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How to Get What You Want from the Realtor

Magic Words and Deeds
Most real estate agents love their work, despite the unconventional hours and seesaw income. "I feel real good about what I do because most of my clients, whether they are buyers or sellers, end up happy at the end of the transaction," says Jim Lee. He finds it especially satisfying to work with first-time buyers because "the house is kind of like a toy to them. It makes a change in their lives, usually for the better." Rhonna Robles is equally enthusiastic. "The thing I enjoy most is that I get to meet people I would never have met otherwise and become friends with them. I'm a typical co-dependent: I want to help everybody."

The best way to capitalize on these good vibrations is to begin your relationship with a discussion of the real estate market in general, so you have realistic expectations. If you're moving to a new city, your Realtor can be a great asset in helping you find a neighborhood that suits your lifestyle and budget. Before your first meeting, try to prioritize the elements you most desire in a house. If you are married, attempt to find common ground with your spouse about the basic must-haves – one story or two, big yard or small, number of bathrooms and bedrooms. The more specific you are, the easier it will be for your Realtor to find you a house you will like. Make a list of these items and keep a copy for yourself. You may revise it after you've seen a few homes, but it's a jumping-off point.

If you are selling, the most salient point is price. The Realtor will show you a list of comps – the prices of homes comparable to yours that recently sold in your neighborhood – and will suggest a price based on those and on the condition of your house. It is crucial that you take this advice to heart, because the first two weeks a house is on the market are when you stand to make the most money. After 30 days, you are almost certain to get less than your asking price. Even if your house could have sold for $50,000 more last year and you're kicking yourself for waiting to sell it, do not let your emotions undermine the process. Your Realtor knows what price is right today. You should also discuss which items you would be willing to use as bargaining chips in the negotiation – perhaps you wouldn't mind parting with the Sub-Zero refrigerator, the patio furniture, or a custom dining table.

A good Realtor will offer suggestions on what you might to do spruce up your home. Most people expect to clean, perhaps paint a few rooms, and clear out some furniture. Don't take offense, however, if the Realtor asks you to go a bit further. "People have huge collections of family pictures, dolls, model cars, whatever," says Jim Lee. "I always suggest that they get that out of sight, because buyers get all wrapped up in looking at their stuff and forget to look at the house." In addition to being a distraction, too many personal items make it hard for potential buyers to imagine the home as theirs, not yours.

If you are buying, the most important thing you can do to win the Realtor's enthusiasm is to get prequalified for a loan. "A lot of people kind of fight you on that, especially first-time buyers," says Lee. Getting prequalified proves that you're serious and settles the matter of what you can afford. Most Realtors have mortgage brokers they like to work with, and this can be a boon if your credit isn't perfect or you happen to be between jobs. Whatever your situation, tell the Realtor about it so he can take the approach that is most likely to succeed.

Once the process begins, observe the following rules to keep the relationship with your Realtor on track:

  • Agree in advance on how often and through what form of communication you will be checking in with each other.
  • Return phone calls promptly.
  • Have information and paperwork ready at the agreed-upon time.
  • If you change your mind about something – anything – related to the process, tell the Realtor immediately.
  • Be on time for appointments.
  • Give specific feedback about properties, how the process is going, and what you need.
  • Be fair. Don't blame your Realtor in slow economic times if your home isn't selling; set specific timelines for reevaluations.


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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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