Real estate agents don't get enough credit for the work they put into their clients. There is a lot of potential liability in the real estate career, and true success takes sustained hard work. Many try, and few survive. A good Realtor should become your trusted advisor. By understanding and appreciating what the Realtor does for you as the client, you can guarantee a wonderful working relationship with your Realtor and ensure total success throughout your home buying process.
Always, when I say "real estate agent" I want you to think Realtor, and to consider only a Realtor to represent you in your home purchase. "Realtor" is a professional designation for a real estate agent who has made a public commitment to a high level of accountability and professionalism. A real estate agent merely signs a license; a Realtor adheres to a code of ethics.
With a Realtor, you can expect someone who has invested time, money, and energy into the real estate profession, as opposed to someone who paid a couple hundred dollars, took some classes and passed a test. Yes, a license allows one to practice in real estate in the state of issuance, but it says nothing of the agent's reputation. Most first-time homebuyers don't even know to ask, "Are you a Realtor?" or even better, to check out the agent's business card to verify their title. A Realtor can also take additional education to gain special designations, further proof of effort towards professionalism and competence. Usually, the more designations the better: few would spend the time and money on these designsations without a passion for this business and the clients they serve.
Finding the right Realtor is hardly an exact science, but a little research can go a long way. In so many cases, the best agents are not the ones you see and hear about; on the contrary, the best agents are the ones who are so good at their trade and profession they don't need to spend money on advertising. These are the agents who work primarily by referral or word of mouth and have qualified people coming to them every day. This phenomenon only happens to great agents who know their trade and have built their business over enough years for new clients to seek them out.
Many buyers start by looking at agents they have heard of. This could be the local Century 21 branch next to the coffee shop down the street, or it could be that nice old lady who walks down the block every Thursday with her funky flyers. That old lady agent is desperately hoping that her hard work pays off and that after years of delivering her funky flyer to you, one day you will pick up the phone and call her. Similarly, the local Century 21 branch is hoping that next time you get coffee, you will walk in and become their next lead (and potential client). After all, they pay good money for the visibility that has been building their brand awareness every time you passed by and saw their sign over the years.
These are some of the many examples of how agents try to get your business, but you should not concern yourself with them. You should actively seek out a Realtor. Essentially, the best agents are typically the ones who don't need to spend time cold-calling or door-knocking to get their business. Business comes to them via referrals from past clients who are satisfied with their professionalism, honesty, and results. Take the initiative and give yourself the best opportunity to win: choose your agent carefully.
Let's take a moment to clarify this issue about star agents and how they go about their business. Great agents did not get that way by sitting around waiting for business to come to them. Rather, their success is the result of years of hard work building their businesses and spheres of influence in order to get to the position where they no longer need heavy marketing. Please don't mistake an agent's aggressiveness for a bad thing. A proactive agent is a very good sign! He or she is just trying to see where you are in terms of the buying process. An agent needs to know whether you are looking to move next month, or are looking to start looking next month – there is a huge difference! Sometimes agents who don't need to advertise do so anyway in order to maintain an identity in the community. Just as choosing the best agent is not an exact science, neither is the way that great agents market and advertise themselves.
Knowing what I know, if I wanted to find the best real estate agent for my first-time purchase, I would follow two basic plans: I would ask several people I knew and trusted for Realtor recommendations, and I would scan the online community consumer blogs for highly recommended Realtors.
As I mentioned before, the best agents are the ones who get consistent referrals. You should be one of those referrals! You should ask everybody you trust about his or her most recent experience in real estate. Preferably, you want to ask people who bought their homes within the past year or so, though a referral to an agent someone has worked with multiple times is a good sign. Always keep an open disposition for what people are telling you. In general, we humans have an innate need to share good experiences, so you should take any recommendations with open arms and then qualify them with questions about the experience. Whenever I get a referral from a past client or good friend, I am excited! I am already going to have a more solid connection to the referral, and there is a good chance the new client and I will mesh in terms of personality.
