Saving for the house was the easy part. Now you have to find an agent who you trust to help you make the biggest financial decision of your life. Finding a good one is sometimes so frustrating that buyers opt to do it themselves, potentially leaving money on the table when they don't have an agent negotiating solely for them. (And buyer's agents are free for the buyer. For more information, read about how agents get paid.)
At Nestment, my role is to find those absolutely amazing agents who go above and beyond for their clients, and who know the market so well their clients never feel like they overpaid.
Your agent should have a lot of experience with your town, price point, and loan program. On top of that, you want someone you trust to guide you and also someone you'll get along with. I'll let you in on a few of my strategies for screening agents:
1. Ask for references and experience level
Don't just trust the reviews you've found online. Ask your agent to speak to the last 2-3 buyers they worked with. Great agents leave trails of happy clients who are usually thrilled to chat your ear off about how their agent found them the perfect house under budget. And if an agent can't or won't provide them, that should tell you something.
Also, ask for a list of their last X number of transactions. I go with 30, but you can make the decision about how experienced you want the agent to be for yourself. The reason I ask for the list with addresses is that a lot of agents will exaggerate their experience level because they are afraid you won't use them. When you ask for a list, they can't round up.
I go one step further; I interview two agents who have worked opposite them on recent transactions. This helps me filter out the aggressive agents who may have a reputation of screwing the competition. But, I doubt any agent would provide these references to a potential buyer because they might worry you'd like the other agent better.
2. Stalk them on social media
Here's where growing up dating in the 21st century will finally pay off. You know how to stalk someone on the web. Once you identify an agent you think you want to use, take to your laptop and do some digging. It's shocking how much about someone's value system you can learn from what they voluntarily put online and you want someone whose judgement you trust. Make sure you:
- Find their Instagram account. And if it mentions anything to do with real estate in their username, they probably have two. Find their personal account. My rule of thumb: if they have more than 2 pictures of their Mercedes or they constantly post memes about money, they'll have commission breath.
- Find their private Facebook account. How strict their privacy settings are can you a lot about their judgement. I'm not opposed to mostly public pages as long as they are PC but I'd say 1 in 5 agents have completely public, completely offensive Facebook accounts. Red flag.
- Google them without the word "realtor" in it. This has turned up agent's personal Facebook pages, negative reviews that were hard to find, past careers, you name it. You never know what you'll find on Google. While you're at it, Google their phone number.
Pro tip: Can't find all of their accounts? People tend to use the same username across many sites. Try facebook.com/theiremailaddress (without the @gmail.com part).
3. Quiz them on the market
When you do finally meet with the agent in person or on the phone, ask them about a specific nearby house for sale. If they say something vague like "oh ya, that's a good one," push them a little about the price, number of rooms, and upgrade level. Agents who really know the ins and outs of markets pride themselves on knowing every house. A lot of them actually go preview all of the houses themselves regardless of if they have a buyer for them.
Having an agent who stays up on the market will be an asset. When they pull the comps on the house you are about to write an offer on, they will know the little things about each house on the list that may have impacted the price. Like, this house looks great but it smelled like cat pee and that's why it sold for cheaper. Or, this house says it has 3 bedrooms but actually has 4 so we shouldn't use it as a comp.
Ask them to email you the listing information and double check that they weren't BSing you with their answers.
Or, of course, you can have nestment.com do all the dirty work for you and introduce you to a great agent at no cost to you. (Sorry for the plug.)
Caity Salvatore founded Nestment.com when she was sick of hearing her friends complain about their real estate agents. She is out to prove that great agents do exist, and works as a matchmaker between home buyers/sellers and real estate agents. She spends her days interviewing agents and bingeing on Dunkin Donuts.