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How to Get What You Want from the Realtor

Connecting with a Realtor: Buyers and Sellers
How do you find a Realtor whose style and expertise fit your needs? Whether you are buying a house, selling one, or both, a good start is to ask a few friends or acquaintances who have recently trod this path. If you don't have any personal recommendations, call an established real estate agency and ask for the names of Realtors who specialize in your chosen area of town. You can also attend a few open houses and evaluate how the attending agent shows the home, deals with potential buyers and other Realtors, and answers your questions. For more information on a particular agent's experience and focus, check their Internet house listings. They usually post a brief biography along with the ads.

Once you have narrowed your search to a few individuals, the interview process begins. Realtors expect to spend an hour or so chatting with potential clients on the phone. Be sure to ask about:

Credentials. Realtors are either agents or brokers. An agent must be eighteen years old, a high school graduate, and have passed a written exam on property laws and real estate transactions. A broker is licensed by the state real estate commission and allowed to open his own agency. Your agent or broker should, ideally, be a member of a professional group such as the National Association of Realtors, which has strict ethical guidelines. The letters after some Realtors' names refer to their specialties. For example, CRS stands for Certified Residential Specialist, ABR stands for Accredited Buyer Representative, and SIOR stands for Society of Industrial and Office Realtors. Ask about these designations, as they may apply to your situation. Of main interest to you, the potential client, is that the Realtor is a professional who keeps up with trends in the field.

Experience. Here is a list of questions you should ask your Realtor regarding his experience.

  • How many years have you been in the business?
  • Which companies have you worked for? (They should be companies that are well respected in your area.)
  • Is real estate your full-time occupation or just a sideline?
  • What branch of real estate is your special focus?
  • Are you very familiar with the market in my area of interest? (Note whether he can easily answer questions about average home prices, how long homes stay on the market, neighborhood services, shopping, schools, transportation, crime, and safety issues.)
  • Do you know of any houses in my price range that are currently for sale in my target area? (He should be able to comment on this immediately, without having to go check on his computer.)
  • Are you aware of the location of liquor stores, bars, convenience stores, and government agencies? What impact do these operations have on the neighborhood?
  • What can you tell me about financing, loan programs, and insurance?
Problem Solving. The Realtor will be your trusted advisor throughout the process of buying or selling your home. Ask how she handles snags that come up along the way: credit difficulties, inspection problems, multiple offers, or paperwork snafus. Ask if she is willing to be present during all transactions (the answer should be yes). You might want to make an "I'm most nervous about – – – " list before phoning the Realtor so you won't forget to ask those questions. You'll want to know how the Realtor might handle the situations you feel least confident about; graceful problem solving skills can save you heartache and disappointment.

Technical Savvy. The Realtor you choose must have Internet access to e-mail, current databases, and the Multiple Listing Service (MLS, the bible of available houses). He must have a cell phone. If you happen upon a throwback who doesn't believe in such things, beat a hasty retreat.

References. Ask for at least three. They should include people who have successfully bought or sold a home with this Realtor, as well as at least one who is a professional in the field – for instance, a lender or mortgage broker. Query these folks about the Realtor's performance, and be specific:

  • Did the Realtor give solid business advice?
  • Did he return phone calls and deliver important information promptly?
  • Did he negotiate effectively on their behalf?
  • Was there anything particularly skillful or creative in his approach to problems?
  • Was there any area where he could have done better?
Personality. "The most important trait in a Realtor, and a lot of people bypass this, is that it be someone you like and have a rapport with," says Jim Lee, who has been selling real estate in Knoxville, Tennessee, for 26 years. Depending on your personal style, you may feel most comfortable with someone who is laid back or someone who is more assertive and direct. Just remember that the Realtor's style will be carried into the negotiations. While you're chatting, be sure to notice how well he listens to you. Most people can get a sense of this over the course of a half-hour conversation. If you don't feel as if you're being heard during this first interview, it's doubtful things will improve later on.

Most Realtors will want you to sign an exclusivity contract. This is fair, but not for more than 60-90 days. If the Realtor says his company's contract is for six months and it's nonnegotiable, politely decline and look for someone else.

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From Say the Magic Words by Lynette Padwa. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, go to Amazon.


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