Heading into the new year, you may be seriously considering buying a home as a major goal (last week, we talked briefly about how 2018 could be your year). If you’ve run the numbers and calculated that you can afford to buy a home, then finding an agent is the next step.
If you’re a first-time homebuyer, it’s best to start looking for a real estate agent after you get preapproved through a mortgage lender. With your letter in hand, you’re coming in knowing exactly how much home you can afford. This lets the agent know you’re serious and have done your homework while helping them get a starting point in terms of properties to explore with you. From there, you can determine the criteria you’d like in a home and your priorities for a home, based on you preapproval amount.
Once they understand what it is you’re looking for and your price range, the buyer’s agent will set up appointments on your behalf and relay information on potential properties that may be of interest to you. In other words, your overall house hunting experience is going to depend greatly on your agent, which in turn means that finding a good agent is almost as important as choosing the right home.
What to Look For
Finding a good agent sometimes means finding someone who’s right for you rather than someone who would be a good fit for everyone. That being said, talented and capable agents all tend to have a few universal qualities. You’ll want to work with someone who not only knows the real estate market in general, but also has a good understanding of the local market in particular. This is an important distinction to make, because it’s one thing to understand the real estate market in the United States in the abstract; people who spend their time there are economists, not real estate agents. You need someone who knows the local market.
A good agent will be able to tell you about the current homes for sale, including location, demographics, school system and anything else that may be of interest to you. Moreover, you should be able to verify their track record in the area. How do the sale prices of their previous listings stack up to comparable homes? How long do their listings typically stay on the market? Even though you’re buying and not selling a home, this still clues you in to an agent’s understanding of the area and their competence in getting deals done.
Negotiation skills to actively negotiate price and terms as well as assisting in property inspections and providing advice for improvements and repairs. A good agent will be in the buyer’s corner throughout the entire home buying process.
Don’t be afraid to ask for references, either. A confident agent will have no problem sending you to a few previous clients. Any agent who hesitates is at best inexperienced and at worst not very good at their job. Credentials, such as Accredited Buyer Representatives (ABR) or Certified Buyer Representatives (CBR). Perhaps the most important credential, however, is the REALTOR, meaning they’re a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and adhere to its code of ethics.
What to Avoid
With so much of your house hunting experience dependent on the competence and aptitude of your agent, there are a few red flags you’ll want to avoid.
Part-time real estate agents may have limited availability, and even more limited experience in the field. You’ll want to be sure to ask the agent if this is their full-time job before proceeding.
Ensure that your agent has your interests in mind. Look out for any conflicts of interest, especially relationships with the seller. Even though dual agencies are illegal in my home state of Florida now, it’s wise to look for an exclusive buyer’s agent and be aware of the laws in your own state.
I said earlier that you shouldn’t be shy about asking for references, but do your own homework as well. Look for reviews and testimonials. Google is your friend here. Bad reviews can be a telltale sign of an agent’s work ethic or ability to get things done.