You’ve worked hard, started making waves in your career, and gotten serious about your savings. The next big step on the adulting list is buying a place of your own, and you’re more than ready!
House hunting goes much more smoothly with a spectacular real estate agent, and there’s good news. Sellers generally pay all the agent fees, meaning buyers can benefit from their services at no cost.
We recently reached out to nationally renowned real estate coach Cheryl Knowlton for expert tips on how to find a great agent. Here's what we learned:
Get referrals, but start small
You’ve probably seen people politely asking for recommendations on social media, only to have their feeds blown up with sketchy referrals from every corner of the internet.
If you know anyone who’s bought a home recently, reach out to them one-on-one instead. Find out who they used, what they liked about the experience, and if there were any problems.
If you don’t know anyone who’s purchased locally, it’s fine to turn to social media (just be prepared for a flood of responses). If you go that route, look into agents referred by people you know in real life.
If that doesn't work out, search engines can also be a decent starting place, Cheryl said. When you navigate to the websites and social media pages of agents you’re considering, look for a professional feel and a lot of helpful resources.
If the prospective agent's website and social presence aren't up to snuff, it’s fair to borrow a line from Ariana Grande and simply say, “thank you, next.”
Check for education and certifications
As you evaluate your short list of agents, Cheryl highly recommends checking their training and credentials first.
“Are they committed to raising the bar of professionalism, in keeping the sword sharp?” she asked.
The big ones to look for are:
- Realtor®: This means someone who is a part of the National Association of Realtors, an organization that requires extra training and whose members commit to professional standards and a code of ethics.
- Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®): This is for real estate buyer agents who focus on working directly with buyers at every stage of the home buying process.
Other designations are available for specialized transactions, such as military relocation, diversity, smart homes, and more. For Cheryl, these extra certifications show that an agent is proficient, professional, and committed to your success as a buyer.
They also mean that you can trust that agent when it comes to strategy.
“I want (the agent) to be the pilot,” she explained. “I want to be the passenger.”
If the agent you’re considering can’t win your confidence with certifications, look back to Ariana for some inspiration.
Ask about experience
Experience is key to success in real estate, and that goes for both the local area and property types, Cheryl said. Make sure your agent has sold a handful of properties in the neighborhoods you’re considering, she said.
It’s also smart to look for someone who specializes in the type of property you want, she added. Town homes are different from condos, and new homes in the suburbs are pretty different from older homes in downtown districts.
A good rule of thumb is to choose someone who's had at least six successful transactions in the last year like the one you're hoping to have.
"If I need a heart surgeon, I’m not interested in someone who practices it as a hobby,“ Cheryl said. “I want the absolute best."
Beware of bad vibes
If you’ve been referred by someone you trust, who has the relevant certifications, and plenty of experience in helping buyers like you, you’re well on the way to finding a great agent. Now, it’s time to set up some introductory meetings.
The biggest thing to look for is professionalism, Cheryl said. If the agent you're considering is late to that first meeting, for example, lateness is probably a chronic problem for them. If they are unkempt or use coarse language, that’s how they’ll act throughout the home search process.
Be ready with a few questions about what you’re looking for, and notice if their answers are complete and specific. You're looking for someone who knows their stuff inside and out.
That first meeting is also a good time to get a feel for how the agent does business. Ask for stories about how their recent transactions went and find out which negotiation tactics they use most often.
Finally, Cheryl recommends paying attention to how you feel by the end of the meeting. If you get a bad vibe for any reason, it’s right back to “thank you, next.”
Rounding out your home purchase team
A rock star real estate agent is only one half of the home purchase team. You'll probably also need a talented Loan Officer to help you finance that perfect home.
If you’re ready to shop for home financing, read about what to look for in a Loan Officer and get a quick list of questions to ask on that first call.