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How to Choose a Realtor: The proliferation of online real estate information makes it easier than ever to be an informed consumer when buying or selling a home. Yet the digital revolution has done little to lessen the importance of choosing the right real estate agent to work with you.
The right agent can help you buy your dream house or sell your existing home quickly. The wrong real estate agent can mess up the transaction, leaving you with egg on your face and nowhere to call home.
Despite the high stakes, many buyers and sellers give very little thought to choosing a real estate agent, whether they’re buying or selling.
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Most real estate agents are independent contractors who are paid a commission based on the number of homes they sell. The commission, paid from the sales proceeds, is usually split equally between the listing agent and the selling agent. Once the deal is closed, each of those agents usually has to pay a share to the broker who owns the office where he or she is affiliated. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how many listings the agent has, how many homes she has sold in your area, how often she will communicate with you – and in what format – and who she will represent in the transaction.
If you’re a buyer, ask how often the agent will send you listings and whether he has worked with other buyers in your situation. A transaction involving a Federal Housing Association or VA loan, for example, includes some steps that aren't required for a conventional loan. Some buyers may want to sign a buyer-broker agreement, agreeing to pay a share of the commission if the agent shows them homes where the seller won’t pay a commission, such as for-sale-by-owner houses or new construction properties.
Issues to Watch For When Choosing an Agent
The agent suggests the highest price for your home. If you’re selling your house, get listing presentations from at least three agents, who will tell you what comparable homes have sold for and how long they took to sell. The agents are all looking at the same data, so the suggested listing price should be close. Pricing a home too high at the start often means it takes longer to sell and ultimately sells for less. If you’re too high for the market, buyers won't even look at it because they know you’re not realistic. The longer your property sits on the market, the more people are going to think there’s something wrong with it.
The agent does real estate on the side, part time. Whether you’re a buyer or seller, you want to choose an agent who is actively following the market every day. If you’re buying, you want an agent who can jump on new listings and show them to you immediately. If you’re the seller, you want an agent who is always available to show your home to prospective buyers.
The agent is a relative. Unless your relative is a crackerjack full-time agent who specializes in your neighborhood, he or she is unlikely to do as good of a job as another agent. That can breed resentment, as well as derail your transaction.
The agent doesn't know your neighborhood. Finding a neighborhood expert is especially important in areas where moving a block can raise or lower the value of a home by $100,000. An agent who specializes in a neighborhood may also be in touch with buyers who are looking for a home just like yours or sellers who haven’t put their home on the market yet. Real estate is a very local business.
The agent doesn’t usually work with buyers in your price range. Some agents specialize in homes of all types in a specific area. But if you’re a first-time buyer looking for a $200,000 entry-level home, you are unlikely to get much attention from an agent who mostly handles $10 million luxury listings.
The agent is a poor negotiator or fails to keep up with details of the transaction. In many cases, the most important work of an agent is not to find the home but to make sure the sale closes. That includes making sure the buyer is preapproved for a mortgage, the home is free of liens before it goes on the market, the appraisal is accurate and issues raised by the home inspection are resolved.