Whether you’re to buy, sell, or rent property, it’s important to know the basics of choosing a Realtor or agent who suits your needs. The choice of a real estate agent or broker directly affects the outcome of both residential and commercial transactions, so we gathered a number of experts’ views to help you make the best decision.
Here are the top 25 tips for choosing a real estate agent from the pros:
1. Find Out Who Is In Their Sphere of Influence
Morshad Saami Hossain, Real Estate Agent, HomeSmart First Advantage Realty
Ask the agent you are interviewing about his/her database and center of influence. Aside from the types of clients they work with or the type of deals they specialize in, you want to get an idea of the sort of people they’re acquainted with. What you’re mainly looking out for is if they know other business owners in your area. Those businesses may not have been their clients, but having a relationship of some sort with other business owners will allow your agent to acquire valuable information on what they can do to best serve you as a client.
2. Ask Them How Many Properties They Own
Anthony Grosso, Owner, Grosso Properties
When looking for a real estate agent to rent your property or to use when buying an investment property, the best thing to do is flat out ask them how many properties they own. You want to make sure you’re working with someone who physically owns rental properties, not just sells them. That one question will knock out about 70% of real estate agents. Most agents that do rentals are new to real estate, and their brokers recommend rentals because they’re quicker and less knowledge is needed to rent than to purchase. It’s a hit and run transaction for them, but you’re the one stuck with a bad tenant.
3. Find Someone With Local Experience In The Property Type You Want
Bruce Ailion, Realtor and Attorney, RE/MAXTown and Country Commercial
Selecting a broker that works with small business owners looking for 10,000 sq ft or less is difficult. With a smaller pool of commercial brokers available, recommendations from other business owners in the area and from chamber of commerce and attorney contacts is likely the best way to find a competent professional. Real estate is local and knowledge is specific to property type. Leasing an office is different than leasing a shopping center or industrial building. Finding someone with local experience in the property type you seek will get good representation.
4. Visit Local Universities With Real Estate Programs
Shane Lee, Communications Strategist & Data Analyst, RealtyHop
Visit or contact local universities that have a real estate program. Although it seems weird, this is perhaps one of the most effective ways to find a trustworthy broker. A lot of agents and brokers take advanced courses, whether for career development purposes or for “that piece of the paper”, and so it’s definitely a good place to start with. In addition, if you happen to have a few buildings in mind (i.e. wanting to rent from there or buying from there), definitely visit the buildings and talk to the receptionists or tenants in the buildings to get agent/broker recommendations.
5. See How Well They Can Interpret Market Information
Reggie Nicolay, VP of Marketing, Realtors Property Resource
The best way to evaluate a potential Real Estate Agent is their ability to interpret meaningful real estate data. For agents, real estate data isn’t difficult to find. The key to success is how well they are able to analyze and interpret available data for their clients. For example, automated valuation models (AVMs) confuse many consumers. The number is often based on incomplete data and public records. Agents armed with the ability to interpret complete market information have an opportunity to showcase expertise in offering sellers a true market value of a property.
6. Find an Agent Who Can Protect You From Litigation
James S. Tupitza, Real Estate Lawyer, Tupitza & Kalia P.C.
People hire Real Estate Agents because they want results. But, most people stop there and do not look into what may be equally important. It is easy to find someone who sells a lot of properties, or is successful with tenants. It is harder to find a Real Estate Agent who will be able to protect you from involvement in litigation after the transaction. The number 1 complaint (and the one most damaging to reputation) with Real Estate Agents after the transaction occurs when one of the parties is sued, or needs to sue. Find a Real Estate Agent who: 1) works at the profession full time; 2) is connected with a “hands on” broker; 3) has a well-recognized real estate lawyer on call, to answer questions and draft language before a problem arises; 4) has a team of inspectors on call, and 5) is respected by other professionals in the area.
7. Choose an Agent Who Understands Your Industry
Daniel Watts, Real Estate Lawyer, Galuppo & Blake
Look for a real estate agent who’s familiar with the unique needs of your industry, and forthcoming with bad news. Biomedical startups, for example, might need to ensure the property has adequate plumbing and fire suppression – which your real estate agent could get the previous occupant to pay for, but only if your real estate agent knows it’s something you need. A business taking over a space whose previous tenant was a dry-cleaner must ensure that their property isn’t contaminated, or at least get a commitment from the prior occupant to pay for the clean up. Otherwise you can get saddled with huge legal expenses under environmental protection laws. A real estate agent who warns you about defects in a property – i.e. it’s contaminated, or lacks plumbing – is a real estate agent you can trust. A real estate agent who says every property is perfect for your needs is either not telling you the truth, or has no idea what businesses in your industry need.
8. Ask Your Potential Agent for A Specific Selling Strategy
RJ Winberg, Real Estate Agent, OC Real Estate Guy
Make sure you get the specifics! A lot of Real Estate Agents’ sales pitches is all about experience, knowledge, and service. While these are great things to have, they are pretty soft benefits, making it difficult to quantify (verify) them and differentiate from one Real Estate Agent to the next.
