The age-old question, it seems, for homebuyers is, “How do I find a real estate agent who isn’t going to waste my time? One that will help me find the right house at the right price?”
I have long advised my clients, both in person and in home buying seminars, how to locate a good agent to work with to buy your first home.
First, a New York Minute: In New York State, a Licensed real estate salesperson represents the SELLER in every transaction. The ONLY exception to this would be when a Buyer signs an Exclusive Buyer’s Agency agreement with a Licensed real estate salesperson. Therefore, even if a real estate agent is your Mom, she MUST work for the best interests of the Seller (i.e., highest price) or she could lose her license.
When you first walk into a real estate office, the very first action required by New York State is that you sign the “Agency Disclosure,” form. The purpose of this document is to make it explicitly clear to a Buyer that the real estate office works for the Seller.
Life for a Buyer becomes less complicated when you understand this concept. The agent doesn’t work for you, even though she is working to find houses for you. Huh?
In any event, I believe you can also use this understanding to help separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were, when you first encounter a real estate agent and decide if you want to work with her or not.
An agent who makes it clear from the beginning, and who makes certain you have signed the Agency Disclosure Form—and explains it to you—is an agent with excellent ethics. Not to mention she also has a healthy respect for the laws that govern her license.
When you don’t know who you’re dealing with, this demonstration of good ethics and legal-respect can go a long way to assuring a Buyer you’re dealing with an experienced professional.
What comes next?
Money. Money. Money.
Yup, this house you wish to buy, your first house, a precious experience for you, is an extremely emotional event. For a real estate agent, though, it’s all about the money. Agents don’t work on salary, they work on commission. A serious, experienced agent wants to earn that commission with the least fuss and bother possible.
She is going to avoid time-wasting activities. She will listen to your requirements for your house—how many bedrooms, proximity to public transportation and/or highways, etc. —and invest the time to find the best possible houses within your price range.
The agent will take you out and show you just a few houses, probably no more than five. You will be quite amazed when you see the first or second house exactly meets your needs.
This is where things can get slippery for a Buyer. You think, “Wow! That was easy! Two trips to the real estate office and we found two great houses. Let’s go look at more! Let’s keep going until we find the right house!”
That agent spent considerable time in not wasting time. She doesn’t want to show you thirty seven houses. She wants to show you the right houses and sell one of them to you. She wants to earn her commission. Money; it’s all about the money.
If this is your experience with that same highly ethical, legally-respectful agent, then you can be certain you are in good hands.
By the way, you don’t really have to buy any of those houses. If you give your agent detailed feedback on what you liked and what you disliked about the houses she showed you, she will continue to work for you to find a house.
Good agents get frustrated and quickly lose interest with Buyers who don’t communicate. If that happens, the good agents will drop you faster than you can say, “Open House!” and send you packing to work with the less experienced (or worse) agents.
Some more of my thoughts on agents who won’t waste time: Benefits of Prequalification
Experience means everything for you, the Buyer. You have none. The experienced agent wants to get you into a home and earn her commission. You must rely on her experience to get you a great home in your price range.
Some signs of experience:
-While you’re sitting in the waiting area of the real estate office, look on the walls for awards. There may also be a gallery of “Thank You,” letters from satisfied customers. Those aren’t there to look pretty; they are placed there to show you the experience of the agents.
-A good real estate agent has a real business card, not one of those hokey, prints-‘em-yourself cards from someone’s home computer.
-Here’s a good example of experience versus inexperience: What is a “Customer?” For a Licensed Real Estate Salesperson, the definition under NYS real estate regs.: A “Customer” is a Buyer.
A “Client,” is either a Seller (the most common usage) or a Buyer represented in a Buyer’s Agency agreement. A Buyer cannot be a Client to a real estate agent unless Buyer’s Agency is in effect.
If your agent calls you her Customer, “I have a Customer here and I’d like to show them your house. Can we stop by in fifteen minutes?” then you’re dealing with an experienced professional.
Finally, one of the telltale signs of a good agent is one who is a Realtor. Realtor is a special designation for members of the National Association of Realtors. Realtors wear their “R” pins with pride. The Realtor designation requires an investment of time and money on the part of the Realtor. This is yet another mark of a good agent you should watch for when deciding who to work with to find your first home.
My longstanding advice to my clients is: find a good Realtor to work with. They’ll work hard to get the right house for you.