You've heard this piece of home-buying advice time and time again: When it comes to buying property, you should work with a qualified real estate agent. While it may be tempting to go it alone, real estate agents do this for a living and their professional expertise can make a difference. However, you've probably also heard horror stories about subpar real estate agents who made the home buying process more of a nightmare than a dream.
So how do you suss out the industry standouts from those who will simply waste your time?
The key to a good real estate agent is that they really, truly understand their clients' needs. While it's easy for a smooth-talking agent to pay you lip service, it turns out there are some easy ways to tell if your agent actually knows what you're looking for in a home.
Here are five signs that your agent has a great handle on your priorities.
You and your agent just "click."
Sure, you're not going to be dating your agent, but you should expect to be spending a lot of time with him or her as you search for a home. You're also trusting them with a major life decision and purchase, so it's important that you have a rapport.
"You want to know that you can trust them and you want to feel totally comfortable going to them with questions," explains Theresa Sima, a realtor with VRS Realty in Frankfort, Illinois. "If you start to feel pressured by your agent, or they start trying to talk you into homes that are out of your price range, that's a sign that they're not focused on your needs, and you should move on."
They treat you like an individual.
Once an agent has the basic information about what you're looking for, such as price range, neighborhood, and home size, it's easy enough for them to simply input your information into an auto-search service like MLS and only show you the homes that meet that criteria.
However, with the vast amount of real estate information available on the internet today, that's something you can pretty much do yourself.
One benefit of working with an agent is that you have a real, breathing human working on your behalf. That means that they can sometimes catch a great property they know will fit your needs that would otherwise slip through a search tool.
"I have never put clients on an auto-search once I know their criteria," says Ellen Philips, a Los Angeles-based realtor with Sotheby's International Realty. "Personally looking at all listings on a daily basis can turn up a great exception to the rule."
They ask about your future.
A great place to live is more than just a house—it's a home. And the right home for you depends on your lifestyle now as well as your plans for the future. For that reason, a good agent will get a sense of not just what types of finishes and how many bedrooms you want; they'll also get an idea of where you see your life headed in terms of important factors like family size, career, and how long you plan to call the place home.
Sima says the most important question she asks clients is, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" "I ask them if this home is a long-term investment, or if it's something they will move from in a few years, so I can help guide them to the properties that will provide the best return on their investment," she says.
They offer informed guidance on affordability.
When Philips meets with a new client, she asks them not only the amount that they're pre-approved for, but also how much they are comfortable paying each month. This question is really the more practical one, and it helps her pick homes based upon both their list price and how long they've been on the market so her clients see the best-value properties that they can really afford.
"Hot properties tend to sell for at least 10 percent over list price, so if a client's bottom line is $850,000, I'm not going to advise making an offer on a hot home listed for that price," she says. "Rather, we'll target hot homes that are listed around $750,000, so the buyer can offer significantly more, get their offer accepted in a multiple offer situation and be financially comfortable in the home."
They challenge you.
A bad agent will try to make a sale at all costs. They may act like a "yes man," showing you any and all properties that vaguely meet your search criteria. But an agent who is truly listening to a client's preferences may even challenge them from time to time to make sure they're zeroing in on those homes that will truly satisfy.
"When a client mentions something they don't like in a property, I remember that for the next time," says Mark Placek, a Chicago-based realtor with D'Aprile Properties. "Before we go look at another property with the same issue, I'll mention it again. 'You said you didn't like how that last house was on such a busy street. This next house is on fairly busy street as well, are you sure you want to look at it?'"
When an agent's really listening to you, you may to come realize that they know you better than you know yourself—at least when it comes to what you're looking for in a home.