Real estate matters: What to look for in a real estate agent

Friday, August 22, 2008 at 11:59am

There are good real estate agents and bad real estate agents. And within each category are agents whose behavior puts them at the very top and very bottom of the spectrum.

In other words, the best real estate agents are truly stellar. And 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 tell at the next cocktail party. (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 one who really listens to what you have to say. A good agent will go the extra mile to help make your purchase a little less stressful. A good agent will help you be objective when you become emotional about plunking down the single biggest chunk of cash ever. A good agent can help you understand and work with local market conditions.

I suspect that most prospective buyers spend more time thinking about the curtains they’ll hang, the granite countertops they’ll install and the boxes they’ll need to move than they do about the agent they’ll hire to help them buy their new house.

Why is that? Why isn’t creating a home buying team the top priority when people begin the process of looking for a new home?

Perhaps it’s because going through the process isn’t perceived as 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 know your neighborhood of choice intimately. He or she should have worked in the neighborhood for a while and have seen a lot of the housing stock. He or she should know the neighborhood’s history, the trends associated with it and where the locals hang out. The agent should be able to tell you what homes have sold for in the neighborhood and what other homes are listed for. He or she should also have information to explain why some homes are listed for more than others, and should be able to represent you when you are ready to make an offer for a home. He or she should know about school districts, 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 agent should be able to listen carefully 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. 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 might not want to — but should — hear. If you’re a buyer who is unrealistic about a given neighborhood, you’ll want an agent to tell you that what you want is unworkable. No one wants to have his or her 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 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 agent should have those names and numbers at his or her fingertips. Being a walking neighborhood directory is part of the service many longtime top agents provide.

A great real estate agent stays in touch. Top real estate agents use technology to help them communicate frequently with their buyers. E-mail, Blackberrys, iPhones, cell phones, electronic newsletters, Web sites, 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.

Contact Glink through her Web site, www.thinkglink.com

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1 Comment on this post:

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