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Top 10 Tips for Choosing the Right Realtor

Top 10 Tips

For most people, their home is the biggest investment of their life. Whether you're buying or selling a home, you want to be sure you're maximizing that investment. Choosing the right Realtor can make a big difference in how fast you find or sell a house, the price you pay or receive and the smooth completion of the transaction.

You'll need to do some research to find the one that's right for you. It's not hard, but it will take a little time; however, finding the right match will pay off in the long run. Here are some tips from AHA:

  1. Go with a Pro
    The terms agent, broker and Realtor are often used interchangeably. But not all agents or brokers are Realtors. The term "Realtor" identifies a real estate professional who is a member of the National Association of Realtors and subscribes to its strict code of ethics, which in some cases goes beyond state law.

  2. Experience Counts
    Whether you're looking for a Realtor to help you buy or sell a house, you don't want to be part of someone's learning curve. "One of the first questions you should ask a potential Realtor is how long they've been licensed and how long they've worked in the area," says Richard Roll, president of AHA.

  3. Get Referrals
    Friends, neighbors and co-workers are often good sources for referrals. Get as many details as possible about their buying or selling experience with a particular agent. Were they happy with the service they received? Would they use the Realtor again? You can also check the local yellow pages or search the Internet to scope out your options and find leads . If you're selling, look for sold signs in your neighborhood.

  4. Think Locally
    "Both buyers and sellers should look for a Realtor who is familiar with the area," notes Roll. "Ask what they have sold or listed in the neighborhood recently." If you're buying, a Realtor should be able to provide you with information on the community, the schools, taxes and other facts. If you're selling, you want your agent to be able to talk to prospective buyers about these details.

  5. Use the Right Type of Realtor
    Should you use a conventional Realtor or a buyer's broker? Many home buyers don't realize that Realtors legally work for the seller. They're making their commission from the purchase price, so they want to sell a house quickly and for the most money possible.

    A buyer's broker, on the other hand, represents the best interests of the buyer, and is an option that's growing in popularity. Buyer agents are bound to keep anything you say to them confidential. Since they are not working for the seller, they are less likely to try to gloss over any problems with a particular home and do their best to make sure you find a home that is right for you. However, you will have to pay the fee for a buyer agent, either an hourly fee or a commission based on the purchase price. The key is to make a better deal on the home that you buy to cover the cost of the assistance the agent provides.

    Dual Agents work out of a traditional real estate office both as a traditional agent and a buyer agent. They can take on buyers directly as clients, but since they work in a traditional real estate office, they can also represent the seller. In this situation you need to remember to keep your comments spare and look for the best deal. A dual agent cannot negotiate on the buyer's behalf and cannot recommend specific terms, including a purchase price. If you want a true buyer broker without dual agency, be sure to look for an Exclusive Buyer Broker. Split Agents do the same type of work as a dual agent, in that they can represent the buyer or seller. The main difference is that they never represent both in a transaction. If you hire a split agent as your buyer broker, they are bound to the same rules as an exclusive buyer broker. Everything you say is held in confidence and they work solely and completely in your best interest.

    Discount and e-brokers provide even more choices to home buyers and sellers. Both charge less than the typical 6 percent commission for their services. Discount brokers function much like a conventional agent. However, they may not provide the full range of marketing services you would get from a convention agent. Most e-brokers do not have a "brick and mortar" office, which cuts down their overhead costs, a saving which they pass on to consumers. When using an e-broker, you'll typically do most of the work yourself: checking the MLS listings, making a list of properties you'd like to view, weeding out the houses that aren't a good fit for you. The transaction takes place mostly online; when you have some houses you want to see, you contact the e-broker and they put you in touch with a local agent.

    Another option as a buyer is to try to go it alone, searching through the papers and looking for listing signs as you drive through different neighborhoods. This is not recommended for first time buyers, but if you are a hardy soul and want to take on the task, make sure you do your homework on each property before signing anything. Be sure to go through the remaining sections of AHA's Home University 1st Time Buyers course, so you will know how to protect yourself and make a good deal.

  6. Stay in your range
    Whether you're buying or selling, choose a Realtor who concentrates on your price range. For example, if you're looking to buy a house in the range of $250,000 to $300,000, you should check the real estate listings in the local paper to see which Realtors are listing houses in that range. A Realtor who focuses on more expensive homes won't be as knowledgeable about what's available in your price range.

  7. Interview a Few Candidates
    Once you've done some background work, set up interviews with three or four Realtors you're considering. You might also want to visit open houses to observe the agent in action. Are they familiar with the property, the area, the real estate transaction? Did they show the home in a professional manager? Did they seem enthusiastic and were they easy to communicate with?

  8. Don't Let an Agent "Buy Your Listing"
    If one agent says he or she can sell your house for substantially more money than the other agents quoted you, they're probably telling you what they think you want to hear in order to get your listing. Or, they may not be familiar with the market in your town or neighborhood. "Statistics show that properties which are over-priced when they are listed stay on the market longer and sell for less than if they had been properly priced from the start," says AHA's Roll.

  9. Agree on Expectations
    If you're selling a house, ask your agent to put together a written marketing plan detailing the steps they will take to sell your home. The agent should offer advice on how to prepare your home for the market and who has enthusiasm for your property. If you're buying a home, make sure you know how often your agent will supply you with listings, how many houses you can expect to see in a week, etc.

  10. Look for a Personality Match
    Once you know you've narrowed your search down to qualified professionals with the right expertise, make sure you choose someone you trust and who you like. "Regardless of whether you're a buyer or a seller, you'll be spending a lot of time with your Realtor and it should be someone you feel compatible and comfortable with," says Roll.