Buying or selling a home is a daunting task and a massive learning experience. It's very helpful to have professionals working on your behalf to make the process seamless and to answer all of the questions that inevitably surface.
You should know: Real estate professionals are often referred to as "Realtors" but that title specifically describes a real estate agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors. In order to be a member in good standing Realtors must maintain their certification through trainings and workshops and adhere to a code of ethics.
1. Ask for a referral
Around these parts, It seems that every 3rd person you meet is a Realtor. Ask your friends who they've worked with and if they'd work with them again and set up a meeting.
Meet with at least three professionals and ask them the same series of questions verifying that they are in the business full time and that they know the geography and market in which you want to buy or sell. Ask them bluntly for their sales numbers over the past few years. Is it consistent? Ask how many buyers and sellers they currently represent and which side of the transaction they prefer? How many houses did they sell last year or assist in buying? How many years experience do they have? What is the most difficult negotiation they have had to push through to close? What motivates them? What sort of resources do they use? Ask to see comps of similar properties in your area to determine a selling price.
3. Know their process
Do you want a Realtor that is going to check in with you every day? Or do you only want to hear from them when there is news? Do you want them to send you listings to look at every week or do you want to handle your own search? Do you require 24 hours or 48 hours for a showing? Set the expectation early on.
4. Sign a contract
You will be asked to sign a contract so be sure all your questions are answered before you do so. Do not sign a contract with a Realtor with whom you have reservations. You want to work with someone you trust and who will work hard on your behalf.
5. Do not discuss financing
You will most likely need a pre-approval letter from your Mortgage company if you are looking to buy. That letter is all you need. Do not discuss loan programs with the Realtor as the programs are constantly changing and they may give you misinformation. Your loan officer is up to date and your best resource.
6. Hire an independent home inspector
I used my Realtor's inspector when I purchased my first home and he did not point out any relevant issues that I had to deal with after my purchase. If I were to hire an independent party directly I feel I would have gotten a more thorough, unbiased inspection.
7. Do not get emotional
Buying or selling a home is emotional but try to focus on the numbers and the reality of what you can afford to buy and sell at. There are so many homes out there with charm and quirks and all have pluses and minuses. Do not get hung up on making a killer profit when selling if your priority is to move to a better neighborhood for your kids.
Your Realtor can not read your mind. Let them know exactly what you like and don't like about homes they are showing you. Saying, "I don't like it" is not enough. This will allow them to tailor their search better for you. On the selling side, be specific on your lowest acceptable offer.
9. Add a note
If you find a property that you can afford and love, include a brief note to the sellers letting them know why you love it and how you will maintain it. Genuine flattery goes a long way to winning people over.
10. Like your Realtor
You spend a lot of time with this person and this person is representing you so you better like them! Do they make you feel comfortable? Do they explain things clearly? My Realtor was smart, personable and warm; I spent so much time with her within my 3 month search that I actually missed her when it was all over.
Re-edited from a post originally published 8.19.2010 - TW