So you’re in the market for a home, you’ve hired a realtor and you’re all set to dive into the throws of the househunting process. Perhaps you’re a first-time buyer, or maybe you’ve been down this road before.
Either way, let’s assume that by this point you’ve evaluated your agent based on her impressive track record, winning personality, and in-depth knowledge of market trends.
Not so fast! The assessment doesn’t end there.
On the sometimes bumpy road to homeownership, you need to feel confident that your realtor has your best interests in mind. Like a first date (sans popcorn), the first day on the hunt with a new agent is all about impressions. From the moment you hop in the car, there are several indictors that’ll help you determine whether your agent is the one.
Consider these 5 when you’re en route to see your first set of potential homes:
No, your realtor doesn’t need to roll up in a luxury BMW or sport an Armani pantsuit. But cleanliness is a basic sign of respect and consideration. If you’re carpooling to showings and open houses, your agent’s car should be free of clutter, trash, and off-putting smells. This isn’t a character judgement; it’s a red flag.
Think about it—If your realtor demonstrates zero attention to detail, how can you trust her evaluation of a home or a neighborhood? How can you be confident that she isn’t overlooking crucial market trends? And, perhaps most troubling, how can you tell she cares about making you—her client—happy? You can’t. And that’s a deal breaker.
Organization is Everything
Let’s be real. Searching for a home can be as exhausting and time consuming as it is exciting. Your realtor’s ability to manage time is of the essence, so to speak. Unless this is a spur of the moment drive-by, your agent should have planned and coordinated the day’s showings. She should have pre-scheduled appointments with sellers and selling agents, and mapped out open house locations and hours.
Much like a tidy presentation, organization is a reflection that your agent is putting in the effort. Plus, it saves you a lot of wasted time. While you were driving around in circles or showing up to open houses that weren’t open, you could have been discovering your dream house or hanging out with your dog. Everybody runs late once in a while; in cities like Los Angeles, traffic is akin to a natural disaster—often unpredictable, always uncontrollable. But your agent should have all the ducks she can control in a nice, time-saving row.
A Little Homework Says A Lot
A picture is just a picture. A bad photo can make a cavernous living room look cramped. A good photo can make a fixer-upper look like the epitome of luxury. An image can be helpful, sure, but if it’s the only research you’ve got on hand, you may be overlooking a hidden gem or wasting your energy on a dead end.
Your realtor should have looked beyond the photos of the properties she’s taking you to see. Perhaps she’s done a drive-by of the home or she’s particularly familiar with the street it’s on. Either way, your agent shouldn’t be shuffling you around blindly. That’ll likely end up being a huge waste of your time, and hers. Yes, sometimes you get lucky and stumble on a treasure by chance. But for the most part, having a clear understanding of a potential property before you set foot on it is a really good idea.
Ideally, when you have a question about the neighborhood, your realtor should have already done her homework. If she doesn’t know something, she should be quick to look into it for you. Bottom line: If your real estate agent isn’t making a point to inform you, she may not be gunning for your best interest. A quick rundown of each neighborhood on the ride over goes a long way. (Extra credit if she provides a list of the homes so you have a reference and a place to take notes).
Pushiness is Not a Virtue
When it comes to assessing properties on viewing day, everybody has a pace. Maybe you like to examine every inch twice, write down pros and cons, and then sit quietly on the couch with your impressions. On the other hand, maybe you prefer to get a brief overview of the options, and then return another day to the properties you had a connection with. Whatever your style, a good realtor will adapt to it.
The ability to motivate clients to actualize their real estate goals is a wonderful quality in an agent. But motivating and rushing are two very different animals. If your agent’s goal is to help you find and purchase your dream home, she’ll chill out and exercise a little patience. If she’s pushing you to see more properties than you can stomach in one sitting, or pressuring you to come to hasty conclusions, her heart may not be in the right place. Rash decisions are almost invariably a mistake in real estate, and your agent knows that.
Listening is Louder than Words
Notice whether the properties you’re visiting match what you previously discussed with your realtor. By this point, your agent should have asked you to share your preferences for size, style, and neighborhood. Even if you’re feeling open-minded or don’t have a clear vision of your ideal, she should, at the very least, have a good understanding of your budget and personal deal-breakers.
It’s not to say that a good agent can’t open your eyes to possibilities you never considered. Often, that ability is the magic of an exceptional realtor. An outside perspective is always valuable, especially when it comes from an expert. And, occasionally, it may lead you right through the front door of a promising alternative.
Regardless, your agent should be listening to what you want, and not taking a one-size-fits-all approach. One man’s shack is another man’s palace; and your realtor should be committed to finding you your personal palace. Besides, a bad listener is never a good negotiator—but that’s a topic for another day.