Your real estate agent is probably the most important person in the homebuying process. They’ll match your hopes and dreams with the reality of your budget (kind of intimate!), and then go out and find a house you’ll love. Then they’ll expertly negotiate the deal and advocate on your behalf with the seller. When you’re working with an agent who is truly working for you, you’ll not only get the right house at a fair price, but also have a smooth homebuying experience.
And yet, according to one consumer survey, people spend more time choosing a TV than they do choosing their real estate agent. Why is this? Well, we won’t speculate too much, but we think part of the problem is that homebuyers just don’t know what to look for, or even where to look. You want someone you can feel comfortable with and trust, but exactly what that means is kind of vague … and you’re not sure how to weed out the bad fit candidates.
It all feels a bit like … dating (heavy sigh).
So before you start looking for “the one,” you might need to adjust your expectations. As in, upward. Below are 10 lessons from the world of online dating that we think will help you find a great agent. Maybe even “the one.” To refine our list, we talked to … a great agent: Dawn Lane, an independent Las Vegas–based broker and Realtor who’s been in the business for more than 20 years.
When an agent meets these 10 criteria, keep them around…
1. They listen more than they talk
As Lane puts it, “You need to find somebody who is really about you.” Especially at first, listening is the only way an agent can find out what you really need and want. In other words, the only way to help you get into the right house.
2. They tell you the truth
A great agent will (gently) help you get real about what you can afford, before you start looking. “You may want the Taj Mahal, but you’ve got that beer budget,” Lane says. “Every person in the world is on Zillow and Trulia, and it’s fine to dream. But what’s available that you can afford to buy in your market? A bad agent is not going to do that reality check with you.”
3. They go above and beyond
A great agent is proactive, sometimes doing things you never would have thought to ask for. Any agent can search the MLS (Multiple Listing Service). But, says Lane, “If you’ve really just got to be in this one neighborhood, they’ll go knock on doors and see if there’s anybody getting ready to sell.” She’s done it.
4. They get what’s special about you
If you have any unusual or very specific needs and wants, try to find an agent with special knowledge and experience. “Designations” are an official stamp of approval.
“These are the Realtors with all the letters beside their name, the whole alphabet,” Lane says. “The ABR, the CRS, the SFR, and the ‘LMNOP.’ They spent time on becoming a better practitioner, by attending classes and receiving what’s called a designation in that area. That can be super important in certain niches.”
5. They’re not already seeing someone else
Maybe you’ve heard of “dual agency.” It comes up in two ways. First is at the brokerage level, when the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent happen to work for the same agency. The second way is when your agent turns out to also be the seller’s agent for the home you fall in love with.
The first type of dual agency may not be ideal, but it’s not that bad. In fact, it’s quite common, because it can be hard to avoid if you’re buying in a relatively small market or one dominated by a couple of agencies. The second type isn’t even legal in some states. Partly to avoid any potential for conflict of interest, some agents work exclusively with buyers.
6. Your friends like them
To start your search for an agent, talk with other homeowners you know. Would they recommend the agent they used? Why? Many people find their agent this way.
Still, “always do your own due diligence,” Lane says. Even if your brother’s or friend’s agent is a great one, he or she might not be the best one for you. Make a site like Realtor.com part of your search strategy, Lane says. “Read their reviews, pick three, and interview them.”
7. They don’t expect you to do all the work
While you should steer clear of any so-called lender who solicits you directly, making the first move is not a terrible thing in a real estate agent. “All agents are in sales,” Lane says. “They’re going to farm certain areas looking for clients. That’s somebody doing their job. But again, you have to do your due diligence.”
Simply dropping by an agency is not the best idea. “The office is most likely going to give you the agent assigned to floor duty,” Lane says. Besides the fact that this agent might not be a good fit, “most agents, if they’re any good, are not sitting in the office waiting for walk-ins.”
8. They pass your online background check
A little paranoia can’t hurt. For any agent you’re considering, Lane suggests getting their license number and checking your state’s real estate commission website for disciplinary actions.
9. They’ll come to you
“I meet people at a local Starbucks because there’s good Wi-Fi, and there’s one on every corner,” Lane says. “It’s nice for buyers to meet in their own neighborhood.”
10. What they lack in experience, they make up for with enthusiasm
Experience is great, but it’s not everything. An ambitious, enthusiastic agent who’s just been licensed might go an extra mile or five for you, Lane says. Just make sure they’re working with a team. “They should have a strong broker supervising them, or a mentor.”
When to cut your date short: 5 things to avoid
When you’re getting to know an agent, these tip-offs suggest that you should move on…
1. They’re in it for themselves. In the industry, they call this “Commission Breath,” says Lane. “You know, somebody who’s just trying to work you up and won’t answer your questions. Are they talking fast, looking at their phone all the time, thinking about their next BMW payment? That’s not who you should work with.”
2. They pressure you for more. Not cool. Discussion about what it would mean to spend more than initially planned on the right place is valid, but not pressure to do so.
3. They’re a little too confident. Then there’s what Lane calls “the Muhammad Ali Speech”— a lot of “I’m the greatest” blather. She’s also wary of agents who focus too much on their credentials. “I mean, it’s good to have credentials, but I think the most important thing is your action, that ‘what are you looking for’ conversation you should be having with a buyer.”
4. They seem too good to be true. “Well then,” says Lane, “it’s too good to be true.”
5. They just seem shady. Like any good friend would tell you, Lane says, “Trust your instincts.”
Dawn Lane is an independent Las Vegas–based broker and Realtor who’s been in the business for more than 20 years. An advocate for affordable housing, she’s also founder of the nonprofit HOPE Home Foundation, sits on the NeighborWorks America advisory board, and is a national authority on employer-assisted housing programs.