When looking for a Real Estate Agent, ask them what specific actions they will take and what specific marketing plans will they execute in order to sell your home. If putting a sign in the yard and putting the listing on the MLS is the entirety of the plan, then they aren’t really doing much. Look for a Real Estate Agent that is going to put in the work necessary to get the best outcome.
9. Test Their Knowledge of Commercial Real Estate Loans
Abdul Rehman, Senior Loan Officer, Quontic Bank
When searching for a real estate agent or broker, be sure to test their knowledge of commercial real estate loans and the loan process. Unless you are so wealthy you can buy a property with piles and piles of cash, you’re probably going to need a mortgage. Generally speaking, the mortgage process is the most time-consuming aspect of buying property. So, for buyers and sellers alike, hiring a real estate agent who has a deep understanding of the mortgage process can make all the difference. A real estate agent who understands the home loan or mortgage aspect of a transaction can help expedite the process and avoid any bumps that may come up along the way. And before you shop around for a property, be sure to sit down with a mortgage professional to determine how much you can actually afford.
Before approaching a lender, check out Fit Small Business’ article on current Commercial Real Estate Loan rates.
10. Don’t Hesitate to Get a Different Agent When You Need To
Denise Supplee, Operations Director, SparkRental.com
I currently represent a social service agency in finding rentals for their clients. They found me through my church. They continued to use me because I fit. Often, people or businesses feel they are “stuck” with an agent. But you are not. Just like an employee, an agent/broker should prove themselves. And if they fall short, then they should be ‘fired’ and another agent/broker can be found. Let’s face it, real estate agents are a dime a dozen. Sometimes you have to weed out the bad seeds in order to find your gem.
11. Consider Hiring Junior Agents
Emile L’Eplattenier, Real Estate Sales and Marketing Analyst, Fit Small Business
While most people advise buyers and sellers to choose the most successful agent in their area, this strategy can sometimes lead to suboptimal outcomes. First and foremost, a highly successful agent will likely have clients that are selling or buying properties in a much higher price bracket than yours. That means that there is very little chance that you will be their top priority. Even worse, since they’re very successful, a small difference in price will have very little impact on their bottom line. That means they may not push as hard as less experienced agents who need every penny, and more importantly need to build their reputation.
Since hiring brand new agents comes with even more risks, instead you should focus on hiring a junior or newer agent on a top producing real estate team. This way you’ll get the best of both worlds, someone who is very eager to build a great reputation and fight small battles, and someone who has access to expert advice and guidance for pricing, negotiations, and closings.
While a listing agent can’t give you an exact selling price for your property, you can always ask them for a range. Depending on the location, temperature of the market, and improvements, a good listing agent can show you a comparative market analysis, pending sales, and active sales. Be wary of real estate agents who suggest to you the highest selling price just to get you to list with them. Always ask for numbers that support the suggestion. Look out for red flags, such as the agent not having available stats or the sale prices are based on prices for a different location. A good agent should be able to tell you the list price that will attract buyers of your property.
Sometimes, listing agents offer low commission fees in order to stand out from other real estate professionals. But the most inexpensive isn’t always the best choice. Make sure that the listing agent can stand by their prices and not easily give in to price negotiations. Be wary of agents who quickly agree to work on a discounted commission just to get your listing while talking terms. If the agent can’t even negotiate to protect their own money, it’s not likely that they will exert more effort into protecting your own interest.
A good listing agent will be dedicated to presenting your property in the best light in order to sell it at your expected list price. This means that your agent will have expectations from you in order to achieve this goal. Your listing agent would want you to leave and take the dog while the house is being shown, have the garage repainted, have the bathrooms clean, or furniture moved around to improve buyer viewing experience. It shows that he can think like a buyer and will let you know that this is what needs to be done in order to get an offer.
Good agents know better than to pin all their selling efforts on an open house. Only a small fraction of the homes held open are sold as a direct result of the open house. Open House events are usually done for the purpose of finding potential clients. Real estate agents use your open house to develop rapport with those visitors to find out about their own housing needs.
Meanwhile, the person who eventually buys your home may be visiting someone else’ open house. Look for agents who use their time in more effective marketing tools other than open houses. Choose someone who will market your house to other agents as well. By getting other agents interested in your home, your listing agent multiplies your sales force beyond just one individual.
When choosing a real estate agent to list your property, make sure to get someone who will ask you as many questions about it as they feel they need to. You’ll be able to find out a person’s mindset and priorities with the kinds of question that they ask. With this in mind, real estate listing agents who ask about your expectations and your opinions on their recommendations will most likely mean they have your satisfaction with the whole process in mind. Additionally, agents who take the time to get to know you, your goals, and your priorities show someone who is setting a foundation of client-centered service, for which there is no substitute.
