Dream Home Companion: Needle, Haystack: How to Find a Good Real Estate Agent

It will happen. Once you announce that you're buying a home, every real estate agent within 100 miles will stalk you like 12-year-old girls after Justin Bieber. Your teen's baseball coach offers to put you in touch with her husband's cousin, who got his license last month. Your bartender hands you a business card with your beer. And there are at least two dozen agents at your gym, begging for business. How do you kick the hobbyists to the curb and find a real pro?

Where Are the Good Agents?

One indication of an agent's professionalism is membership in the National Association of Realtors, or NAR. It doesn't mean they are great (most agents are with the NAR) but it does mean they have a code of ethics they're supposed to abide by and an organization looking over their shoulders. A more reliable indication of expertise is an advanced designation. Agents who take the time to acquire advanced training are committed to their careers and not just buying fancy clothes and "doing" lunch. Here's a list:

  • ABR Accredited Buyer Representative – this salesperson is especially qualified to represent buyers. Candidates must complete a 12 hour course, they must be members in good standing in the Real Estate Buyer's Agent Council (REBAC), and have represented a buyer in at least five property sales in the previous 18th month period.
  • CRP Certified Relocation Professional – the candidate must pass a test covering corporate relocation, home appraisal, real estate law and family concerns. To be allowed to sit for the examination, relocation professionals must have a minimum of two years' experience dealing with relocation issues.
  • CRS Certified Residential Specialist -- also referred to as the "master's degree of real estate". Every CRS designee has established a solid track record in real estate and taken advanced coursework in subjects like finance, marketing and technology.
  • ePRO -- Certificatied as experts in Internet-related real estate, e-PRO holders have completed coursework in online real estate business and Web marketing ethical and legal issues.
  • GRI Graduate REALTOR Institute -- awarded by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the GRI may only be earned after successfully completing 92 hours of live course instruction. This designation is awarded by the National Association of Realtors.

Other agents earn special designations by completing advanced training in short sale transactions, vacation property purchases, international real estate, green real estate, or working with seniors.

Three Questions

Ask every real estate pro these three questions before choosing one.

  1. Do you work in real estate full time, and how many years have you been licensed? Full-timers are much more likely to treat real estate as a profession and keep up with new developments and continuing education. Turnover in the industry is high, and it takes several years of experience before an agent is as fully-proficient as he or she can be.
  2. Why should I choose you to help me buy my next home? Eliminate anyone who answers, "I know your Mom" or "I really like houses." You want something like, "I've have ten years of experience helping buyers in your price range purchase the kind of property you're seeking. I've previewed ten properties that I think you'll like."
  3. How many homes have you listed / sold in the last year? In a weak market, that might not be a huge number, but you don't want to work with someone who's entire annual income depends on getting you to buy something.

Three Tips

  1. Avoid dual agency. While in many states it's legal for a real estate agent to represent both the buyer and seller, one person can't really represent you both because your interests always diverge at some point. How much you're really willing to pay should not be known by the seller.
  2. Spend time online. Knowing what's "out there" and what it costs can save you time and aggravation. In addition, there are some things it's illegal for an agent to tell you, like what the crime rate is in a neighborhood or how good the schools are. You'll have to get that information yourself.
  3. Choose someone who works in your price range and who is familiar with the neighborhoods in which you're interested. A high-end specialist may ignore your needs if you're looking for a "starter" and someone used to lower-end purchases may be eaten alive if negotiating for an estate.

House hunting should be fun, not a nerve-wracking chore. The agent can make or break your experience, so take some time to find the best man or woman for the job.

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