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Real Estate: Choosing the Right Agent

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Real Estate: Choosing the Right Agent

Finding the right real estate agent to help you sell your home (or to help you buy one, in the case of a buyer’s agent ) is everything. Real estate transactions are complicated, and if you’re like most home buyers, all your assets are on the line. But all real estate agents aren’t created equal. Some realtors get personally involved every step of the way, while some farm out a lot of the work to other brokers. The amount of formal education a realtor has, the knowledge they have about the neighborhoods you want to buy into and the real estate listings they have access to vary widely.

Before you get started, it's important to understand exactly what (or who) you’re shopping for. Many people use the terms "realtor", "real estate agent" and "real estate broker" interchangeably, but they aren’t mutually inclusive. A real estate agent is a person who has a real estate license from the state in which they practice (keep in mind, though, that the requirements for getting a real estate license in most states are pretty minimal). A realtor is a real estate agent who has earned additional certification from the National Association of Realtors. And a real estate broker is a realtor who has yet more training and a different license than either real estate agents or realtors.

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Confused yet? For the most part, the exact title of the real estate professional you work with isn’t as important as the level of commitment, energy and local knowledge he or she may have. But trying to find the real estate agent who embodies all the above can still be a challenge. Read over the following tips for choosing a realtor (or real estate agent, or broker) and you’ll be ahead of the game:
  • There are a few types of real estate agencies out there – small ones, large ones, franchises and independent agencies – but don’t get too hung up on the differences. The individual agent is more important than the real estate agency.

  • Know what type of representation you’re looking for. Most real estate agents are seller’s agents, meaning they only represent sellers’ interests (to the disadvantage of buyers). This is great if you’re a seller, but if you’re looking to buy a home inquire about buyer’s agents – brokers who represent the buyer’s interests in real estate transactions – at any agency you look at.

  • To find the right agency, do some legwork. There are lots of real estate agencies listed in the phonebook (and online). But if you pick one at random you’ll probably regret it. Explore the neighborhoods you’re interested in buying into and look for realtors / brokers nearby.

  • Search for real estate agents, not individual homes or properties. You may be looking through your newspaper’s real estate section one day and fall in love with a home that a particular real estate agent is listing. However, the agent might tell you that property is taken, but they have others you’d love. Less reputable agencies will often use this bait and switch trick to lure in customers. Chances are you’re not going to get the first home you fall for anyway. The long-term relationship you have with your real estate agent is more important than any particular home.

  • Look for experience. The real estate profession has a high rate of turnover, which means lots of untested agents are constantly moving in and out of agencies. If you’re considering working with a particular realtor or broker, ask how long they’ve been practicing. If it’s been less than two years, keep looking.

  • Look for commitment. Many real estate agents only practice on a part-time basis and they might not have the time or drive to give you the attention you deserve. Also, many brokers are only interested in representing properties within a certain price range. If your home isn’t in it, they might not give it their all.

  • Interview real estate agents you’re interested in working with. Experts suggest you sit down with at least three prospective realtors, so you can get a feel for them and what they can do for you. Don’t be afraid to ask them how well they know your neighborhood and exactly how often you’ll hear from them. Ask for references and check them. Evaluate prospective agents based on personality as well. Your relationship with your real estate agent will be a working one, and if you don’t think you’d work well with him or her, it won’t work out.

  • Ask friends to refer you to real estate agents they’ve had good experiences with.

  • If you’re looking for a realtor, you can start your search at the National Association of Realtors’ website; they have listings of realtors in your area.

  • Select a real estate agent who can work with your schedule. If you can only see homes on evenings and weekends, you won’t go very far with an agent who only works days.

  • Ask any prospective real estate agent what they’ll do to sell your home. It sounds elementary, but not all agents work the same way. Some brokers will advertise your property and spread the word to other agents they know. Others will just add your property to the MLS (Multiple Listing Service, a directory of homes for sale) and wait for inquiries. The more proactive your realtor, the better.
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