Despite the increased access to housing information the Internet provides these days, a real estate agent still plays a vital role in the homebuying process. Many buyers and sellers believe they can do it alone, but it is nearly impossible to match the experience and expertise of a seasoned real estate agent.
The importance of real estate agents
Expert agents discussed why you still need them in the Washington Post.1
"A good Realtor can help guide you through the financing part of buying a home by recommending a good lender," said Karen Brown, a real estate agent at Long & Foster Real Estate in Reston, Virginia. "In fact, a prequalification from a lender that your Realtor can vouch for can be an asset during the buying process, especially if you're competing with other buyers for a home."
Suzanne Des Marais, an associate broker at Keller Williams Capital Properties in Washington D.C., said the sheer number of properties full-time agents have seen makes them extremely valuable in helping you understand how much different homes are worth and the extent of repairs a property might need.
David Bediz, who works with the Bediz Group at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Washington D.C., added that realtors have the right knowledge and right connections. They may show you properties you would have never otherwise found, and how to handle making an offer based on whether or not you are shopping in a highly competitive market.
How to choose the right agent
If you decide to work with an agent, it is important to take your time in selecting the right one. Even a wildly popular and successful agent may not be the right one to serve your unique needs, so make sure to do your homework and evaluate many agents before choosing who to work with.
As Redfinsaid, just because you know someone who is an agent does not mean that person is the agent you need.2 Real estate agents have a variety of strengths and skills, and there are many factors to consider before deciding who to work with:
1. Determine their specialties
Make sure to look for a real estate agent who specializes in your unique needs, both in regards to the area in which you're looking to buy and the type of home you want. U.S. News & World Report explained that every neighborhood possesses unique qualities, and a real estate agent - no matter how talented - may not be able to help you if he is not well-versed in the area you want to live.3
Some realtors also may have more experience working with certain types of properties or certain types of clients (such as first-time homebuyers, for example), so make sure the agent you choose specializes in exactly what you're looking for.
2. Make sure they're fully qualified
Bankrate explained that anyone has access to state records regarding the licensing of real estate agents.4 You can also check whether anyone has ever filed a complaint or disciplinary action against an agent you're considering. Beyond licensing, there are other credentials to look out for that show an agent has received additional training. CRS, for example, means Certified Residential Specialist, and ABR means your real estate agent is an Accredited Buyer's Representative.
You may also want to find a real estate agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors. The NAR has an extensive code of ethics to which all members adhere.5 Portions of the code include a promise to "protect and promote the interests of their client" and "treat all parties honestly" as well as a vow to "avoid exaggeration, misrepresentation, or concealment of pertinent facts relating to the property or the transaction." The code includes 17 articles and ensures your agent will keep your best interests in mind. Those who call themselves Realtors, with a capital R, are members of the NAR.
3. Test their knowledge
A real estate agent should be aware of what's happening with real estate in the area you're looking. When interviewing potential agents, ask them questions about properties in the area. If they can't answer without looking up the information, it may be a red flag that they are not informed enough.
4. Speak to past clients
A potential real estate agent should be able to provide a list of past clients willing to speak with you. Mirtha Barzaga of Davidson Realty told U.S. News & World Report she even sends potential clients out to lunch with prospects. That way, they can speak openly and not feel like they have to hold back.
5. Make sure they are experienced
Many agents only work part time and are usually not equipped with enough knowledge or experience. It is important to find a full-time agent with at least five years of experience. Time explained that while five years is a generally excepted length of time, there are always exceptions.6 Someone who has not been around as long may have fewer clients and thus can devote more time to you.
The important thing is to confirm your agent has the expertise and specialties you need. Beyond all of that experience and knowledge, it is also about chemistry. If you and your agent don't mesh, you'll have a hard time working together.
Where to start
Asking friends, family and coworkers for recommendations is a great place to begin looking for the right real estate agent. In addition, you can meet real estate agents by attending open houses going on in the neighborhood in which you plan to buy.
1The Washington Post
3U.S. News and World Report
5The National Association of Realtors