How do I choose a real estate agent?
Tops on your list of priorities should be an agent who specializes in the area where you want to live. A local specialist should know local problems, such as the location of flood areas or toxic dumps. He or she will also have seen comparable properties that have sold and will be able to give you first-hand information about the relative value of a home you are considering buying.
Other qualities to look for in an agent are experience, professionalism, availability and accessibility. It helps to use an agent who has a good knowledge of the homebuilding process and who is an effective communicator. One way to determine an agent's competence is to ask a lot of questions. How well you understand the answers will tell you something about the agent's communication skills.
A quality often overlooked, but in some respects more important than the rest, is rapport. Buying a home is a more intimate type of business transaction than normal. Trying to work through the process with someone you can't relate to won't work. Find a qualified agent who is also a soul mate and the home purchase experience will be much more enjoyable.
As in any field, some agents are better than others. Good agents put their client's needs first. And in doing so, they develop a good reputation for honesty and are successful despite the fact that at times their good counsel may result in the loss of a commission. A good agent keeps you up to date while you're looking for a home and when you've purchased and are waiting for title to transfer.
Good agents understand their roles as intermediaries and facilitators; they know that they are not the decision-makers. Buyers and sellers make decisions with the help of the educated advice of their agents.
Good agents don't let their egos interfere with the purchase, and they work well with other agents as well as with the other participants in the transaction -- the inspectors, lender and appraiser.
Good agents have the strength of character to answer "I don't know" to questions they're unsure of. But they will persevere to find the answer or to direct you to someone who can.
FIRST-TIME TIP: To find an agent, first ask friends who have bought a home recently and who were pleased with the service they received. If you're new in the area and have no local contacts, drive neighborhoods where you'd like to live and write down the names and phone numbers of companies whose real estate signs are most prevalent. Call the managers of these real estate offices and ask to be put in touch with an agent who's good at working with first-time buyers.
Prospective sellers often interview three real estate agents before selecting one to represent them. Buyers who don't already have a good working relationship with an agent can interview several agents who specialize in their target neighborhood until they find one they feel comfortable working with.
Dian Hymer's column is syndicated through Inman News Features. Send questions and comments c/o Inman News Features, 5335 College Ave., No. 25, Oakland, Calif. 94618.