Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Finding a Real Estate Agent

The Internet abounds with advice about how to find a real estate agent, and almost all of it is useless. The least helpful aspect of the advice is that it most often does not differentiate between a buyer's agent and a listing agent. These two sides of a transaction are so dissimilar, and require such uniquely different skill sets and talents that the one-size-fits-all advice just falls flat.

In example, the first "hit" in a Google search turns up the advice on About.com. Since this advice is fairly typical, let's deconstruct it:
  1. The first bit of advice touts the virtues of REALTORS®. Since 99.9% of all real estate agents are REALTORS®, this is not a criteria that buyers and sellers will find particularly helpful.
  2. "Ask the people around you who they have used" is not bad advice, but it will not necessarily help you find a real estate agent who is competent—especially if you are looking for a listing agent to sell your home. The old cliché that "it takes one to know one" should suggest the value of this advice.
  3. The confusion in the following advice should be pretty apparent: "Google the top real estate companies in your area, go to those Web sites and look up profiles of individual agents at offices near you. Agents who are experienced will tell you but newer agents might have more time to spend with you."
  4. Advising you next to go "to open houses" to "meet real estate agents in a non-threatening working environment and interact with them" should tell you something if it works out as suggested. If the agent did not sell you on the home, or you did not at least feel threatened, how good could the agent be? You should also know that open houses are something agents do to meet the seller's expectations, and "prospect" for buyers. They seldom help sell a home, but often provide the agent with new names and contact information of buyers.
  5. If you have the time to wait, the advice that you "Pay attention to the listing signs in your neighborhood. Make note of the day they go up and when the sold sign appears" may help if you expect to need a listing agent. Then again, it may not.
  6. The advice that you "Look in your local Sunday newspaper for ads" overlooks the fact that agents do this primarily to meet the expectations of their sellers. Print advertising is all but useless for most other purposes, since the majority (97%) of buyers use the Internet to find homes. Buyers do still look through the local paper for open house ads though.
  7. The last bit of advice brings us back to "it takes one to know one"—"Ask other real estate agents for referrals." If the agent being asked for a referral is not good enough, how would that agent know who is?
Some of the advice also recommends finding someone with a "good" personality, what ever that is. Subjective criteria and superficial indicators sum up the character of most advice. There is however good advice available that addresses concrete indicators of an agent's professionalism and expertise.

Any advice about how to find a real estate agent needs to address whether you are looking for a buyer's agent, or a listing agent to sell your home. The qualifications of a buyer's agent are no small matter, and the qualifications of a listing agent are huge—because a listing agent must have specialized expertise and talents in addition to those of a buyer's agent. See the Buyer Resources and Seller Resources pages of my Web site for advice on how to actually find a real estate agent with the knowledge and talents to serve your needs.