I will ALWAYS treat clients referred to me by people I know at a higher level than online "leads" or other unknowns. Without question, the level of commitment on the part of the buyer is so much more significant when it's a referral from a good source. I don't like admitting that my initial treatment of an Internet lead compared to a referral is different, but in practice it most certainly is! I can depend on a referral; I cannot depend on an online lead. For this reason I give priority to my referrals, and reserve the best service for them. Ask around, get referrals, check out the agents' websites, pick out your favorites, and schedule a time to meet.
Before you meet a potential agent, write down your most pressing questions. This will really help with your interview. It may be necessary to let the agent know you are interviewing a few other agents. This will keep them on their best behavior and you will see the best that they can offer. Usually I dislike it when I am referred a client who is "shopping" other agents, but here's the bottom line: If I were in your position, I would want to shop around until I meet the Realtor who is going to represent me in the most important buying decision in my entire life. It is a good idea to shop around, even if it hurts the agent's feelings. The one you choose will probably forgive you.
In some cases, you may feel so strongly about a particular agent that you don't find it necessary to interview other agents. There is nothing wrong with this, so long as you feel very certain about it. It's typical to see that with a highly referred agent only one appointment is needed to see that they truly are the best fit for you. You'll probably be sold on them after that initial consultation. After all, there is a reason they are that good in the first place.
The WOW Agent
Test-drive your potential agent during the interview! You're hiring your agent primarily for their real estate expertise. Their most important assets are their local knowledge (of the market, prices and inventory), their ability to negotiate and handle contractual issues, their ability to manage emotions and surprises, and their ability to connect with you as a person and help usher you at your pace through the transaction. How do you know your Realtor's skills before you begin? Ask questions! Your agent should leave you saying "WOW!" and feeling excited about the process ahead. Keep an eye out for that "WOW" agent. You will know when you find him or her, and you will be happy you did!
I cannot tell you how many times people have come to me looking for help after they have been working with a non- "WOW" agent. Sometimes the agent's problem is a lack of knowledge, sometimes it's a lack of communication, sometimes it's an unforgivable mistake, but no matter what, if you have found yourself with an agent you thought was a "WOW" agent, and you turned out to be wrong, it's OK to move on. My only suggestion is that as soon as you realize that your agent is not a "WOW" agent, you must cut ties with that agent as soon as possible! I say this because a lot of people are generally so afraid of confrontation that they negatively affect themselves in the process by not severing the relationship with the non- "WOW" agent. Do yourself a favor. Be bold. This will help you get what you want quicker, and it will be a wake-up call of sorts to the agent.
The bottom line is simple: go with a pro. Go with someone who knows the trade, and who is aggressive and tenacious (in a good way). Go with someone who knows how to talk and negotiate. Go with someone who has it together. Go with someone you connect with on a personal level – this will help you to build trust with your agent, and trust is the most important aspect of the agent-client relationship. Once trust and respect are established, the rest will fall into place. Just make sure you have the agent who will get you what you want!
It is important to remember that no matter how you choose your agent, being a good client will pay off in the end. Being demanding or demeaning to your agent will get you nowhere. Go in with the intention of keeping your agent as a trusted advisor for anything real estate-related from that point on. A long-term relationship is better for both parties, and no agent will tolerate an extremely needy or demanding or rude client for long!
Recently, I've been planning a wedding. I made a point of asking all our vendors what an "ideal client" is for them, and how we can work best with them in their service for our wedding. This would give me the idea of how to make our relationship and the task at hand as enjoyable and successful as possible. Similarly, when I work with clients who have this kind of commitment to the client / agent relationship, there is no end to what I would do for them to ensure that their experience is second to none.
Bonus: The Top Ten Traits of a Successful Client
A recent client of mine named Amanda embodies this mentality. Her purchase price was low, which meant I wouldn't get much of a commission. The job entailed many hours of work, several offers, a long short-sale escrow and a couple of delays. All this was of no concern to me because of the type of client Amanda was. The time and effort involved did not matter, because she was top-notch. I wish all my clients were like her. In fact, I have said during the course of transactions with several clients that I wished all my clients were like the one at hand. Whenever I say this, I am saying that this particular client exhibits the following qualities, and no matter the challenge at hand, I am there without question to make sure everything goes right.
