Most people only own one home and it is by far the biggest purchase they will ever make. Buying a home is a lot like hiking. There are ups and downs, it’s tiring, there are things to avoid, and in the end, you are glad you did it but thankful it is over. While hiking is something any novice can handle without too much effort, buying a home is not something you want to try on your own. This is especially true if you don’t buy or sell homes a few times a year. Trends and attitudes change rapidly in real estate and it is essential you have a professional to educate you on the current state of the market.
There are over 400,000 licensed real estate agents in California. Finding an agent is easy, but finding the right agent to help you buy your next home is not so easy. I actually started my real estate career as a loan officer but branched off into real estate sales because so many of my loan clients asked me to be their real estate agent. They had a bad experience with an agent that didn’t return calls, was late for meetings, or just didn’t know what to do. To give you the benefit of my 15+ years in the real estate industry, I have complied my top tips for hiring a great real estate agent.
TOP TIPS FOR HIRING A REAL ESTATE AGENT
INTERVIEW. You will likely spend a lot of time with the agent you choose. Take some time to interview an agent over the phone or in person before you agree to see homes. Make sure you are compatible with their personality and style. Here is a list of questions to ask.
- How long have you been in the real estate business and how many sales do you have a year? Experience matters in this business! You should be looking for an agent with a minimum of 5 years and 20 closed transactions. Ideally you should look for a broker (not salesperson) who has over 10 years of experience and over 100 closed transactions.
- What are your hours? That may seem like a crazy question but some agents don’t work when you are available.
- Do you have any buyer fees? The commission paid to a buyer’s agent is almost always paid by the seller. But, some agents charge a transaction fee to buyers as a way to boost their income. You should not pay any buyer fees.
- How will I receive listings? Your agent should set you up for a search through their MLS. If an agent tells you to use Zillow, Redfin, or some other 3rd party site, you will be getting old information. This may also be an indication the agent is not tech savvy.
- What are your feelings about bank owned sales and short sales? This is a bit of a loaded question because bank owned sales and short sales can be a lot of work and take longer to close. It doesn’t matter if you are interested in these types of sales. What you are looking for is to see if the agent is willing to really work for you or if they are looking for a fast sale.
- Do you require a Buyer-Broker Agreement? Some agents contractually obligate buyers to use them for a certain period of time. You should never sign an exclusive agreement forcing you to use a specific agent. If you find an agent isn’t right for you, you should have the right to find a new one.
- Are you a salesperson or a broker? Your agent should, at a minimum, have a salespersons license. However, an agent with a broker’s license is someone who has demonstrated a higher level of education and real estate knowledge.
- Once we are in contract, who will handle our transaction? Be on the lookout for agents that turn over the transaction to someone else the minute the ink dries on the purchase contract. I have talked to so many clients that were abandoned as soon as they were in contract because their agent ran off in search of the next commission check. There is nothing wrong with an agent that uses an assistant, but make sure your agent will be your only contact.
There are several websites you need to check before agreeing to work with an agent. If the agent is not listed on these websites, that should be a red flag.
Look up the agent’s history at http://www.dre.ca.gov/ . All agents must appear on the Bureau of Real Estate’s website.
Look up the agent’s rankings on https://ratedagent.com/
Look up the agent’s reviews and profile on https://www.zillow.com/agent-finder/real-estate-agent-reviews/
Look up the agent’s social media pages.
Don’t make these common mistakes.
DO NOT select an agent because of advertising (bench ad, shopping cart ad, billboard, newspaper ad, or internet banner). This is especially true of big name real estate website “preferred agents”.
DO NOT allow yourself to be persuaded by real estate hype. Some agents claim to be “area experts”, “qualified distressed property experts”, and a host of other meaningless titles. See my post The Expert. The California Bureau of Real Estate has posted a warning about False and Misleading Designations and Claims of Special Expertise, Certifications and/or Credentials this is a great resource with some additional questions you can ask anyone claiming to be an “expert”.
DO NOT blindly follow a referral. Did you now that most real estate referrals from other professionals are quid-pro-quo? Do you know there are organizations that exist simply for the purpose of referring clients from business to business? If someone in business refers an agent to you, make sure you ask if the agent is someone they have personally used.
DO NOT worry about how many clients or listing an agent currently has. Even the best agents sometimes have brief dry spells. Your best-case scenario would be an agent that closes 20 transactions a year but is currently without any listing or other buyers. You are now dealing with a super-agent that has more time for you.
DO NOT just call the agent on the yard sign. In California, it is legal for an agent to represent both the seller and buyer on the same transaction. However, this is a conflict of interest and against the law in many states. The fact is, the agent has a relationship with the seller and you are the last one to the party. Who do you really think the agent will favor? Jesus himself said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24, NIV).
Some people recommend going to open houses to meet agents. It is a great way to see how an agent works and the fact they are holding an open house shows they are probably hard working. Just be careful because the dirty little secret of open houses is that agents don’t hold an open house to sell it, they do it to meet new clients! Most successful agents don’t have time to sit at a house for several hours but agents without clients have plenty of time.
Talk to friends and relative that have recently bought or sold a home and ask if they would recommend their agent. Then, use my checklist as an interview guide. If you feel the agent is a good fit, try them out. If they don’t work out, try again.
Be respectful of your agent’s time. Remember that they only get paid if you buy a home. Do not use multiple agents at the same time, that creates problems you don’t want to get into.
Real estate agents are just like everyone else; there are professionals and there are the other ones. I know many Realtors that are very good at their job, take pride in what they do, and care immensely about their clients. With a little work on your part, you can easily find a great agent.