The perfect house has come up for sale. It’s the right size for your family, in the right neighborhood, and in your price range. You plan to call the phone number of the real estate agent who’s toothy grin graces the sale sign and get started on your path to home ownership.
Except calling the seller’s agent is not necessarily in your best interest. You will be much better off hiring your own real estate agent without being in a potential conflict of interest who can meet your needs and negotiate for you.
And don’t look for just any agent either. Here are four questions you need to ask an agent to determine if she is the right fit for you:
1. What’s your experience?
You want to avoid working with an agent who is just getting started in general, as you don’t want him/her to use your purchase to learn the ropes. You also want to know that their experience encompasses your specific market. That way, you will know that your agent understands the neighborhood, prices, and complexities of the specific area where you want to buy.
2. Tell me about other houses in this price range or this neighborhood.
An agent who can truly meet your needs as a homebuyer will know other similar properties that are for sale in the area — off the top of his head. Even if you have your heart set on a particular house, it’s good to know that your agent understands what makes that home special. Is it the school district? Perhaps the home is in a walkable neighborhood? What specialty shops are around the area?
3. Can you give me some referrals?
The best way to find an agent is generally through word of mouth. Knowing that your friends, colleagues, or family members are happy with the agent they used to buy a similar property is an excellent referral (although you should also ask the other questions on this list.)
But if you are the first of your peer group to buy a house, then it can be tough to find an agent this way. That’s why it’s a good idea to ask the agents you interview for referrals to recent clients. You can get a sense of how the agent works with her clients and what to expect from the process.
4. What credentials do you have?
You may have heard the term Realtor and assumed it was the same thing as a real estate agent. But an agent calling himself a Realtor (with a capital R) is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), and he has formally pledged to abide by the NAR code of ethics.
In addition, your agent might be a Certified Residential Specialist, which means she completed additional training in how to handle residential real estate, or an Accredited Buyer’s Representative, which means she has completed additional education in how to represent buyers.
The Bottom Line
Hiring a real estate agent is similar to entering any other potential business relationship — it pays to interview several possible candidates before you decide which one to hire. A little time spent in the interview process can potentially save you money, time, and heartache.