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How to Pick A Real Estate Agent

If you've ever sold a house, or are currently thinking about it, you might have stressed about the prospect of doing so. Even in the best of circumstances, its a hard process. It involves letting go of what is likely an emotional place, you have to prep your home for someone else to look at and judge, you have to pack and move, and while many people are fortunate enough to sell their homes so they can move into a nicer or larger place, selling is often accompanied by major life changes (financial change, divorce, death of a family member, moving across country, making space for a new baby, etc). So, needless to say, its already a lot to take on.

Being a buyer is equally stressful. How do you compete against other buyers in a seller's market? How do you navigate the world of mortgages and pre-approvals? How much does it even cost to buy a home? What should I be worried about during an inspection? There's a lot to take in when searching for a home and spending a significant amount of money on what will be the place you call "Home".

So having the right person in your corner can make or break your experience. If you are lucky enough to have had a wonderful experience with a previous buyer's agent, then you might already be set up with a great agent to assist you in your home sale. But if not, how do you begin the process of sorting through the thousands of real estate agents out there?! Here's a few tips on how to start and sort through to find your perfect agent.

(Note: I, as a real estate agent, do this process for friends, clients and family moving in/to areas I don't cover! So I use this as a consumer, just like you!

Start with Referrals 

Just like you might ask your friends or co-workers for who they use for a hair dresser or who do they trust to walk their dogs, utilizing the direct experience of people in your circle is a great place to start.
Just be sure to clarify with people - did they just HAVE a real estate agent or did they actively love, and thus recommend, working with their agent? Everyone has or knows of a real estate agent, you're looking for the ones that were really recommended. 

However, just because your friend or co-worker loved working with So-and-So doesn't mean they will be a good fit for you. Some people love the swagger of a luxury agent. Some don't care how helpful or accessible an agent is, they just want someone who will get them the most money. Some people love their agent who showed them 2 homes but you might not be so easy. The point is, a referral should still be just an option to be interviewed, like the rest.

Do Some Online Searches 

Especially now when open houses are rare, and awkward at best, looking for agents online is a good place to start. (Pre-Covid, walking into open houses and chatting with real estate agents in person was a great way to meet, and quickly interview, agents).

Feel free to do a quick Google search with key words, of course, but dig deeper into agent-specific sites. Yes, some agents are on Yelp, but Zillow is a great catch-all for our reviews. Realtor-designation sites such as REBAC or can be a good place to start as well.

Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

Get a Feel for Experience 

Experience isn't everything, let me say, but it does help. There are plenty of fresh agents, or part time agents, who are stellar agents. We all have to start somewhere! And many brand new agents have LOTS of time and willingness that older agents don't. However, getting a feel for their years of experience, and place of experience, is helpful.

Make sure the experience is relevant and helpful to you. If there is an agent who is lauded as the "Neighborhood Expert" in a certain place but you are open to many areas, you might not need his or her type of expertise. Perhaps someone who just fits with your personality will be a better opportunity.
However, if you received a recommendation who works mostly in the city but you were hoping to explore the further, more affordable suburbs, perhaps that might not be the only person you interview.

Ultimately, experience and expertise just a small part of the puzzle, but worth reviewing!

Get Reviews! 

Whether agent-shopping online or following up on a referral, read through all of their online reviews. If they don't have any posted, ask if they have any they keep on file. Read through for specific verbiage that is helpful to you. "Quick to respond", "Held my hand throughout!", "Helped us negotiation" or "Always kept us informed" might be phrases that you think suit your needs!

Walk-Through Homes Together 

If you are working with a buyers' agent, its always good to test someone in the field to see if they work well with you. Do you appreciate someone walking you through the functions of the house? Having inside info into the community? Do you just want to be left alone? There are a lot of personality aspects that come out when you are viewing a home with an agent!

Qualify Your Listing Agent on More Than Just List Price 

A common mistake for home sellers to make is to hire the agent that gives them the highest number. If I told a $250,000 homeowner I could sell their home for $1 million, obviously I couldn't, and my being hired to do so wouldn't actually help them to sell their home. So don't simply pick the agent who is telling you what you want to hear. Thats not why you are hiring someone to assist you.
Make sure evaluate them on the data they can provide and how well you like working with them as well!

Similarly, while tempting, don't judge an agent simply on their commission cost. Maybe one agent is asking 6% of the sale price and another is asking 5%. Yes, 1% of your home's equity is a lot to ask, but look at the whole picture. Does the 6% agent have a history of getting more homes sold quickly and over asking? Does he or she include other things to market your home like professional photos, video and staging? Does the 5% agent work at scale, trying to get as many clients as possible, making you just a number? Get the whole perspective before deciding on cost alone.

No Need to Sign Anything Just Yet

Don't feel pressured into signing a contract right away with someone. While many agents don't like wasting their time on people who aren't serious (a common problem!), you should feel the agent has earned your business and have had enough time to evaluate them as an agent.

Personality is Key 

After everything else, working with someone you like, whom you enjoy working with, is paramount. Maybe the agent you like the best has been working for only a year, or hasn't listed anything in your neighborhood, or wasn't a recommended agent, but you feel like he or she just "gets you" and communication and understanding comes easy. Ultimately, that connection, level of communication and feeling of support is one of the most valuable aspects of choosing an agent.


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