The Best Realtors: How to Find the Perfect Realtor
A quick story on how many homebuyers end up with a their realtor:
A solid house comes up in a nice neighborhood at an affordable price. You’ve been renting, but the idea to possibly buy recently popped into your head. You don’t have a realtor yet, so you call the agent who listed the house on Realtor and ask if he can show you the house. He does, and on short notice, too.
You meet him. He walks you around and keeps his distance while you explore. The house is OK, but... just OK. It doesn’t excite you.
“I’m free this weekend if you have any other houses you’d like to see,” he says. You think about it and realize there are two others that have caught your eye.
“Sign this form and I’ll represent you. It’s a legality thing.”
You do, thinking more about etiquette and manners than anything else. He took time out of his day to show you the house, and is now agreeing to give you more of his time the coming weekend.
But you’re now legally bound to have him as an agent, rain or shine, for 90 days.
What’s wrong with this story? You need to be a lot pickier when choosing a realtor.
So how do you choose a realtor? Let’s talk about it.
Tip 1: Your realtor should never be a friend or a family member.
My grandfather got burned by family members more times than he cared to recall. When I was just a kid, he would call me over, look very sternly in my eyes, and say, “Never do business with family.” No explanation was ever given, but life events explained what he meant sooner than later.
As an adult, I’ve now added friends to his advice.
When choosing a realtor, you want someone you can easily communicate with and who understands what you want. This does not mean you should be related to him or that you two should be close friends.
Charm is not enough. An existing relationship is not enough. You need the complete package in a realtor. Their services aren’t free (they’ll end up making thousands of dollars off of you), so they should do more than unlock a few doors for you before they make any big money.
Tip 2: Your realtor should live in, or have extensive knowledge of, the area you intend to purchase.
What happened to me is I met a realtor and we had a great rapport, but my housing interests shifted from when we first met— 50 minutes farther west, to be exact. Unfortunately, I had a contract with him, but he was more than willing to drive to where I was interested. But if I ever had a question about the area (local trends, resellability, unknown red-flags), he rarely knew the answer.
Another thing that became a problem is that I started to become self conscious about asking him to show me houses I wasn’t completely sure I would love. Why should I make him drive out there if I’m not even sure I’ll like it.
To make matters worse, one time a house was listed and sold before we even got a chance to look at it because he wasn’t able to make the trip out before the weekend. It was a house both my wife and I knew we wanted
I don’t harbor any grudges against him, but I do regret trying to do business with him. He was a good guy, but when our contract expired, I explained to him that we needed to part ways. He fought for me and called several times (and I actually still get emails from him once in a while), but ultimately my wife and I decided we just needed to walk away.
Tip 3: Your realtor should reply to all questions the day they were asked.
If he doesn’t it’s a red flag. Either he has too many clients that he’s trying to juggle, or being a realtor is just a part time gig for him. Regardless of the reason, he doesn’t have time for you and you need to start looking elsewhere.
Obviously give him a little bit of slack if he has a family and you emailed him late in the day. If you know he does, first thing the next morning is acceptable.
All emails should be thorough, informative, and thoughtful. If they are, chances are you have yourself a keeper.
Stay away from realtors who hit you back fast but only say they’ll look into it. All this phrase means is ‘I’m going to respond to you to make you feel as if you’re getting my personal attention, but I’m actually going to take my time before I get to you.’
Tip 4: Your realtor should work the job full-time.
Too many realtors just do the gig part-time, which means you’ll only get their attention part-time. That’s not to say it’s not possible to do a good job as a part-time realtor, but it throws up red flags. How many responsibilities are they juggling, and how often are your calls going to be sent to voicemail because they are at their other job?
Tip 5: Your realtor should be able to provide a list of references.
It’s a job and, guess what, you’re the boss. As such, you should ask for a list of references before agreeing to work with anyone. True professionals will be able to rattle off five or six just off the top of their heads if you ask them in person (which is a great sign), but those just starting out may not even get back with you. Make sure the references are recent (past six months is best), and that you get both email and phone contact information.
When talking with past clients, ask them—
How knowledgeable was he of their buying area?
How fast was he to write up paperwork for offers?
How often did he personally email them with new listings, information or feedback? Or were the emails automated from the firm?
How pushy was he to make a sale? Did he ever encourage them to put in an offer even if they weren’t sure whether they loved the place?
Did he ever push for them to make a higher offer than what they were comfortable with?
Did he show up for the final walkthrough?
Did he show up for closing?
Would they work with him again?
Tip 6: Your realtor should always look professional.
Depending on where you are buying, this may not necessarily mean your realtor dresses in a three piece suit every time you see him. However, his clothes should be well put together, and he shouldn’t look as if he just rolled out of bed.
This also extends to his car. If his car is beat up looking and sounds as if it needed some tlc five months ago, he might not be so much of a go-getter.
Tip 7: Your realtor should be punctual.
I had a boss once who would yell to us at meetings that ‘early was on-time, and on-time was late!’ As an employee, I thought that was a bit harsh, but after a while I got what she meant. Early means you have all of your affairs in order, whereas rolling in ‘on-time’ likely means you are flying by the seat of your pants everywhere you go.
Realtors who are consistently late or just ‘on-time’ will likely know nothing about the property you’re there to see, and will quite possibly just view his job as a lockbox operator.
Tip 8: Your realtor should be able to pull up a full list of comps and give you a solid number to give to sellers.
You don’t want to a realtor who shakes his head when you ask him what would be a reasonable offer on a house. He should be able to pull up a full list of comps of houses that were recently sold. Going by square footage, renovations, and land specs, he should be able to give you what he believes is a reasonable offer on the house you love. Unless you’re in a cut-throat area, where houses are selling at full price (or more than full price), your realtor should rarely encourage you to put in a full-price offer.
Why? Because every house has something wrong with it, and every seller wants to make as much money as possible. No matter what you buy, you’re going to have to spend a little bit of money on it, and houses are rarely listed for what they’re worth. Sellers are often advised to list higher at what a house will sell because it gives room for negotiations.
Tip 9: Your realtor should only send you houses that meet your basic criteria.
We all want more than what we can afford, and sometimes these must-haves need to be reigned in a bit; however, if you know you can afford what you want, then why would should you settle for less?
Sometimes it might take you a while to find your dream home. If your realtor starts sending you random houses that contradict what you’ve told him you’re looking for, it suggests he’s eager to get rid of you in any way he can, or that he can’t recall what it is that you’re looking for.
Tip 10: Your realtor should never show you houses you can’t afford.
Maybe he’s trying to make more money off of you, maybe he thinks your ambitions need to be toned down and get a reality check, but either way he’s wasting your time. Don’t work with people who waste your time.
Yes, it’s a big list.
And some of the things mentioned you won’t be able to confirm until you’ve actually worked with him. Sometimes house-hunting can take a while. When it does, it might not be the housing market so much as your realtor. Know when you need to move on.