When you buy a home, your agent is effectively a business partner. You’re both working toward the same goal: closing a real estate deal. That’s why it’s in your best interest to to know both how to hire a real estate agent and how to build a good relationship with them.
Because the better an ally you are, the better an ally your agent will be. Here’s how to pick a real estate agent and work well with them.
1. Know What You Want
A lot of home buyers dive into the house hunt with no idea what they want, so the first and best way to be a good client is to know exactly what you’re looking for in a house.
Ask yourself a few basic questions. What’s my budget? What type of house do I want -- single family or townhome? Is there a design style I must have? A neighborhood I need to be in?
Knowing these specifics – and telling our agent about them – will help them find homes that match your criteria. Because neither you nor your agent wants to waste time looking at dozens of houses that aren’t even close to what you have in mind.
“Over-communicating your intentions and goals is a really good idea,” says Ashton Gustafson, an agent with the Bishop Group in Wichita Falls, Texas.
Knowing exactly what you want can help you know how to pick a real estate agent, too. Some agents specialize in certain neighborhoods, and some specialize in old houses or particular architectural styles.
2. Meet Agents in Person
It’s fine to start off your relationship with an agent via email, text, or phone, but before you hire them to work with you, set up a meeting. Yep, do a face-to-face interview.
It’s a good idea to interview three agents before picking one. Here are some questions you should ask:
- How long have you been an agent?
- What neighborhoods do you specialize in?
- How many homes have you helped people buy in the last year?
- How many clients are you currently working with?
Meeting in person can help both sides determine compatibility and establish trust. To the agent, meeting a buyer IRL is a sign the prospect is serious about buying.
“When I ask a question of a buyer, if I can’t see their face, I can’t see their reaction, and I have no idea if I’m really getting the emotions that are behind their answers,” says Jackie Leavenworth, an agent and real estate industry coach in Cleveland, Ohio.
3. Set Up Expectations for Communication
Tell your agent how you’d like to stay in touch during the buying process. Do you do prefer texts? Facebook messenger? Or do you like old-fashioned phone calls (telephone calls: Still a thing!)?
Tell them how often you expect to hear from them, too. Daily? Weekly? And tell them the best times of day to reach you.
“My successful buyers ask what kind of communication they’ll have with me,” says Thai Hung Nguyen, an agent with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Premier in Washington, D.C. “My answer to them is always, ‘It’s totally up to you.’”
4. Be Respectful
Be mindful of an agent’s time. Don’t flake on showings. Be prompt.
If you disagree with your agent, respectfully tell them why.
Resist the urge to freak out if the agent doesn’t immediately respond to a text or phone call. “People hire me because I jump through hoops, but I also need buyers to know that I have a life, too,” says Leavenworth.
5. Get Organized
We told you communicating your wants to your agent was key. Here’s a good way to do it: Write them down. We recommend filling out our first-time buyer’s worksheet.
Give a copy to the agent. They'll be better able to find homes that match your criteria.
You should also have your financial records in order. This means getting pre-approved for a loan. Pre-approval for a mortgage says you’re serious about buying a house and not just window shopping.
“Anything we do without a loan approval letter is pure speculation,” says Marki Lemons-Ryhal, an agent and social media strategist for real estate in Chicago.
6. Admit What You Don’t Know
Real estate transactions are complicated. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know what all the terms mean or what to expect during each step of the process.
If you don’t know what escrow means, ask. If you’re confused about the terms of an offer, say so. It’s totally normal to ask an agent for a little hand-holding — that’s what they’re there for.
Part of knowing how to hire a real estate agent is finding one you trust enough to tell you things you don’t know.
7. Don’t Play the Field With Other Agents
If you’re working with an agent who is hustling for you, don’t dally around with another agent. In real estate, just as in romance, that’s cheating. It can backfire by damaging your relationship with your agent.
If your agent finds out you’ve got other agents showing you houses, they may prioritize other clients. So, a big part of knowing how to pick a real estate agent is knowing that you need to stand by your agent once you hire them.
In fact, it's in both your interest and the agent's to sign a buyer's broker agreement for a set period of time. The agreements spell out the rights and duties of both parties, including exclusivity.