Look at you. You’ve been stashing away your dollars, and now you’ve got enough for a big fat down payment. Time to start looking for a home. Since you’re new to the game, you plan to use an agent to guide you through the process, right? Problem is, do you trust Yelp reviews or just go with your sister’s best friend’s recommendation?
Here’s our two cents:
Assemble a short list of agents who pique your interest (referrals count for a lot!) and then take each through a semi-formal interview process over coffee. If they don’t have the time to sit and answer your questions, you might want to rethink their inclusion on your list of prospective agents.
Feel free to start with your favorite version of the “Why should I pick you?” question. We’re going to assume every prepared agent has a well-rehearsed answer.
After that, whatever else you do, we recommend that you include these seven must-ask questions:
1. How long have you worked as a buyer’s agent in residential real estate?
Follow this up with whether those were full-time or part-time years. You’ll want to know your agent has experience in handling all kinds of hitches and hiccups – the breadth of experience you’re looking for can only come with time and practice.
2. Can I review your Buyer’s Broker Agreement before signing?
Ask for a copy of the contract, and read every paragraph. A good agent should be willing to walk you through it. Agreement forms vary by state, by city, and by firm. You’ll want to know up front whether you have the right to exclusive representation, who’s responsible for the commission, and whether you’ll incur fees should you decide the relationship is not working.
3. How do you communicate, and what are your hours of availability?
The best answers to these questions are: “I communicate in whatever ways are best for you,” and “I’m always available.” Granted, you don’t want to abuse that availability, but you also don’t want the added stress of an agent who doesn’t answer their phone or email.
4. What can you tell me about the demographics and the current real estate market in my target neighborhoods?
“Current” is a key word here, as the market constantly changes. And anyone who specializes in an area where you want to live is going to be an asset.
5. Do you know of any home buying programs or incentives by builders or sellers?
Buying a home is a big freaking deal. Anything that can help make it easier on you is welcome. The more familiar an agent is with area programs and incentives or other opportunities for buyers, the better.
6. Will you be able to recommend service providers?
Most agents have a list of inspectors, mortgage providers, and title companies that they’ll happily hand over. Be sure to ask if these service providers are “affiliated” with the agent or her broker. If so, you might end up paying a little more for the convenience. If you’re uncomfortable with that, ask if she can offer any non-affiliated providers.
7. Can you provide me with the names and numbers of your last five clients?
Call them. Seriously.
Although you may not love the idea of interviewing agents, you’ll be glad you did. Once you find a great agent, she’ll work hard to help you find your new home. She might even kick some butt on your behalf. And trust us, the home buying process goes so much smoother with a well-practiced butt-kicker on your side.