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By Kate Streit
Buying a home is one of the most important decisions you can make in your life. Not only are you picking the place where you’ll hang your hat, but you’ll likely be paying off your mortgage for the next three decades.
When embarking on the homebuying journey, a great guide can help make your experience a positive one. Enter: the real estate agent. Together with a loan officer, an agent is the one who will make your dreams of homeownership into reality.
You’ve seen their smiling faces on park benches and city busses, but what should you look for in a real estate agent? Here are a few strategies to find an agent that will help you hone in on the home that’s right for you.
First, make sure you go with a qualified professional. That means your friend whose only credential is how much time they spend on Trulia is out. You wouldn’t hire an amateur doctor or even a hairstylist, so definitely don’t leave this important job in the hands of someone who is not up for it. Make sure your agent is properly licensed, and red flags like the lack of a professional online presence should not be ignored.
You can vet an agent’s reputation on review sites like Yelp, and personal recommendations are a great place to start as well. Ask your friends and neighbors for the name of the agent they worked with and what they liked about them.
In addition to being properly licensed, there are certain skills and qualities that make for a standout agent. You’ll want to work with someone who is experienced with your market, particularly if it’s a competitive one. Their insider knowledge can prove invaluable when negotiating the sale price or cluing you into quirks about a neighborhood you might not have known about.
Look for an agent that charges a competitive commission. If they charge way below market rate, you’ll likely get what you pay for. On the other hand, if they’re charging way above others in the area, you could be getting ripped off.
You’ll also want someone who’s honest, a shrewd negotiator and has a great track record of success. Ask them about their most recent sales or a particular success they’re especially proud of.
You’ll be working closely with an agent, so it’s important that their communication style meshes with yours. If you feel uncomfortable with their “bedside manner,” it will only make the process unpleasant and could even impede your search.
Just like dating, it doesn’t hurt to play the field a bit by getting to know a few agents before picking one to work with on what is sure to be one of the largest purchases of your lifetime. You and your agent don’t need to be best friends, but it’s crucial to have a good professional relationship.
Skilled agents know the right questions to ask of their clients to get a clear picture of what they want in a home. But even the best of the best are not mind readers. Don’t be afraid to speak up and articulate your must-haves, and be honest about important factors like price range and location.
A good agent will also be honest in return. If they think your non-negotiables are unrealistic for your budget, they’ll tell you and help adjust your expectations so you’re happy with your ultimate decision.
If your agent misses the mark, don’t immediately dismiss them. If they show you a property you don’t love, let them know exactly why it doesn’t work for you. They can use that valuable information to make sure the next showing is in your wheelhouse.