Sunday, June 25, 2006

Finding a great Realtor

Not everyone can buy or sell a home. So finding the right real estate agent to help you with your next real estate deal can make he difference between you making an OK deal or a great deal. Real estate deals are complicated, and if you’re like most home buyers, a good portion of 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 associates. The amount of formal education a Realtor has is important. But so is the knowledge he has about the neighborhoods you want to buy into.

Before you get started, it’s important to understand exactly 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, 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. Got that?

The exact title of the real estate professional you work with isn’t as nearly important as the level of commitment, energy and local knowledge he/she may have. But trying to find the real estate agent who embodies all the above can be a challenge.

The following tips for choosing a real estate partner will put you ahead of the game:

1. There are only a few types of real estate agencies out there; small ones, large ones, franchises and independent agencies. Don’t get hung up on the differences because the individual agent is more important than the real estate agency.

2. Know the type of representation you need. Most 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. Their fees for finding you a home are usually covered by the seller, not the buyer.

3. Finding the right agency requires some legwork. There are a lot of real estate agencies listed in the phonebook or online. If you choose one at random you’ll probably live to regret it. Explore the neighborhoods you’re interested in buying into and look for Realtors/brokers who are nearby or who already have several signs placed in yards. There’s a better chance that these Realtors are already familiar with this neighborhood.

4. Search first for a real estate partner, 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 in love with anyway.

5. Look for experience. The real estate profession has a high rate of turnover, which means there are a great many untested agents who are constantly moving in and out of agencies. If you like the personality or appearance of an agent, the next question you should ask is how long they’ve been practicing. If it’s been less than two years, keep looking; that is unless you’re entirely comfortable with that agent.

6. 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 you the attention you deserve.

7. Interview real estate agents you’re interested in working with. It’s a good idea to sit down and visit with at least three prospective Realtors. This is the best way to get a feel for them and what they can do for you. Don’t be afraid to ask how well they know your neighborhood and exactly how often you’ll hear from them. Ask for references and check them out. 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, you’re probably right.

8. Ask friends to refer you to real estate agents they’ve had good experiences with. Or if you prefer, you can start your search at the National Association of Realtors’ Web site; they have listings of Realtors in your area.

9. Select a real estate agent who can work with your schedule. If your schedule only allows you to 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 Multiple Listing Service and wait for inquiries. The bottom guiding line is, “The more proactive your Realtor, the better.”

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