The process of buying or selling a home is a long and complicated one, and it can be tempting to act as your own agent and keep the commission. Still, nine out of 10 home buyers use an agent, and sellers who enlist the help of an agent have a 16 percent higher median selling price than those who go it alone, according the National Association of Realtors' Web site.
For most people, their home is their biggest asset, so choosing the right agent is crucial. There's certainly no shortage of agents out there, meaning the decision can be daunting. Asking people you know who have recently bought or sold a home about their agent's ability is a popular first step.
"Eighty-five percent of our business comes in through personal referrals," said Pat V. Combs, a Realtor in Grand Rapids, Mich., and 2008 past president of the National Association of Realtors.
"First thing that most people do is they talk to friends who have had a successful experience and get some referrals from people who have gone through the process," Combs said. "Find people like you who communicate like you do. It wouldn't hurt to interview a couple people, talk to a few people, pick somebody you're comfortable with. It's a big decision and you want to make sure who is going to be representing you is of like mind."
But if you're moving to a new area where you don't know anyone, you'll have to dig a little deeper to come up with a list of potential agents. Extensive knowledge of the different neighborhoods in the area is important, and that's where experience counts. Scan the Internet for the various agents in the area, and take note of how long they've been conducting real estate transactions there.
"Sometimes real estate agents will spend a great deal of money for advertising, so you see their name all over the place. And the public will think, 'Well, that person must be a good one, they must be successful,' but that's not always the case," said Steve Roberson, owner of a Century 21 franchise in Downey, Calif. "So I would look for somebody that's been in the business for a period of time, somebody that's been with an office that's been in the business for a long period of time, because some of these offices and agents are kind of fly-by-night. They're in business, out of business."
Roberson said the same advice also applies to home sellers looking for an agent. He also said that an agent's large number of listings may sound impressive to a seller, but that might be a red flag that their service will suffer because of the heavy workload.
"If somebody has 10, 12 or 15 listings, you can realistically handle that. But if somebody has 30, 40 or 50 and they just bragged about the number of listings they have, a lot of times they take so many they throw them against the wall and the ones that stick are the ones that sell. Because they're spread so thin they may not be able to give the seller the attention they need and deserve for the amount of money that they're paying." Some agents with a large number of listings will conduct a presentation to a seller, only to turn it over to a less-qualified assistant once they have the listing.
"Instead of getting a professional person, you may get more of a clerical person that's actual doing the nitty-gritty of the contract. So those are questions that a seller would want to ask the listing person when they come out to do the presentation," Roberson said.
You've chosen your agent to help you with the transaction. What kind of service should you expect?
"They should expect clean, concise and timely communication. They need to know what's happening. They need to provide information about what houses are for sale. They should expect them to be able to give them good, accurate advice on the marketplace to help them make a decision," Combs said. "It's good business for a Realtor to know what's going on in zoning. It would a good idea to know if someone is going to be putting up a water tower behind the house." With the growing Hispanic population in the United States, sellers should ask agents if they or any of their employees are bilingual. Roberson said at least 100 of his 120 agents speak Spanish.
"We do have agents in almost every office that can offer bilingual service. We have diversity training to help people in various neighborhoods and areas to really understand how a buyer works and their culture and helping them through the process," Combs said.