When looking for a buying agent, take time to interview and let them know that you’re in the interview stage. However, interviewing agents from the same brokerage may prove to be a disadvantage, primarily because you will most likely end up with the same exposure. Additionally, if the agents don’t get along, it will certainly affect your transaction negatively.
Competition in the real estate industry is fierce, and if two agents from the same company find themselves competing for the same client, one or both agents can just end up withholding valuable information that could help you buy the right property. Some agents are very secretive about how they conduct business and don’t want anybody else in their office knowing what they do. Having another agent dealing with the same client might concern them about the other gaining possible access to their closely guarded ways of doing business.
In general, real estate agents all have the same skills, but like any other profession, they can also acquire specialties. If the agent calls herself a Real Estate Agent with a capital “R,” that means he or she is a member of NAR. By hiring a Real Estate Agent, the most important thing you get is an agent who formally pledges to support the code of ethics. As a buyer looking for property, you might want to look for an ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative) accreditation. Someone who has completed additional education in representing buyers in transactions. There’s also a CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) who has completed additional training in handling residential real estate, and an SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist) or one who’s completed training aimed at helping buyers and sellers in the 50-plus age range.
To understand more about Realtor certifications, check out Fit Small Business’ article on Realtor designations.
More and more buyers hiring a “buyer’s agent” are likely to encounter instances of what’s called “dual agency” — an agent, brokerage or company representing both the buyer and seller. While it sounds natural for an agent to attempt to sell you listings from their own brokerage, dual agency nevertheless comes with an inherent conflict of interest. Some buyer’s agents can be tempted to split their time acting as the listing agent as well. This means representing two opposing clients and collecting the full commission. To completely remove the potential of any conflict of interest, make sure you look for exclusive buyer’s agents who only work with buyers and do not list homes for sale.
Aside from the usual “how many listings do you have?”, as a buyer you should also ask how often the agent will send you listings and whether the person has had experience working with buyers in a similar situation. For instance, a transaction involving a Federal Housing Association or VA loan, for example, includes some steps that aren’t required for a conventional loan. If you as a buyer, falls in that category, your buying agent should ideally have some previous experience handling similar transactions.
Other situations can involve buyers who ends up choosing homes where the seller won’t pay a commission, such as for-sale-by-owner houses or new construction properties. In this case the buying agent should know how to arrange and clearly explain to the client the concept of a buyer-broker agreement.
Regardless how good a real estate agent is, if they can’t meet you at the time you’re available, the relationship will still not work. Choose someone who can be available at the days and times you want them to be available. If you work 9am to 5pm, you’ll need someone who can work with you in the evenings and on weekends. Viewing a property should be free from time constraints so you can take time to inspect, and a conflicting schedule between you and your agent will make this difficult.
As a landlord, knowing how your potential agents conduct themselves with their other clients will give you a peek at what to expect when if you hire the person. Begin your search with popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and then expand it to sites which are specific to real estate like Zillow and Trulia. If you can’t find information about a specific agent on the web, you might ask yourself if that’s an agent you even want to consider. After all, if they don’t have a web presence, it will be difficult for them to properly market your property. You can also contact their firm and ask to get contact information of at least 3 past clients.
As a tenant, there are many real estate agents who can offer to work with renters on multiple services, including previewing properties to ensure they are a good fit before a showing and performing all negotiations with the property manager. If needed, a real estate agent can also do all the searching for you or involve you in the process, depending on your time constraints and needs. Knowing how involved you would like your agent to be in your search for leasing property can help you find the kind of rental agent you would need.
Even if you decide that using a real estate agent is not necessary for your property search, agents can still offer helpful advice on places to look and how to negotiate on your own.
If you are a landlord, knowing who will be renting your property is paramount, which is why your potential rental agent should be someone who can properly screen your tenants. Don’t hesitate to ask about their background screening process. Ask them what type of tenant background checks they conduct and if they would be able to provide you with a thorough income verification, rental history, employment history, and criminal history. You should also know how long it takes for them to complete the process. A full background check usually takes 2-3 business days to get completed reports so if they tell you that they can give you results in 24 hours or less, this does not include a thorough check.
Aside from looking at an agent’s expertise, another way for tenants to find a good rental agent is to ask if the brokerage has a corporate relocation department. When companies move their employees about, people, especially those whose job shifts are temporary, prefer to rent rather than buy. Relocation agents need to have their fingers on the pulse of the rental market as well as the purchase market. A brokerage firm that has a relocation department will be well updated on new rental listings and trends, giving their rental agents access to the most current information that will be useful in helping you navigate the rental market.
Over To You
Not all real estate agents are the same, so finding out as much as you can about your potential agent can make a big difference in your experience as a seller, buyer, landlord, or tenant. Choosing a real estate agent that best suits your requirements and personality will help make the transaction a less stressful process.
Do you have more tips for choosing a real estate agent you would like to share? Share your comments below.