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STEP #1: CHOOSING A REALTOR
In the maze of forms, financing, inspections, marketing, pricing, and negotiating, it makes sense to work with professionals who knows the community as well as the complicated process involved in buying a home. Choose a REALTOR® to assist you to look for the right home, conduct neighborhood research, analyze home prices, negotiate with sellers, and sign documents, among other things.
Finding the right agent takes balancing credentials and chemistry. You want to choose someone you like—after all, you might spend the next six months working together. But your agent also needs to be able to safeguard your financial interests.
“You want somebody trustworthy who you can rely on,” says Ryan Fitzpatrick, director of sales for CORE, a boutique real estate agency in New York. A good agent, he says, will listen carefully to your priorities and won’t waste time on properties that don’t fit the bill.
Don’t just call the first agent whose lawn sign you see. Ask friends and family members for references (and check them!). Interview at least three agents to find the one with the experience, skill and personality that matches your needs.
Most experts recommend five or more years experience—which is not to say that someone with less can’t do a good job. Sometimes less experience means a smaller client base, which translates into more attention for you. Make sure the agent is licensed by the state and does the job full-time; about half of all agents are designated Realtors, which means they belong to the National Association of Realtors and agree to abide by NAR’s stringent code of ethics.
Real estate is a local game, and to win you need someone who plays in the areas where you’re looking to buy. Not only will they be up on market trends, they’ll know about local schools, commute times, and under-the-radar red flags, like the solid-waste transfer station that’s been proposed for the neighborhood.
WHY CHOOSE A REALTOR TO HELP YOU BUY A HOUSE?
You don’t know what you don’t know. And sometimes you think you know, until you find out you don’t. And you know that’s not good.
This is true for real estate as well. It is important to have an understanding of the real estate market and what it takes to buy a home. You should know things like, your FICO score, closing costs and contingencies. But the complexity of real estate transactions is increasing. Changing regulations and fluctuating markets have made real estate logistically challenging, and what you don’t know can leave you powerless to the implications (legal, financial, emotional).
There is an advantage to going with a team of exceptional professionals who can give you the best local expertise, support, negotiating skills, transaction coordination, promotion and advertising, and most importantly – peace-of-mind knowing that you have someone in your corner to handle the process.
When researching a REALTOR® to represent you, you’ll notice a typical list of benefits and services provided. Sometimes these can sound repetitive or even trite (Local expert! Professional service! We’ll find your dream home fast!). This can make it difficult to understand what sets an exceptional real estate professional apart from an average one.
Long-time success in real estate comes from a combination of knowledge, local expertise, and reputation. So when choosing a REALTOR®, go with one that is going to give you the utmost time and attention.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A REALTOR®?
People use the terms REALTOR® and real estate agent interchangeably, but that is incorrect. Not every real estate agent is a REALTOR®. There are differences between REALTORS® and real estate agents. They are not the same. Although both are licensed to sell real estate, the main difference between a real estate agent and a REALTOR® is a REALTOR® is a member of the National Association of REALTORS®, the largest trade group in the country.
Every agent is not a REALTOR®, but most are. If you’re unsure, you can ask your agent if they’re a licensed REALTOR®.
The 17 Differences Between REALTORS and Real Estate Agents
REALTOR® must subscribe to the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. There are 17 Articles in the Code of Ethics. To many consumers, this matters. The Code of Ethics is strictly enforced by local real estate boards. The 17 Articles of the Code of Ethics also contains various underlying Standards of Practice. It’s not just a bunch of rules that agents swear to uphold and adhere to because their broker made them join the Board. The Standards are much more restrictive and confining to conduct than those state guidelines governing agents who simply hold a real estate license. Here are 17 things that a REALTOR® promises to do:
- Pledge to put the interests of buyers and sellers ahead of their own and to treat all parties honestly.
- Shall refrain from exaggerating, misrepresenting, or concealing material facts; and is obligated to investigate and disclose when situations reasonably warrant.
- Shall cooperate with other brokers / agents when it is in the best interests of the client to do so.
- Have a duty to disclose if they represent family members who own or are about to buy real estate, or if they themselves are a principal in a real estate transaction, that they are licensed to sell real estate.
- Shall not provide professional services in a transaction where the agent has a present or contemplated interest without disclosing that interest.
- Shall not collect any commissions without the seller’s knowledge nor accept fees from a third-party without the seller’s express consent.
- Shall refuse fees from more than one party without all parties’ informed consent.
- Shall not co-mingle client funds with the agent’s own.
- Shall attempt to ensure that all written documents are easy to understand and will give everybody a copy of what they sign.
- Shall not discriminate in any fashion for any reason on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.
- Expects agents to be competent, to conform to standards of practice and to refuse to provide services for which they are unqualified.
- Must engage in truth in advertising.
- Shall not practice law unless the agent is a lawyer.
- Shall cooperate if charges are brought against them and present all evidence requested.
- Agree to not bad mouth competition and agree not to file unfounded ethics complaints.
- Shall not solicit another REALTOR’S client nor interfere in a contractual relationship.
- Shall submit to arbitration to settle matters and not seek legal remedies in the judicial system.
The National Association of REALTORS® was founded in 1908 and its members number more than one million.
HOW TO CHOOSE A REALTOR
- Determine where you want to live. If you narrow your choice to one or two towns, you can identify which Realtor specializes in those locations. Based on commuting distance from work, house prices and school systems, you should narrow your search area.
- Do some initial research. You can review the current market prices online at websites like “Realtor.com” When you see a property you’re interested in, make a note of it along with the seller’s agent’s information. You can email the listing to yourself or bookmark the page to keep all the details.
- Make a list of potential Realtors. You can include Realtors you know as well from family and friends as well as Realtors you have met through your research, open houses or advertising.
- Contact the best two or three real estate agents on your list. In your initial contacts with potential Realtors, you may find that some Realtors appeared more professional and responsive than others. Schedule an appointment with each of them on different days or times. Contact the real estate agent about any houses you identified in Steps 2 and 3 that you were interested in viewing.
- Confirm the properties to visit before your appointment. This will avoid overlap of viewing the same houses with other Realtors. Go to view properties with each real estate agent.
- Assess each Realtor based on her professionalism, ability to help you, and fit with your personality. By visiting houses with several Realtors, you can compare them and find the Realtor that is best suited to help you find your dream house.
ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS
Ask all of these questions. This is no time for being shy:
- How long have you been in real estate? You’re looking for a seasoned agent—and while she doesn’t need decades of experience under her belt, less than a year or two of experience can be concerning.
- How long have you lived in this area? One noteworthy exception to the previous question is if she’s lived in the area for a long time. “A newly licensed agent shouldn’t be automatically removed from consideration,” says Mindy Jensen, a Realtor with Equity Colorado Real Estate. “If they’ve lived in the area their entire life, they likely know more about it than an agent who has been in the business for years but only recently moved to the region.” Weigh overall experience against local experience when making your decision.
- Do you have a team, or do you work alone? Many standalone agents are excellent, but don’t ignore the value of a team. “Working with a team is important,” says Angelo Puma, a real estate agent in Keller, TX. “It increases response time and availability. Often, solo-run agents are double-booked when you need their attention, and you may lose that perfect property.”
- What is your schedule? If they’re not a full-time agent, you need to know when they’ll be available. “If the only time you can see houses is in direct conflict with times they have to be working their other jobs, you could miss out on a lot of properties,” says Jensen.
- Do you have any vacations planned? If they’re heading out of the city anytime soon, make sure they have a back-up in case you find the perfect home while they’re out of the country. “Murphy’s Law rules Realtor vacations,” says Jensen.