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How to Find an Agent You Love
MAY
3
How to Find an Agent You Love
Posted Under: Home Buying, Home Selling    March 14, 2012 3:36 PM    

My adventures in business of late have caused me to believe that, contrary to popular opinion, many entrepreneurs and companies are inspired to do what they do out of a passion for their customers. I'm also aware that the feeling is not always, or even often, mutual.  

In a recent survey, only 20 percent of Americans said they trusted real estate agents as a profession. But here's the good news, for buyers, sellers and agents: though people seem to distrust agents as a group,nearly 90 percent of buyers and sellers liked their individual real estate agent enough to say that they would work with them again! 

Your relationship with your real estate agent should ideally be a very intimate one. First off, they represent your interests on the most financially and otherwise impactful transaction most of us will ever undertake. But in a best case scenario, they can and will also learn your personal hopes and dreams, your very personal financial information, your family’s private way of living and lifestyle needs and even often your intepersonal relationship dynamics so they can fold all these considerations into their work to help you secure the right home at a price and on terms that work for you for the very long term.

For this to happen as holistically as is ideal, you need a relationship of deep trust with your agent: trust that they’ll keep your confidences and trust in making your decisions in part based on their advice and expertise. Plus, with house hunts stretching out for longer and longer, you’ll be spending a ton of your off-work hours with this person. So ideally, you'll work with an agent you love spending time with!  

So, let’s cover a few key steps for finding an agent that you trust, respect and ultimately love.

1.  Get referrals to agents whose clients love them. We live in a digital era, and there are all sorts of ways you can harness the power of technology to manage your real estate matters. But when it comes to the relationship issue of finding an agent you'll love, your best resources aren't technological: they're human.

Ask the people you know - friends, family, colleagues, the people at church or temple or soccer - what local agent did they work with when they bought or sold their home?  Then dig a little deeper - were they buying or selling?  When did they do their deal, and what was their experience like? Did they like their agent?  Were they trustworthy? 

And most importantly: did they love their agent enough that they would work with them again?  If yes - what was so lovable?

There's no reason you have to do this completely low-tech, though. Post your agent referral request on Facebook, if you don't mind letting your world know that you might be in the market - or peruse agents listed on Trulia and click on their profiles to see whether any of your Facebook friends have already written a recommendation or review of their services. (Note: this feature is relatively new, so it's not usually a bad sign if an agent has no Facebook recommendations on their Trulia profile - but it's a great thing if they have good ones.) If you're moving to an area where you don't know anyone, or no one you know has an agent they give rave reviews, look to the recommendations feature on Trulia and to communities like Yelp! and Angie's List and see what agents people there are raving about.

2.  Scope out how they engage online. Once you have a short list of agents whose past and current clients love them, spend some time scouting out their online and social media presences:

Check out their Facebook pages, websites and blogs to see whether and how they provide educational or neighborhood resources in a style that resonates with you.  

See if they are active in discussions or answering buyer and seller questions in online communities like Trulia Voices. If they are, that by itself should win points, as agents are very busy, so taking the time to engage with consumers on these sorts of channels shows an above-and-beyond commitment to their professional practice. 

Beyond whether or not they are active, look at how they are engaging with buyers and sellers like you online. Do they answer the questions being asked, with clarity?  Do they appear to offer insight on local market dynamics or practices that are standard in the areas you'll be house hunting or selling?  This may give you some insight into how these agents will interact with you or handle your questions, if you decide to work with them.

3.  Look for a comparable and compatible agent. If you've read this blog much at all, you know that I frequently encourage buyers and sellers to pay attention to what we call the "comps" - recent sales of similar homes in the area around the property they're looking to buy or sell. When you're in the market for a real estate agent, though, consider looking at the agents and their backgrounds through a similar lens.  

Look for agents who have strong experience and can, ideally, provide references to past or current clients in comparable situations to yours.  If you're looking to sell your home via a short sale, look for agents and references with that background. If you want to buy an REO, discuss with your prospective agents whether they have had experience representing buyers on foreclosure listings.   The more similar the references' situations were to yours, the more easily you'll be able to trust that your agent has your own situation covered. 

Beyond the comparability of their past experiences to your own upcoming transaction, compatibility is also key.  When it comes to compatibility, don't take shortcuts like assuming you need an agent whose demographics are just like yours - that's a surefire way to miss out on some agents who might take your best interests very seriously. I've seen young agents work well with retirees, and 30-something newlyweds buying their first homes instantly, deeply trust the experience of their Baby Boomer agent.  

Finding an agent with whom you are compatible is more an issue of communication styles and logistics. There's not necessarily a right or wrong way for an agent to communicate with clients, so long as it's honest, prompt, clear and competent, but it is important that you work with an agent who communicates in ways that work with you. If the agent is vocal about not liking to text or email much, but those are tools you tend to use all the time, proceed with caution. And vice versa - if you get quick responses to your calls, texts or emails at the "dating" stage, that portends well for the future of the relationship.

4.  Tease out their track record. Particularly if you're looking for an agent to sell your home, it's critical to get at their track record of success.  This should not take much detective work - you can just flat out ask the prospective agent. In fact, many agents will proactively offer you this information when they come to a listing appointment with you. 

Just in case, when you make appointments, ask the agents to come to the meeting with information about things like:
the percentage of their listings from the last year that have sold
the average number of days one of their listings stays on market before it sells (DOM)
addresses, list prices and sales prices of listings they've recently sold, and
if you suspect your home might sell for less than you owe on it, the details of the most recent short sale transactions they've brokered.

Buyers, Sellers and Agents: What other questions should savvy agent-interviewers ask? Please share in the comments.

5.  Connect and listen. The next step is the most basic and possibly the most important: sit down with prospective agents at their office, your home or a coffeeshop and spend an hour getting to know them. Beforehand, make a list of your questions, your values, your priorities and generally the vision of your life you're trying to create by virtue of doing this transaction.

Spend some of the hour going through those things, but don't forget to spend some time just getting to know the agent on an interpersonal level and listening to what they have to say. Then listen to your gut. Based on the totality of the information you now have, is this someone you want to spend hours and hours with?  Is this agent someone you feel you can trust?

Don't discount your gut-level instincts on this score. Yes, buying or selling a home is a business transaction, and it's critical to have someone with the competence and expertise to get your deal done.  But it's also a very personal matter, and one which will require you to make a series of tough decisions over an extended period of time, based at least in part on the advice of the agent you choose.

On some levels, finding an agent you love poses a chicken-and-egg conundrum.  If you trust them up front, you'll be more likely to follow their advice, which (if their advice is sound) positions you for the sort of successful outcome that will make you love them even more!  If you don't have that trust up front, it's more likely that you'll blow their advice off when it comes to the hard things like dropping your home's list price or increasing your offer price - things that seriously impact the success of your transaction, your satisfaction with the property and your overall financial situation for years and years to come.  

By Tara-Nicholle Nelson Broker in San Francisco, CA

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