Buying a New Home: Who Should I Work With?

Posted by  on Jun 03, 2010

Dear Liz,

I am all approved for a mortgage, and I am ready to shop for my new home. But I don't have a real estate agent. I know how to find the best mortgage rates. But how do I find a good agent to help me buy my home?

Naomi, Oregon

Hi Naomi,

That's a good question. It's good that you have found a good mortgage. Keep in mind, though, that your lender isn't committed to honoring any rate or terms until you have found a property and locked in your loan. So it's a good idea to check with a site like Shoprate.com before you lock in to make sure that you're getting the lowest mortgage rates available. It's a great way to keep your lender honest. Now, about that agent...

It's amazing. The minute you announce that you're thinking about buying a home, real estate agents come crawling out of every corner of the universe. Your child's teacher offers to put you in touch with her sister, who got her license last week. Your waitress drops off a business card along with your coffee. Your book club contains sixteen agents and they all want your business. How do you sort the wheat from the chaff and find a real professional?

What Good Agents Do

Good agents are respectful of your time. They get to know your needs instead of carting you off indiscriminately through a bunch of homes you may not like or be able to afford. Good agents preview properties to save you the trouble of visiting a place that's loaded with pets (and you're allergic), or is owned by heavy smokers (and you're not one), or is located next to a place with more dead cars than a wrecking yard. Good agents won't write a contract that requires you to put up $20,000 in earnest money (and not requiring the other party to return it), or forget about inspections or home warranties. Good agents know which parts of town are declining, and which are undergoing renewal. In short, you want an agent as professional and conscientious at his or her job as you are at yours.

Where Can You Find a Good Agent?

You can get recommendations from friends. Mortgage lenders and brokers often know good real estate pros. But don't just choose your agent based on someone else's recommendation.

Interviewing Real Estate Agents

Ask every agent you interview these three questions before making a decision.

  1. Do you work in real estate full time, and how many years have you been licensed? Those who work in real estate full-time are far more likely to treat it as a profession and keep up with new developments and continuing education. The real estate profession looks a lot easier from the outside than it does from the inside. Turnover is high, and it takes several years of experience before an agent is as fully-proficient as he or she can be.
  2. Why should I choose you to help me buy my next home? What do you and your firm have to offer?
  3. How many homes have you listed/sold in the last year? In a tough market, that might not be a huge number, but you don't want to work with someone who's annual income hinges on getting you to buy something.

Three More Tips

  1. Avoid dual agency. In many states it's legal for a real estate agent to represent both the buyer and seller. However, there is no way that one person can adequately represent you both because your interests always diverge at some point. Ditto those real estate agents who also act as mortgage lenders.
  2. Consider working with a Realtor. Realtors are members of the National Association of Realtors. They have access to local multiple listing services, and are required to adhere to a code of ethics devised by the association, which gives you one more level of oversight.
  3. Choose someone who works in your price range. An agent who doesn't may be unfamiliar with the neighborhoods you are interested in. A high-end specialist may give you short shrift if you're looking for a "fixer" and someone used to lower-end homes may be eaten alive when negotiating for a mansion.

House hunting should be fun. And it probably will be, if you shop for mortgage lenders first, then real estate agents, and THEN your home.


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