1. Be reasonable! Don't get too emotional, ever. When clients get overly emotional, agents get impatient. This is a grown-up world and you need to act like an adult. I will hold your hand throughout the transaction, but irrational clients never get the best treatment.
2. Be responsive! Unanswered phone calls and ignored emails are never a good sign. This is a warning flag for an agent, signaling that you may not be as motivated as you say you are.
3. Be punctual! If I am on time, you must be on time, too. This is a simple thing, but it's surprising how many people are late to everything. This is a slap in the face and you lose points in my book if you are late to confirmed appointments. If you flake on an appointment, start looking for some other agent; I probably won't work with you any further after a stunt like that.
4. Be flexible! Sometimes your wants don't quite line up with your budget, and you need to be OK with that! An irrational client is the last thing I want, a big waste of time. Really, it means that the client does not know what they truly want, or that what is affordable for them (what the buyer can actually buy) will not work.
5. Be honest and upfront! The more honest and open you are, the better I can serve you. Sometimes I go weeks with a client, only to find out about a preference, financial condition, or special need that has not been addressed. This can seriously affect the client's ability to find something that will work. Open yourself to your agent, and your agent will be better equipped to find you what you are looking for!
6. Be grateful! Show some love for your Realtor. Show that you appreciate all the time and hard work put in for your benefit. A grateful client is easier to work with and gets more appreciation than a demanding client.
7. Be respectful! This is a business, and you are dealing with a professional. Treat your agent like you would want to be treated yourself. When I am treated without respect, I have no problem moving on, letting go of a potential client. Sometimes clients seem to feel a need to act condescending or big or strong to establish control over the situation. This behavior is not conducive to a mutually healthy and beneficial business relationship.
8. Be trustworthy! I want to trust you and you should want to trust me. When both the client and the agent have a relationship built on trust, nothing can stop them. It's only when I have clients who question me as to my skill or ability that the relationship becomes distant.
9. Be prepared! Be ready to move fast! I know you are a busy person, but buying a home takes focus and commitment. I don't care if you had a busy week; we have a lot of documents to go over in a short time, and I shouldn't have to feel bad asking you to go over things you should be going over through the course of the escrow. I am bringing to your attention items and issues that will directly affect your purchase and the home you end up with. I cannot want the home more than you do, and if you aren't prepared and committed, it makes everything more difficult and stressful for me and for you.
10. BE COMMITTED! Being committed means that your heart and mind are in harmony with respect to the goal at hand. I have found that this is the number-one trait for all the buyers in my most successful and seamless transactions. When a buyer is committed, no matter the hurdle that may arise in escrow, the buyer will overcome. When the buyer is committed, the entire process is less stressful. When the buyer is committed, success is in the cards!
Bonus: Google Your Agent!
Today's online community offers an exceptional ability for any consumer to check in on the history of their service provider's reputation and work ethic: kudzu.com, yelp.com, and angieslist.com are a few stellar examples of websites geared to service providers for a specific geographic location. As time goes on, more and more of us will become connected, and this type of virtual "feedback" will become more and more pervasive.
Real estate aside, you can and should be doing this for any service provider, from your babysitter to your auto mechanic. That said, at least a nominal amount on online research should be called for to find any specific warning flags regarding the agent (s) you are considering working with. Check the agent's website and see if there are written testimonials on the site, and if these testimonials match up with what you find online. Keep in mind that there are some people who just love to file complaints, even for good service, and this can tarnish your expectations of the person you are considering working with. Please know that the online community cannot be fully regulated for accuracy, but it is typically more helpful and accurate as opposed to being burdensome and untruthful. There is no doubt that this kind of research will become more common because it is user-generated and tends to offer a comparatively unbiased opinion of a given service provider.
Choosing the right agent won't necessarily make or break your deal, but it can mean the difference between a satisfying deal and an unfulfilling one, a good deal and a not-so-good deal, a one-time transaction and a trusted advisor for life. Put simply, choosing the best agent gives you the best opportunity to realize massive success for your first home purchase. Choose wisely!