need to know which it is.
5. Choose an agent that routinely works with properties that are within your price range.
Sometimes you get what you pay for. However, there are many times when it’s better to choose an option based on how appropriate the service is for your needs. When you are looking for a real estate agent to represent your interests, go with someone who works in your desired area and deals with properties you can afford.
Contracting the most expensive agent will not guarantee the best possible service.
High-end agents may prefer to deal with pricier estates, and give less than their best effort when it comes to negotiating the purchase of a less valuable property. On the other hand, an agent who deals mostly with budget homes for single families may lack the experience needed to navigate larger home purchases.
6. Look for someone who provides all of the services you need.
It’s almost always a good idea to look for an agent who will provide all of the services you need. If inspections and appraisals are required, find an agent that has experience arranging these for you. Can they point you in the right direction for lenders? Having an agent who can offer good advice during the home purchasing process is great, but ideally they will be able to facilitate other necessary procedures. If you’re going to be arranging all of the accompanying requirements yourself, do you really need an agent? Or could a mistake be made because an expert did not thoroughly guide you?
7. We mean all of the services you need when you need them.
It also does you little good to have an agent that never works on the days you are off, or who will be unavailable when you need them. You shouldn’t have to take a day off or leave work early in order to fit into your agent’s schedule. You shouldn’t have to wait 6 months for the agent to be available. If they aren’t going to be around to offer you their full assistance within a reasonable time frame, look elsewhere.
8. Have an Open line of communication…
And don’t be afraid to ask questions before signing on for their services.
A true real estate professional will be up-to-date on the market and home values in the area, and they will be willing to share this information with you. If there’s a step in the process, or terminology in the documents, or anything else you aren’t sure you understand, they should volunteer to explain it to you in detail. The key to making a solid financial decision is being fully informed throughout the process. If an agent is willing to communicate openly with you and readily answer your questions, the entire venture will go more smoothly, and there will be less room for mistakes or problems down the road. The best way to establish this report is from the very beginning. Ask your agent plenty of questions and see how they respond. If they give you specific information about a neighborhood, verify it as best you can on your own to see how up-to-date and honest they are. Most importantly, make sure your agent is willing to communicate with you when you need them and in the way that works best for you (phone, e-mail, etc.). If all indications point to them being communicative, reliable, and trustworthy, then you sign a contract.
The above tips should help you to find an agent that works for you, and can help you in the home buying process. However, there are a few final considerations we would be remiss in leaving out.
What is a “buyer’s agent”?
A buyer’s agent is a real estate agent who represents you, as opposed to a seller. Any real estate agent can technically operate as a buyer’s agent, though not all of them routinely do. When you find a real estate agent you like, ask them who they will be representing. An agent whose first responsibility is to the property seller will likely not be working for your interests (for obvious reasons). This is one reason it isn’t a good idea to go with an agent solely because they are associated with a property you want. However, as stated before, many agents can and do represent both sellers and buyers without issue. Regardless of how you found the agent (even if it is from a property listing) as long as you obtain their promise to serve your interests as a buyer’s agent beforehand, you should be covered.
Part-time vs. Full-time agents.
The advantage to a full-time agent is that they are constantly operating in the industry and are likely up-to-date on the market and home values. The problem is that, depending on how many clients they have, they may not be available on the same basis as a part-time agent to deal with your concerns. Part-time agents generally have more time to offer each and every one of their clients, but may not be as market-current as their full-time counterparts, or have the same level of experience. The right agent for you may be either type of worker. What matters is how well they meet your personal criteria as an agent that will labor for your interests.
Ready to move on? Proceed to Step 3. How To Find a House to Buy That Fits Your Needs