From Real Estate Game Changers
by Faun G. Hauptman
Whether you are a first-time home buyer, first-time home seller, buying or selling in a new state, or just know that you don’t have the time or skillset to manage your buying or selling process yourself, it is vital that you find a real estate professional you can trust.
I always chuckle when unrepresented buyers call me directly from a sign or internet home search result from one of my listed properties. Recently, one did just that. She and her husband were looking for a home in that area, and when my listing came on the market, they immediately called me for a showing. I met them at that property so they could see it. I did this solely as a service to my seller, because my seller would want any and all potential buyers to be able to see the property. When the couple were ready to leave, I asked them if the property was a fit for them, and they became very evasive and told me they would call me. They didn’t. After several days went by, I called to follow up and spoke with Mrs. Buyer. She said they really loved the property, but realized (as a result of my own disclosure) that they needed their own agent to represent them. So they had gone out and hired one. She went on to tell me that her agent had phoned me earlier in the week, asking about the status of the property. Not knowing who her buyer was, I explained that we were receiving multiple offers and the price was bidding up. The bottom line is, they never even brought an offer on the house they loved, all because they made the rookie mistake of calling the listing agent to see a property they knew they had strong interest in due to location, characteristics, and their own timing. And, they hired a new agent to represent their interests, as a result of the disclosure and education given to them by a different agent. Obviously, they trusted me when I disclosed their options to them, so why go and hire another agent? Why not call me instead, and ask how I could help them buy the home they loved? I had already gone out of my way to establish a trust relationship with them, and they didn’t know enough about the process to accept the gift. By trusting me a little, but not enough, they lost out on a one-of-a-kind home they wanted to buy.
So how should they have known that they could trust me enough to let me help them? Simple. I took the time to explain and disclose these issues to them. In my state, disclosure is mandated by state law, at first contact with a prospective buyer. But most agents simply don’t do it. So when I do, often it is the first time a buyer is ever provided with this information. If an agent gives you a disclosure document, and explains your options to you, that is the first clue that you can trust him or her! S/he is actually following license law! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made simple, proper disclosure to buyers who looked upon me poorly for doing so, exclaiming “no other agents have asked me to sign this, why are you asking me to?” My answer, always, is because I am doing my job correctly and I can’t help what other agents do or don’t do. If you encounter a situation like this, call the local Real Estate Commission or whatever the licensing body is called in your state, and ask if the disclosure is appropriate. In real estate, we professionals have a saying: disclose, disclose, disclose. That is because so many agents don’t disclose what they should, when they should, and sometimes, it gets them or their client into trouble. If you are lucky enough to find an agent who is disclosing, don’t let him or her out of your sight until you have signed your closing papers on your new home!
Short of making rookie mistakes like calling the listing agent to see a home in a state where you should, if you are serious about buying, already have your own agent, what are the best ways of finding an agent to assist you? Let’s start with a few basic suggestions.
First, once you realize that you are serious about buying or selling a home, the first thing you should do is ask your family members, friends, colleagues, and other acquaintances if they have ever worked with an outstandingagent. If they answer with, “well, the last time I bought or sold a home, this person was pretty good,” or something similar, say “thanks anyway, but I want to work with the best.” Get it in your own mind, that you want to work with a top broker, and tell everyone you are asking the same thing. Don’t settle for “pretty good, adequate, ok, got the job done,” or similar sentiments. Ask for a referral to an “outstanding” agent because you deserve outstanding service. Gather at least three referrals from different sources, contact those agents, and schedule times to meet with them for coffee to discuss your upcoming home purchase or sale. Your task is to determine if you feel comfortable with one or more of these individuals. Your meeting should be about your plans, and your expectations of working with a professional.
If you are a first-time home buyer, or first-time seller, you may not know what to ask or look for. So I’m going to outline it for you here. As a buyer, you want the following traits in your agent. Smart, tenacious, and patient are all good places to start. But in the information age, when many people think they can replace the expertise of an agent by using online sources, the number one trait you need in your agent? Good communication skills.
Buying a home is a seriously complicated process these days, and it is fraught with potential road hazards. Hazards that can derail your transaction and prevent you from acquiring the home of your dreams. Good communication skills are not easy to identify. As a first-time buyer in particular, you need someone who is going to over-communicate with you because you won’t know what to expect, or how to anticipate problems, but a good agent should explain what to expect and help you anticipate problems. And, some agents are better at communicating when they are not slammed with 20 buyers and 20 listings in high selling season. Others can handle those demands without missing a beat. The ability to multi-task and juggle the needs of multiple clients and communicate well with all of them is the mark of good agent. And guess what? If you are moving from another city, state, or country, you should consider yourself a first-time buyer regardless of your past experience, because the differences in the process from your last purchase or sale could be extreme based on individual state law.
Second, you need an agent who is not going to relegate your home search to a public online source. If an agent tells you “just keep an eye on the new listings that come onto Zillow and call me if you see anything you want to look at,” run. This is not an agent who is working for you. Instead, when interviewing, ask each agent how they work with buyers, and then listen for at least one of them to explain that they use their local MLS to set up searches that return instant new listings, price reductions, and status changes. Listen for them to reveal that they look for these notifications and are constantly seeking new options for their current buyer roster. Listen to see if they say, “as soon as I see a property that meets your requirements, I will call you to arrange for us see it right away.” This is particularly important in a hot (seller’s) market. You don’t want to lose out on your dream home due to your agent neglecting you, because an hour can make a big difference in your outcome.
Ask them to describe how they show property. For a new buyer, they should be suggesting an initial home tour of between five and eight homes, more if you are flying in for a day or two specifically to look at property. When they show you a home, they should be willing to offer you the honest pros and cons of that property, assuming you want their professional input.
For sellers, your preferred skill set will be similar in some ways, but will have more requirements. First, as with buyers, good communication skills are the most important. Second, you want an agent who understands the market you are selling in, because that is crucial to getting your pricing right. If you interview several agents and choose the one who wants to price your home the highest, this may be an indication that you haven’t found an agent you trust, because you are resorting to price as the only factor in your sale, and it’s a surefire way to be disappointed with the outcome. Pricing is as much an art, as it is a science.
Let’s stop to notice what I haven’t said. I have not said to choose the agent with the most listings in a given neighborhood. I have not said that you should choose an agent who routinely works in only one part of the city. I have not said that your agent needs to sell $100 million worth of real estate every year. Now, I personally think that you are going to be better off with an agent who has at least five years’ of experience in the business, but every good, successful agent had to start sometime. So I don’t necessarily think you will be in bad hands with a newer agent, but make sure your agent works with a seasoned one, and with a reputable company, so they will have the help and resources they need to properly assist you with a variety of potential issues along the way.
Speaking of reputable companies, did you know that the only two qualifications to be “hired” by a typical real estate brokerage, is to be licensed and still breathing? I’ve worked for many of them. Some are good at training new agents, some are better at leaving experienced agents alone. Some have minimal production standards, some have none. Some allow part-time agents to “hang” their licenses for a small monthly fee. Study up on the reputable brokerages in your city. Find out which ones house the most successful, and experienced, agents. It may not be a “national” branded brokerage that has the very best agents. Sometimes, smaller, “boutique” firms have the highest quality standards. They aren’t looking to hire as many agents as possible, they are looking to hire as few as possible, with those few producing many times more sales than the average Realtor. This is where many quality brokers reside. And because these brokerages live or die by their local reputation, they tend to be more service-oriented. Local ownership ensures community engagement, which ensures that you are working with real humans, not just some mega-corporation. Trust still resides on Main Street.