What should I look for when selecting a real estate agent?
An old real estate industry saying goes, “If you don't have any friends who are real estate agents, you probably don't have any friends at all." Assuming you have friends, you probably have no shortage of agents to choose from, let alone those agents who advertise on billboards and TV and send you unsolicited calendars, magnets and calculators. Here are some tips to help select a real estate agent:
The first place to start is on the internet. Check out agent websites. If an agent doesn't have a website, don't use him. If he does, look to see what's there. Besides a background and current listings, does the agent have articles about how to prepare for an open house, mortgage calculators, links to local movers? What you're looking for here is a site that is dedicated to the client, to you, not to the agent. This way you're more likely to get an agent that cares about helping you through the buying/selling process.
While you're on the agent's site, check out their experience and education. The real estate profession is marked by high turnover, meaning that a vast proportion of agents have little or no experience. While you might hit upon a brand-spanking-new agent who does a great job for you, that's quite a risk to take with one of the biggest investment decisions you'll ever make. Look for an agent with at least two years' worth of experience. If the agent is still around after two years they are probably at least learned the fundamentals of real estate and can competently walk you through escrow. If you have an agent who has lots of experience, don't rely on that completely. Look to see if that agent complements their experience with education. An agent who is a certified REALTOR® has had to take courses beyond the basic real estate licensing class to become knowledgeable in things like real estate finance, land use, and ethics.
While you're at the agent's site (See why it's so important?), check to see how many listings the agent has. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more listings, the better. If an agent has a lot of listings, that's a good indicator that the agent sells real estate full time. You want someone who is dedicated to the profession because it's one that requires mastery of a huge amount of rapidly-changing knowledge. An agent working at least 30 to 50 hours a week is more likely to know about recent changes in zoning law or new methods of finance that someone working part-time or seasonally.
Once you've made thorough use of the website, call up the agents you like and set up interviews. If the agent isn't willing to meet with you, scratch him off your list. When you meet with the agent, confirm what you saw on the website. Does the agent, in fact, work full time? Does the agent have proper certification or is she working toward it? Is the agent's experience worth anything: does he know the community and the state of the market? Most importantly, do you like her? Do you think you can work with her?
If any of these things don't quite fit together, don't be afraid to keep looking for the right agent. After all, you have lots of friends, right?