4 tips on finding the right real estate agent

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | October 2, 2015

Whether you're a first-time home buyer or have been around the block a few times, choosing a good real estate agent can help relieve you of the stress that finding, negotiating, financing, and closing on a home can cause. On the other hand, working with an agent who doesn't understand your needs and wants or who lacks knowledge can have the exact opposite effect.

What can you do as a home buyer to make sure your agent matches your needs and meets your expectations? These home buying tips for how to pick a real estate agent may help you avoid a messy break up or worse -- the loss of your dream home to another buyer.

A seasoned, responsive and trustworthy real estate agent should be the first one to tell you to do your homework and interview more than one agent.

Realtor and Team Leader Julia Kimball with Keller Williams Group One Sparks puts it this way: "In my experience, clients act too quickly to select a Realtor. It's important to get some information on the agent before making a decision to sign an agreement to work together."

Kimball's career as a real estate agent spans fifteen years and two states. She's worked with a balance of buyers and sellers and has adapted her areas of specialization over the years to accommodate many shifts in the market. "Younger generations of buyers and sellers use social media to vet agents, and I think that is a fabulous way to get some intel on an agent," but she cautions that "nothing beats the face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball meeting."

What should you look for in a real estate agent when you first meet?

  1. They ask you pertinent questions. Like a good adviser, counselor, or coach, an agent needs to know your goals and objectives before they can help you. The sooner they can find out what you really want -- not just what you think you want -- the sooner you can both find out whether they are the right match to help you. For starters, they need to know what kind of home you want, your price range, and the neighborhoods you would consider. You need to know from them whether they have knowledge and experience in those areas. A luxury home specialist may not be a good fit if you're looking for a more modestly priced home. An agent familiar with the neighborhoods you want may be more efficient at scoping out the right homes for you there or advising about other similar areas you have not considered yet.
  2. They listen attentively and take notes. Asking is one thing, but do they listen to your responses or do they constantly interrupt? Do they ask additional questions to clarify and get more specific answers from you? Are they jotting down your responses? Good listeners also "hear" what you're saying by observing your body language, which can provide clues about how your really feel. As the buyer, you may not know your needs and wants as well as you think, or you and your partner may have different buying criteria. A skilled agent can learn as much from your demeanor and what you don't say as from your words.
  3. They want to know how you prefer to communicate. Are you strictly a text message communicator or do you prefer to ramble a little in an email? Are you okay with phone calls or are they too intrusive? Do you prefer constant reassurance and updates whether or not the agent has anything new to report? Poor communication can ruin any agent/buyer relationship, but it flows both ways. If you have questions or new insights into your needs and wants, you may want another face-to-face to update your agent and decide on a new strategy together. "Signs that the client and agent are a good fit include open and honest communication that is respectful and polite, providing regular feedback on a timeline that the agent and client have agreed to up front, and meeting the expectations that were identified at the first consultation. The process should be enjoyable," advises Kimball.
  4. They are trained and knowledgeable. "Credentials that require education and production mean something, but it's not always important to have 'letters' after [the agent's] name," says Kimball. Of course, you want to make sure the agent holds a current license in your state. Additionally, many real estate agents belong to the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), allowing them to use that title. NAR sets standards of ethics for the profession. Kimball stresses the importance of the agent "having a strong knowledge of the marketplace and the market, knowing neighborhoods, schools, shopping, and other resources as well as having a solid understanding of previous sales and comps [comparable home sale prices]."

How do you know when the relationship has gone sour?

According to Kimball, "Signs that the fit is not good include either the client or the agent going 'radio silent', disrespectful behavior, and wild swings between the wants/needs of the client. In these instances it is usually the client being unsure and unclear about what they really want/need, and most of the time they really haven't figured it out yet. I would have a follow up meeting and ask more questions; dig a little deeper. It's okay for a client to change Realtors provided they have given the agent an opportunity to better meet their wants/needs."

How do you call it quits with your agent if it comes down to that?

"The best way to end a business relationship," Kimball suggests, "is to have a conversation and then put the issue in writing so that all parties understand the reason for the break up. A good Realtor will make a recommendation to another agent that may be a better fit for the client."

Your relationship with your real estate agent need not be a match made in heaven, but it should be well-considered before you commit. When buying a house, there's a lot more at stake than just a bad dinner date.

Photo credit to Kevin Irby

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.