You don’t necessarily have to use a real estate agent, but if this is your first time buying a home, it’s always a great idea to get one. Your agents’ entire job is to get you a good deal on a home you’re happy with. Since they work off commission, it’s always in their best interest to make your homebuying process as easy and stress-free as possible.
One of the most important things when choosing a real estate agent, especially for your first home, is to make sure they’re a buyer’s agent. Buyer’s and seller’s agents play different roles, and you want to find an agent who primarily works on the buyer’s side since they’ll have the most relevant experience. That being said, an agent who’s also worked on the seller’s side has a fuller perspective on the homebuying process and is generally more knowledgeable about the entire transaction. When it comes to real estate, information is king, and experience from both sides could be the difference between losing an offer and closing a great deal.
Are they licensed?
Though credentials alone don’t necessarily mean that an agent is great at their job, it does indicate that they’re willing to put additional time and effort into learning more about their craft. Licenses and credentials also add a layer of accountability–if something goes wrong, a buyer can report it to the association that licensed the agent. Ask your potential agent about their credentials or certifications, the way they answer tells you a lot about their commitment to their customers.
Are they a pro?
Your agent needs to be a full-time professional real estate agent. Buying a house is not the time to give your family friend a chance to get some real estate experience under their belt. Your agent needs to be an experienced negotiator with intimate market knowledge and the confidence to get the best deal for you.
Do they understand the market?
Ask them about the neighborhoods you’re interested in. They should be familiar with houses currently on the market or recent closed homes in the area. Excellent agents follow sales very closely and should be well aware of the goings-on in the areas they serve.
Can they close a deal?
Your real estate agent should have a great history of closing deals. The average real estate agent only closes on about 5 homes per year, that means selling you a home makes up 20% of their entire year’s income. That kind of pressure leads to a bigger focus on closing than negotiating. Feel free to ask how many homes they’ve closed on in the last year or two and how many of those were above or below the asking price.
Do you trust them?
First impressions are everything: How do they answer your inquiry? How do they respond to your request for references or more information? The first thing you need to do when looking for an agent is an interview. Interview at least three agents and make sure you ask them all about their experience. Though it’s important to get the details of their past deals, what you’re also looking for is whether you like them and they understand you. The homebuying timeline can be long, and it’s incredibly important to work with someone who you feel comfortable with and who you trust. The agent/buyer relationship requires a lot of open communication and honesty, and if you don’t trust your agent, it will add another layer of stress to your experience.
Where to actually find an agent
One of the best ways to find an agent is through someone who’s worked with one. If you have any friends or family who’ve recently bought a home and had a great experience with their agent, it’s a good idea to meet with them and see if they can meet your needs too.
Searching online for an agent can be a tricky game. Many of the online directories that list real estate agents are simply lists of the agents who paid to have their information put on the site. It’s also getting harder and harder to trust customer reviews. Though it takes a little patience and research, looking online is one of the best and easiest ways to find a real estate agent if you don’t have any recommendations from people you know. Here are a couple tips for finding an agent online:
- Check out their current and past listings. Most agents will feature their active listings and previous closes on their website. It’s a great way to see if an agent is a good fit for your needs. If most of their listings are million dollar homes inside the city, but you’re looking for $400,000 homes in the suburbs, then it’s likely this isn’t the agent for you. Also, if they have a ton of active listings, it could be an indication that they’re not closing deals or that their attention is spread out too thin.
- Read reviews. Though reviews aren’t always legitimate, it’s still more likely than not that you can get an accurate snapshot of how this agent works, especially by the types of customers they’ve had in the past. Are most of the reviewers first-time homebuyers? Or are they clearly written by real-estate-savvy, investor-types? Depending on your experience with home buying, you should check out the agents whose reviewers also match your situation.
- Evaluate their blog. Most savvy real estate agents will have a blog to showcase their knowledge and expertise. Reading their blog posts is a great way to see if they know their stuff. Even if you’re a first time homebuyer, you can compare the information on one agents’ blog to the information on another and use them to do your own research. Trust your instincts here: if they don’t sound like they know what they’re talking about, click away.