If you were to ask people what they look for when choosing an agent their answer will run the gamut: my agent "has to be the area expert"; or "has to be a good marketer"; or "has to be experienced". These are all valid reasons but will they really determine whether you will have a good experience?
Some people say "my agent has to have a good reputation". Unfortunately reputation can sometimes be subjective. Some people may like an agent and some not for no legitimate reason so it will depend on who you ask. Consequently, although an overall good reputation is critical, it isn't a foolproof endorsement.
For me, after watching agents operate from the inside for 25 years, the factor that trumps all others is an agent who has an unbending moral fibre - someone you can trust. Moral fibre is the engine that drives your agent's motives. Without a moral compass your agent will not act in your best interest when advising or representing you. So the question is how do you read someone's moral compass through a brief interview when selecting an agent?
The key is to interview an agent and ask questions that are open ended so the agent doesn't tell you just what you want to hear.
- A smart consumer will ask for references. That's a good start but not bullet proof. Does anyone ever give references of people who don't like them? How do you get around this? Ask the agent for five of their most recent sales and jot them down. Then ask "would you mind if I call these clients for a reference?" If they hesitate then you know their experience with this client was not positive. This doesn't mean there isn't an explanation because some clients are easier to deal with than others. But at least this opens the door to ask the agent questions.
- Everyone who has been in sales has been fortunate enough to work with the "perfect client". Ask the realtor to describe their "perfect client". Their belief system will come through with every word. You may end up thinking "this person has a strong moral character and I will be in trusted hands". That's a good feeling to have as you venture into this process.
- Everyone who has been in sales has also encountered the "client from hell". Ask the realtor to define their "client from hell". How did the realtor respond to this challenging situation? What character traits did they display as they worked through it? Remember a time when you heard someone recount a story and you thought to yourself "this is a nice person" or "this person is a jerk". Listening to them recount their story will be an eye opener.
- Does your agent talk you out of a house they don't think is right for you or are they always pushing whatever house they show you? Ask "when was the last time you talked a client out of buying a particular house and why?" "When was the last time you convinced them to buy it and why?" This will demonstrate their judgement and thought process as they advise you too.
- Ask the agent to tell you what system they use to keep in touch? You don't want to find, after you sign a Buyer Agency Agreement, that you are bound to an agent who doesn't communicate with you regularly.
- You want an agent who is available especially in a tight inventory and rising market because you don't want to miss out on an opportunity. Who will take care of you when the agent is on vacation?
- Honesty is paramount because there are many details that need to be disclosed so you can make the most informed decision. But honesty is not a learned trait. It is ingrained in a person's DNA. But you can't assess this from an interview which makes listening carefully to the agent's recounting of stories so necessary.
- Work ethic is not something you can teach. It's a trait that is cultivated in one's upbringing yet so important. I will give you an example of how it will make a difference. This year I worked with buyers who had been working with another agent for a year. Within weeks I found their dream home but we were competing with four other buyers. We were certain we had to pay up heavily for this house. On offer night all the other offers were emailed to the listing office and I knew that if I presented my offer in person, with my client nearby, we would have an edge. After we procured the house the seller said we won out because I was the only agent who showed up, was prepared and pleaded my client's case. We paid $20,000 over asking with five offers in today's crazy market where many homes are selling for $100,000 over. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, an agent who does not present your offer in person is showing poor work ethic. In a low inventory market, especially, you need a sharp agent who will do whatever it takes to represent you because you can't afford to miss out in a rising market.
- A common complaint from consumers is that they thought they were hiring one agent and, instead, were handed over to another. With the advent of real estate teams, some team leaders assign their clients to less experienced juniors so they can concentrate on signing up the next client. Make sure, before you sign a Buyer Agency Agreement, that you clarify and are comfortable with who will be assigned to you and don't forget to interview that agent.
- Does the agent respect your privacy and maintain confidentiality? We all know agents who are discreet and those who talk too much. Who would you rather work with?
So do your due diligence when choosing an agent by asking questions that will allow you to evaluate their character because the successful outcome of your house purchase or sale will depend on it.