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10 Things to Look for in a Real Estate Agent

What you'll learn: What makes a real estate great

EXPECTED READ TIME: 5 MINUTES

Whether it's your first time buying a home, or you've purchased several homes over the years, finding the best real estate agent can save you thousands of dollars and a lot of time. A great real estate agent who gets to know you and knows the area can pinpoint the houses that suit your needs and won’t waste your time on things you know you don't want. Perhaps more importantly, when it comes time to negotiate the selling price, a great agent will know the market, know the comps — recently sold homes and values — and possibly know the seller’s agent enough to understand their negotiation skills. A great agent may tell you that you can probably get the house for even less than you expected or assist with your overall negotiation advice.

Because finding an agent is so critical to your success in finding a home, we've laid out the top 10 things to look for in a real estate agent.

  1. Find someone with experience. While this may seem obvious, there are a lot of real estate agents out there. Someone who has been doing this for some time will understand all of the potential challenges — both in finding the right home and in negotiating with sellers — and can provide information about neighborhoods, schools, and various other considerations that may be important to you. Just as you'd probably want to find someone with a good amount of experience to fix the plumbing or electrical in your home, finding someone with years of real estate experience will make your search and eventual purchase easier.
  2. Find someone with local knowledge. This clearly goes hand in hand with experience. However, you could have a realtor who's been selling homes successfully for years, but who, in a new area, won't be able to help you as much as someone who knows the area well. Here are some characteristics to look for in an agent with local knowledge:
    • They have a strong understanding of the local market and pricing.
    • They know the local school ratings and comparisons.
    • They understand the local traffic patterns.
    • They know the commuting options like mass transit.
    • They know all the best shopping spots.
    • They know different houses of worship.
    • They have statistics on local crime.
    • They know if the neighborhood is improving, declining, and what future change may be scheduled for the area.
    • They have an understanding of other real estate agents and their skills.
    • They know the best restaurants and parks.
    • They can recommend good doctors and dentists.
    • They can get you started with selecting providers for and turning on your utilities.
  3. Find someone proactive. After you've interviewed and decided on your agent, you'll spend time explaining your needs, wants, and things you'd like in your new home. Your agent should be quick to respond with suggestions and feedback and should provide an ongoing supply of homes and possible factors to think about in your decision-making process. Often, it's the great agent that says, "I know this wasn't a priority on your home needs, but I found…", who ends up finding you your dream home.
  4. Find someone you have chemistry with. You're probably going to be seeing a good number of homes together on weekends and evenings. You need to have a comfort level with this person and know that they understand you and your needs. You're also going to be using them as a guide to help determine how much of an offer to make when it's time, so trust is important, as well.
  5. Find someone who is honest and whom you can trust. Finding someone you trust is critical on several fronts. First, you need to know that when your agent talks about area characteristics involving schools, crime, and neighborhoods, that they aren't just trying to sell you on their services. Additionally, when it comes time to negotiate, the agent earns their money based on a percentage of the sale. While a buyer's agent (the agent that works for you, the buyer), is supposed to have your financial interests as their guide, they do earn more money if the home sells for a larger amount. You can see here that trust can come into play. Almost any agent out there would like your business in the future if you sell and then buy again, as well as a reference, so they are should try to make you happy.
  6. Find someone who has great referrals. Read reviews online and ask people who may have used the agent previously. Here are some questions you could ask:
    • What did you like most about your agent?
    • What area(s) could they have improved from your perspective?
    • How good was the agent about finding the right home for you and not seeing a lot of homes that didn't fit your needs and requests?
    • How was their knowledge of the neighborhood and comps?
    • How were their negotiation skills?
    • Did you trust them?
    • Would you use that agent again to buy or sell a home?
  7. Find someone who can answer these interview questions to your satisfaction, along with questions of your own. Here are some questions you could ask your potential real estate agent directly:
    • How long have you been a real estate agent, and what did you do prior?
    • How many active clients are you currently working with?
    • Do you primarily work with buyers or sellers?
    • How familiar are you with the area(s) in which I am looking to find a home?
    • Tell me about how you've been able to work with a buyer to save them money?
    • What is your specialty?
    • Can you provide me with references?
  8. Find someone who is willing to adapt. Often when you are looking for a home, your needs change once you start to understand the market, the prices, and what you need versus want in a home. A good real estate agent is willing to adapt to your changes, and if they are proactive, may actually pivot and provide expanding options before you do.
  9. Find someone professional. Overall, this bullet is how you perceive your needs, but you want to work with an agent that represents you professionally, understands the market, and knows how to work with buyers and sellers effectively.
  10. Compare agents. Don't meet with just one agent and sign an agreement. Meet with several. Use all the steps and tools in this article to assess which agent most closely fits your needs.

Once you find a great agent, there's a good chance you'll want to work with them again should you need to buy or sell in the future. It really is amazing how a great agent can make much of the homebuying process so much easier and enjoyable.

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