Choose real estate agent you like and can trust A BUYER'S GUIDE


Sure, he sounds smooth on the phone, and her face makes for a nice magnet. But choosing a real estate agent takes more than blind faith in self-promotion.

First-time homebuyers can't afford to ignore the referrals and recommendations of satisfied friends and relatives who have been there.

It's always wise to rely on the tried and true, according to Barbara Nock, manager of O'Conor, Piper & Flynn in Towson/Lutherville. "I don't think there's any magic [to choosing an agent]," she said. "Make sure they're professional; make sure they've been in the business and perhaps have continuing education designations [which show] they have invested in their careers."

But as vital as credentials may be, there are two more basic -- and quite intangible -- elements, Ms. Nock said. "The first thing buyers and sellers have to do is like and trust [an agent]," she said.

You can shop for a home on your own: through classified and other ads in the paper, on-line services, driving around. But in most cases an agent who works with a buyer is paid by the seller. In a sense, the agent's services are already paid for, so why not use them.

First-time buyers in particular should ask an agent upfront how much time he or she is prepared to spend with them. Patience and tolerance are important attributes in any agent, but especially in one working with a first-time buyer. The purchase of a first home is often a long process, said Ms. Nock. The agent has to have the ability to encourage, explain, and hand-hold, she said.

It may be beneficial for the first-time buyer, in particular, to select an agent who works full-time in real estate, said Adam D. Cockey Jr., managing director of W. H. C. Wilson & Co., and president-elect of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. "With the business becoming a little more professional everyday, it's important for an agent to keep up with all the legal and advisory aspects," he said, "and have a good knowledge of the mortgages that are available, in addition to a reasonably good knowledge of the [geographic] areas the buyer is interested in."

He suggests asking prospective agents where they've sold properties and in what price ranges.

Buyers should decide whether they want an agent who represents them in the negotiating process (buyer's agent) or one that doesn't (traditional agent).

Most buyers work with traditional agents, who will show houses and help with the purchase but who, technically, are representatives of the seller. When working with such an agent, buyers should openly talk about the type of house they need. But they should not discuss issues about the bidding for the house or reveal negotiation strategies. The agent is obligated to reveal such information to the seller. A buyer's agent has no obligation to the seller -- buyers can discuss anything with him. But the buyer may be obligated to work exclusively with that agent, or may be required to pay at least part of the commission.

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