How to Get the Most From a Real Estate Agent

J Philip Faranda February 17, 2010

I received an email yesterday from someone I showed some houses to this past summer. I didn't remember him at first, but he had some questions about a property. I reached out to the listing agent for answers, and before she responded, I got another email from the guy today. " I didn't hear from you yet," he said. "Maybe I should call <another agent>." I remembered the guy now. He ran my wife and I around in circles getting forensic information about homes he found online for a week, then disappeared after looking at 2 homes with me. He had resurfaced, wanted me to do more research, and was already threatening to sack me.

So I sacked him.

Here's the point: real estate professionals aren't waiters. We don't do free research for just anyone who rings or emails us, and like any normal person, we are a bit sketchy about people that make us jump through hoops and then then disappear. That time we put in with those people could have been better spent with more sincere clients or our family.

On the other side of the coin, consumers are suspicious about agents. Too many people have a bad agent story to tell, so they often fend for themselves before investing time and hopes into another agent who will disappoint. It's like a big game of chicken. Niether side wants to devote time or commit to someone who might let them down. Here's what I say: If you, the consumer, want heat from that stove, how about throwing in a little wood.

Here are a few things home buyers can do to ensure that they get the most from an agent.

  1. Get pre-approved. I shouldn't have to explain this. The housing industry has been bent like a pipe cleaner the past 18 months. A pre approval older than 90 days is worthless, and no pre-approval disqualifies you from being taken seriously by a seller. . It takes 10 minutes to speak with a lender and get a free updated pre-approval that shows you are ready, willing and able buyers.
  2. Practice monogamy. Often in New York, some buyers think that they can get a batter deal if they work with more than 1 agent or deal directly with listing agents. Both of these notions are not only false, they can be expensive mistakes. If your agent catches on to the fact that you are playing the field, he'll start hedging his bets also, because nobody wants to devote time to a buyer file that might not close because you are looking in another town with another broker. 
  3. Figure out what you want. Some agents get understandably frustrated when they spend a Sunday morning looking at town homes and Tuesday evening walking through Victorian colonials with the same buyer. I can almost intuit what some buyers want after spending time with them. However, if you are too whimsical, I might get the sense that we're just unlocking doors so you can satisfy curiosity. 
  4. Return our calls. Sound familiar? Do you like it when you can't reach an agent for 3 days? It is the same here. Buyers who drop out and resurface without explanation are deemed unreliable and risky. It is only fair; stay in touch.  
  5. Take our advice. The reason I give people 3 lawyers, 3 home inspectors, and 3 mortgage firms is not because I get a kickback, it is because I know that your union attorney won't return calls, an Internet bank can screw you, and your uncle Mel is not a licensed home inspector. I cannot compensate for their deficiencies. I am more effective with a cooperative team.  
  6. Sign a buyer representation agreement. This tells the agent "you are hired. We won't use anyone else." You risk nothing by doing this, because if someone is hired, they can be fired if they stink. Establish performance criteria, have a 3 strikes and out rule or reasonable exit clause, and the agent is now at your service. 
Doing these things will make you hold your agent to a higher standard, and ensure that you get the most from them. Never forget that agents are human, just like you. An agent assured that they have a qualified, sincere, eager client can work confidently for that client. If they take you for granted, that can be grounds for firing them. With that leverage, everybody wins. 
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