Choosing a Realtor, and having a consultation with them is a crucial step in finding your future home. It is Step 3 of the home buying process, so by this point, you may have gotten pre-approved, scoped out potential neighborhoods, and created your wishlist. (If not, a good Realtor can help you with those steps.)
Even if you have a good understanding of what you are looking for, but you shouldn’t do it alone. Buying a home is one of the biggest purchases a person can make, and you want a knowledgeable agent who can help you every step of the way.
Finding a Realtor
Do I really need an agent?
Many homebuyers tend to get so caught up in looking for the perfect home, that they give little thought into choosing their real estate agent. Some think they don’t need one at all. This is a mistake. The house hunting process is stressful enough, and even more so if you choose to do it on your own. A real estate agent will help to represent your interests and advocate for you in the home buying process. They will be a source of knowledge of local market information, and will assist you with all of the paperwork and negotiations. Additionally, they may know about listings that aren’t yet on the market. And they’ll be able to help you review comparable sales to determine fair market value on a home when you want to make an offer. The agent will be the one to help you make the best decision every step of the way.
And guess what? You typically don’t pay the real estate agent as a buyer — the seller does. So it’s essentially free to you, why wouldn’t you want a professional assisting you?
Realtors, Real Estate Agents, and Brokers
Oftentimes these three terms are used interchangeably by people who do not know the difference. A real estate agent is a person who has taken, and passed, some basic training classes and has received state licensing. You can be a real estate agents without ever becoming a Realtor. A real estate broker has to take additional classes and pass a broker’s license exam. Brokers are able to open up their own office without being affiliated with anyone else. A Realtor, with the capital R, is a licensed member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and has to follow a strict Code of Ethics.
Where to Start
The best place to start looking for your Realtor is to ask around. Talk to people that you know who have recently sold or purchased a house in your area. Ask about their experience with their Realtor during the process and if they were happy with their service. Some questions you may want to ask include: What did you like best/least about your agent? Did the purchase process go smoothly?, and How did they handle any bumps in the road?
You may also want to check reviews on Zillow, Yelp, or Google. Don’t rely on any one review in making your decision, however. Reviews are often written by people with extreme views (both good and bad), so any one review might provide a biased view of the Realtor.
Things to Look For
There are many things to consider when looking for the right Realtor. Start by finding out how experienced the agent is. Ideally you want someone who has been in the business a long time, and knows all the ins and outs of the trade and is familiar with your preferred area. You also want to look for someone who has experience in the type of homes you are looking for, as well as the price range. If you are looking in the $500,000 range, an agent who deals primarily with luxury, multi-million dollar properties may not be the right fit.
Find out their knowledge of the area. During your home search, you want someone who is on top of the local market. Your ideal agent should know the average price range of the area, other properties similar to what you are looking at, and area information like nearby schools and walkability. A Realtor with this type of knowledge will be a big help in the process.
Interviewing the Agent
When choosing your real estate agent, don’t be afraid to ask them questions, even if you think you already know the answers from your online research. In fact, it is good to interview two or three different agents so you are able to pick the one that you feel is the best fit for you. Some questions you may want to ask include:
- How long have you been in the business?
As mentioned, you want someone who is well established and knows the business and the local market.
- How many transactions do you average in a year?
Someone who has a high number of transactions points to their success as an agent.
- What kind of markets do you focus on?
Again, you want someone who focuses on the type of home you are looking for as well as your price range.
- Do you have a team, or do you work alone?
Solo agents can be wonderful, but if they have multiple clients, they may be double-booked which can cause problems down the road. And who will help you if the agent is sick, goes on vacation, or has a family emergency? Working with a team can provide you with “depth on the bench” in terms of availability, depth of knowledge, as well as a network of other agents who may know about upcoming listings.
As you prepare to choose your potential new agent, be careful to avoid these red flags:
- The agent does real estate part-time.
Meaning, they will not have time to fully keep up-to-date with market trends, and may not devote the time and effort you expect them to.
- The agent is a relative.
While this may not seem like a red flag, it is ultimately best to keep family matters and business separate. If things go wrong in the process, it can cause resentment and awkward tension between you and your relative.
- The agent is a poor negotiator or fails to keep up with details.
One of the most important jobs of the Realtor is to make sure the deal closes once you have found the house you want to purchase. If your agent doesn’t negotiate well or doesn’t pay attention to all the details involved, it could mean the loss of the house on your end.
- The agent has poor communication skills.
You want an agent who is attentive. If it takes you three phone calls and four emails just to get a response from your agent, how can you be sure they will be on top of the market or transaction details?
Now that you’ve picked your Realtor, it’s time for a consultation. Some buyers may be anxious about having a consultation, but there’s no reason to be. The fact that your agent wants to meet in person and review your needs and priorities before starting the home search is validation that they are invested in you and your desires.
What to Expect
During this meeting, you will be able to ask your Realtor all the questions you may have about the process, and they will ask you questions in return. The information gathered here will be used by your agent to help you find the right home, and will be used to set expectations from everyone involved.
- Review your budget
The first step of buying a home is getting pre-approved for a mortgage loan. With this pre-approval in hand, your agent will know what kind of homes are in your price range, which will help to narrow in the search.
- Talk about your wishlist
Before you meet with your Realtor, ideally you should have created a wishlist of the features you are looking for in a home. You should also scope out the type of neighborhood you wish to live in. Discussing these with your agent will help them know exactly what you are looking for. Based on what you’re looking for, they may also be able to suggest other neighborhoods to consider.
- Talk about the buying process
Based your price range and desired features, your Realtor will develop a custom search plan to help you with your purchase. They will know which type of homes will fit your criteria, and can keep you up to date with any new listings that appear. They will also inform you of the different steps that are involved and how they will all fit together.
- Set expectations
You and your agent need to discuss what is expected during this process. For example, you can’t expect them to be a miracle worker, and they can’t expect you to be as knowledgeable about market trends as they are. Set expectations with communication as well. Discuss what the best way to stay in contact is (email, text, phone) as well as certain times that may be off limits (don’t call after 9pm, for example). These understandings between you and your agent will help lead to a more pleasant and successful partnership.