Journey to Home: How to Find the Right Agent
Having a Good Fit Is Essential
When you're in the market for a house, choosing a real estate agent is a crucial step.
For Matt and Marissa Dickerson (pictured above), an agent led them to build a custom house vs. buying an existing one. “We looked around at existing homes and saw things we liked and things we didn't like," says Matt, 29, who lives in Fulshear, Texas. The agent suggested they consider building a new home instead.
And when things went awry with the plot of land they originally purchased, the agent went to bat for them. “They weren't able to put the home we chose to build on that lot," Matt says. “Our realtor took care of that pretty quickly. We got into a better lot without having to pay more for it. She's really nice, but when it came time to fight for our side, she really stepped up to the plate."
Here are some strategies for getting the perfect professional in your corner.
Ask around. Get recommendations from friends, family and colleagues who have hunted for homes in the area. If that isn't an option, visit a few open houses in the neighborhoods and price range you're seeking and chat with the agents who are hosting them. “See what kind of rapport you have with them," says Sandra O'Connor, a real estate agent in Greensboro, N.C., and a regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors.
Talk about communication. In a tight market, an agent who takes hours to return a text message could cost you the home of your dreams. Ask agents how they prefer to hear from you and how quickly they're able to respond to questions. It might also be helpful to ask when they tend to return calls. “If somebody is a morning person and the other is a night person and they need to communicate frequently, that might not be a good fit," O'Connor says.
Get references. Request contact information for two or three clients who have worked with that person recently. Ask if they had a good experience and would work with the same person again.
Inquire about experience. Does the agent have knowledge about a particular part of town or price range? Can they introduce you to other people you may need along the way, such as a home inspector, real estate attorney, and mortgage broker? “Ask what kind of network an agent has for helping you through the whole process," O'Connor says.
Don't dismiss newer agents. Someone who's newer to the job may have more time and energy to devote to you, since they don't have a huge client base yet. “And they're going to have a coach or a mentor at work who's going to make sure they don't miss anything," O'Connor says.
Look for someone who listens to you. If an agent keeps suggesting homes that don't fit your needs or that are outside of your budget, it could be that he or she is not paying close enough attention. In the end, that's a waste of everyone's time. “At the outset, I'm not going to show you things over your price range," O'Connor says. “Perhaps one or two percent, because I'm going to assume we can negotiate a little bit."
Trust your gut. If an agent seems great, but it's just not working, it's okay to move on. “From time to time you find out there's a combination here that's just not a good fit," O'Connor says. “It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the client or the agent. It's a personality thing."
Kate Ashford is a freelance journalist who writes about personal finance, work and consumer trends. She has written for BBC, Forbes, LearnVest, Money, More, Real Simple and Parents, among others.