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Best Practices - How To Choose Your Trusted Partner In Real Estate

Buying or selling a home can simultaneously be both an exciting and a scary prospect. There is the excitement associated with moving to a new home and the anxiety linked to buying or selling a home. The whole process can be enhanced with the support of a good real estate professional who knows the ins and outs of the market. But with so many brokerages and agents out there to choose from, finding a perfect fit may be more of a challenge than you expected. Working with a top agent who is experienced and trustworthy can go a long way in ensuring your property sells at top dollar, or that your purchase is a good value.

I believe strongly that whether you are buying or selling, that you view your relationship with your real estate agent as a team effort. It’s imperative that you are comfortable with each other as you will be spending a significant amount, sometime stressful time-together. Choose somebody relatable and humble; is their marketing about them or their properties? Despite the technology that seems to take over much of home buying and selling today, the right real estate agent is still a valuable human-to-human connection.

One of the most common complaints from buyers and sellers is about the agent’s lack of communication. Make sure you’re on the same page from the get-go. Discuss how the agent will keep you informed and how often you expect to hear from them. If you prefer email but the agent is most responsive to phone calls, you may not be a good fit for each other. Or, if you know you’re going to have lots of questions and expect quick responses, but the agent usually just sends bi-weekly updates, you may want to find someone who is a better fit.

Whether you are buying or selling, clarify your primary objectives. Make clear the requirements for the sale of your home or “must have” amenities in your new home. Are you on a strict timeline? What are the net proceeds you must have from the sale, or the maximum you can spend for a new home? Others? Make sure to share and discuss these details from the beginning so that your agent knows what is most important to you.

Discuss your strategies. if you are selling, what will be the availability for showings and advance notice required? Broker caravan and number of open houses, if any, you’re willing to allow. How will your home be marketed? For buyers: how, and at what frequency do you want to be notified of a new listing that meets your criteria? When are you available to preview homes of interest? Make sure you and your potential real estate agent are in alignment with these strategies. If not, it will be a source of frustration for both parties.

Smart consumers will interview several potential real estate agents before they settle on which one they want to work with. Referrals are usually the best resource, ask friends and colleagues for recommendations. Good agents are selective about their clients, too. Just as you're sizing up a good fit, the real estate agent will likely be interviewing you as well. Be wary of agents who don't ask you questions and probe for your motivation and goals.

The interview stage of the relationship is important for everyone involved. You can meet a prospective agent at their office, or, especially for sellers invite the agent to your home for the first meeting. You will learn a lot about the agent and how your personalities align from that meeting.

Below are some of the more important questions to ask in order to get properly acquainted and avoid overlooking most critical issues.

How Long Have You Been in the Business?

The standard joke is that there's nothing wrong with a new agent that a little experience can't fix, but that's not to say that freshly licensed agents can't be good ones. Much depends on the level of their training, whether they have a competent mentor and the level of broker support at their disposal.

A newer agent will likely have fewer clients and much more time to concentrate on you, unless he's holding down another job. This is fair question to ask.

That said, there's no bar exam for real estate agents and no school offers a degree in how to handle problems in a transaction. Every transaction is unique, and agents learn on the job. The more sales an agent has completed, the more he knows. It's possible that he's supplemented his licensing requirements with additional courses and seminars, and it's OK to ask about this, too.

Are you part of a team?

A Realtor® must wear many hats, they need to be tech savvy, great with a camera, have advanced web marketing skills, they should be a capable copywriter, negotiator, organized and diligent – compassionate and creative. Agents are called on to manage complex transactions and it’s rare when one individual can check every box.

When you choose a team, you must accept the fact that you won’t always be interfacing with the head honcho. If a team leader does not hold his partners accountable and measure their performance on a regular basis, quality can suffer, and opportunities may be missed. It’s easy to hold one person accountable, but teams are different. Some teams just aren’t organized, they lack cohesive communications and aren’t as “cooperative” as they should be.

What is your specialty?

I think this a good question to access the dedication your prospective agent has to his or her craft. Do they have a market segment they are passionate about? Are they active in continuing education and dedicated to improving their skills?

What's Your Best Marketing Plan or Strategy for My Needs?

For buyers, you'll want to know how the agent plans to search for your new home. What is the current inventory like for the type of home you’re looking for? If inventory is tight, you most likely will be competing against other buyers, how will they differentiate your offer so that it stands out?

As a seller, be prepared to discuss steps you can take to prepare your home for sale, including repairs, painting, upgrades, yard cleanup, showing availability, open houses, yard signs, lock boxes, etc. A good agent will aid and provide support to get the work done timely and economically. The answers to these questions will not only allow the agent to prepare a comprehensive marketing plan, they will be a factor in the listing price you agree to.

Can You Provide References?

You might not need references if the agent has tons of reviews online or was referred by a close friend or colleague. Nonetheless, I believe it’s a good practice and included in proper due diligence.

Even brand-new agents should have references from previous employers. Your aim is to verify employment history, character and integrity.

What Are the Top Three Things That Separate You From Your Competition?

A good agent won't hesitate to answer this question and should be ready to fire off several reasons why he's best suited for the job. Everyone has their own standards, but most consumers say they're looking for agents who say that they're honest, trustworthy, assertive, and excellent negotiators.

He might tell you that he's always available by phone or e-mail, or that he's a good communicator. He might indicate that he's friendly and able to maintain his sense of humor under trying circumstances—and there will be some.

It all comes down to the characteristics and qualifications that you value most.

Can I Review Documents Ahead of Time?

A good real estate agent will make forms available to you for preview before you're required to sign them. Ask for these documents upfront if possible—and make sure during the interview stage that an agent is amenable to this.

You'll also want to see the agency disclosure if you're the seller. Ask for a copy of the listing agreement as well, and of your seller disclosure.

How Will You Help Me Find Other Professionals?

Your agent should be able and more than willing to supply you with a written list of vendors such as mortgage brokers, home inspectors, and title companies. Let her explain who she works with and why she chooses these professionals.

What Haven't I Asked You That You Think I Should Know?

Pay close attention to how the real estate agent answers this question. There's often something else you might need to know, something you forgot to mention.

You want an agent who will take the time to answer this one and make sure you feel comfortable and secure with his knowledge and experience. He should know how to listen, how to counsel you, and how to ask the right questions to find out what he needs to know to better serve you.

In the end, you want someone who truly has your best interests at heart. Be honest and transparent about what’s most important to you, your goals and objectives. If you’re not getting feedback that adds to your comfort level, it may be time to move on if the relationship doesn’t feel right. Go with your gut feeling.

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