UPDATE: It has come to our attention that some agents are charging potential buyers for the opportunity to see inside houses. This IS NOT the traditional model, and you should be wary of anyone who tries to charge you as a buyer just to take you to see properties. Of course, if you find a property and make an offer on it, there will be some costs that you are responsible for (such as the cost of an inspection). However, both the buyers’ and the sellers’ agents are paid their commissions from the proceeds of the sale of the property. Yes, that means that the seller pays a commission to both sides, and the logic for that is this: the seller’s agent (AKA listing agent) did the work to get the property in front of buyers’ eyes, and the buyer’s agent did the work of bringing in a buyer and vetting them to ensure they can make it all the way through the transaction without the deal falling through (this is important to the seller for several obvious reasons, but one that might not be so obvious is all the lost marketing time–when you go under contract, the seller has to take the house off the market, so if you can’t close the deal, they potentially missed out on other qualified buyers).
Bottom Line: A buyers’ agent should not make their money directly from the buyer. The only possible reason we can think of that someone might be charging you to go look at houses is that maybe they’re worried you’ll waste their time or something. Buyers’ agents do give over their time to potential buyers without a guarantee that you’ll complete a transaction with them, although some agents will ask you to sign an exclusivity agreement. In our opinion, though, buyers should not sign an exclusivity agreement–we are confident enough in ourselves as agents that we’re not afraid you’re going to see a few houses and then jump ship. If you do, well, it probably wasn’t a good fit anyway. We also believe that any agent who needs to charge you a fee to go look at houses is simply not confident in their own ability to get you all the way through a transaction; in short, DO NOT PAY SOMEONE TO TAKE YOU HOUSE SHOPPING!
*Originally published June 28, 2016
“Gah! How do I find somebody good?!” This is a question we all ask ourselves every time we’re looking for a service professional, but finding an answer is especially trying when you’re looking for a real estate agent. I mean, the first things you probably think of are blazers and cheesy photos with people posed back-to-back, and you’re only slightly more excited to talk to one than you are to get one of those exams your doctor keeps nagging you about.
However, there’s only so far Googling at 3:00 am can get you–at some point, you are going to have to talk to a real estate agent if you want to buy a house or sell the one you’ve got. Sure, as a seller, you can try the “For Sale By Owner” method, but it’s not usually the best option for most sellers (we’ll address that in a future article). So, yes, there are lots of things you can do these days without ever interacting with a real human, but for most people, buying/selling a home is the largest transaction they’ll make in their lives, so you probably want some expert advice, yeah?
Trust But Verify
OK, then, you’ve accepted that you need an agent. Now the question is how do you find one you want to work with? First, start with your trusted resources. If you like to read reviews, check out Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia, etc. If you only trust a referral from someone you know, reach out to your network of friends and family. I didn’t have to tell you that, did I? You probably already did those things, but you still felt stuck and decided to Google “how to find a good real estate agent.” That’s because it’s hard to know whether to trust online reviews, and, even though she seems like a lovely woman, you may not be super stoked to work with your Uncle Bob’s neighbor’s friend Dorothy. But again, really lovely woman. Can’t stress that enough.
No, what you’re really trying to figure out is how to tell which agent is the right combination of knowledgeable and personable to suit your needs. A real estate transaction is a stressful process and you will probably freak out at least once. I’m not trying to scare you, it’s just that a home is a lot more personal than just about anything else you buy or sell and it’s really hard to separate your emotions from the process. At some point, you will say or think something that would sound completely irrational coming from anyone else; it’s the nature of this particular beast. At some other point, your agent is going to tell you something you don’t want to hear. It’s hard to accept that not every buyer is into the mural in your living room called “Three Jawns In a Fountain,” which symbolizes the unholy trinity of Capitalism, Greed, and Success, or that the seller is not going to relocate the furnace because it’s messing up the flow of Chi in the basement, but it is your agent’s job to tell you these things because they could jeopardize your transaction.
Knowing this, you want your agent to be someone you trust and feel comfortable with. That’s why I say, “Trust but verify.” Start with your trusted sources, yes, but then try to vet the potential agents a little more. A great place to start is their About Me page. You should be able to get a sense of their experience level, neighborhoods they specialize in and a little bit about their personality. None of what you find out has to be a deal-breaker, but it’s a good jumping off point. If they don’t have an About Me page, or if it only contains very generic information, ask yourself why this person expects you to work off of head shots alone. I mean, in a few cases, a head shot tells you everything you need to know, but not usually.
[Shameless self-promotion: that’s why our Home Page is a lot more personal and revealing than your average About Me. We want to make it easy for you to get a sense of who we are as people, and, full disclosure, we want to know about you, too. That’s why we’ll usually ask for a phone call or in-person meet-up when you first contact us. We also worked out a way to audition for you in completely no-pressure environment–it’s called a House Crawl™.]
When you’ve found one or two agents you think might be a good fit, ask to meet them in person. Now you can get a sense of their level of organization (were they late?), how busy they are (could they fit you in right away?), and how much personal attention you can expect (is this an individual or a team?). Again, none of what you find out has to be a deal-breaker, but you’ll know what questions you should be asking.
What’s Important To You?
The information you glean from an in-person meeting can be interpreted in different ways. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, remember?
- Experience level – In most fields, years of experience produces diminishing returns over time. In other words, someone who’s been working for 20 years won’t know a ton more than someone who’s been working for 10 years (with some exceptions, of course). However, the difference between one year of experience and five can be much more drastic. Does this mean you should never use an agent without a lot of experience? Absolutely not. They might have experience doing other real estate-related things (for a developer or municipality, for example) or they may be working under a very strong mentor. Don’t rule them out, just ask more questions. If they dodge the questions or give vague answers, then you might want to look elsewhere.
- How busy are they? – If an agent can’t meet with you relatively quickly, it might mean that you won’t get very prompt responses during the transaction, either. However, it might also mean that they are really good at what they do and therefore in high demand. If they can meet with you very quickly, it might not mean that they’re not in high demand, just that they are very good with time management. You can ask questions that will help you determine what the situation is.
- How much personal attention can you expect? – This partly ties into how busy an agent is, but it also has to do with whether they work alone or as part of a team, which also ties back to experience level. Very experienced agents are more likely to be team leaders, while less experienced agents are probably team members. BUT, and yes, I meant that to be in all caps, there are *many* exceptions to this. Some agents work alone for their entire career and never lead or become a member of a team; that doesn’t mean they’re better or worse than any other agent, it just means they preferred to work as an individual. Further, some team leaders are very active agents themselves, while others pass most of their leads on to their team members. And, regardless of their team or non-team status, some agents may rely heavily on an assistant (or assistants), while others literally do every step of the transaction themselves. None of these possibilities are inherently good or bad. You just need to decide where on the sliding scale of personal attention you want your agent to fall.
Yeah, I’m sorry, this didn’t turn out to be an exact road map to get you to a “good” real estate agent. The truth is, the vast majority of agents are very good, at least at the mechanics of their job, and most are pretty great at the customer service aspects, too. So much of finding the right agent for you is subjective, but hopefully this article got you thinking a little about what’s really important to you, because, yes, you want to trust and feel comfortable with any service professional, whether it’s your plumber or your proctologist, but we all place a little more importance on some types of plumbing than others, if you know what I mean. And, no, I didn’t start out with the intention of equating real estate agents and proctologists, but it worked out in the end (badum bump!).
If you still can’t decide who you want to work with, just choose us. See? That was easy. Now, let’s go have a cocktail.