How-to Monday: Choosing an agent, part II
Photo courtesy of Stock.XCHNG
Would-be buyers in the market for a Realtor as well as a house should choose just as carefully as a seller looking for a listing agent. You want someone who will help you separate the good deals from the chaff, point out pitfalls and act in your best interests.
Never fear: Read on for tips galore. (Are you selling rather than buying? Then see last week's How-to post.)
Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, thinks you should consider looking for a real estate broker whose office works exclusively with buyers. Why? Because you might not get good service when a Realtor's loyalty is divided between you and colleagues working with sellers, he says.
Brobeck said he learned that first-hand when he and his wife went looking for properties, and their agent "showed us only his listings." Maryland law prevents an agent from representing both the buyer and the seller in the same deal, but that doesn't stop a Realtor from talking up the houses handled by his or her office.
Definitions for the uninitiated: An "exclusive buyer agent" works in an office that does not take listings. A "buyer agent" works with buyers but is based in an office that also sells. (UPDATE: Some call themselves buyer agents because they SOMETIMES work with buyers, says Jay Reifert, broker and owner of Excel-Exclusive Buyer Agency in Madison, Wis.) Most agents work with buyers and sellers both.
The main thing is to find someone who knows what they're doing and will represent you well. No matter what type of agent you want, Jon Boyd, past president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents, suggests you interview several and ask them about their skills in these areas:
--Negotiation. What's their level of experience? How will they get you the best deal? What evidence can they show about how they've saved previous clients money, whether on the contract price, the extras (seller help with buyer closing costs, for instance) or the loan terms?
--Property evaluation. How will they help you tell if the house is a steal or a dud?
--Representation. Ask how they intend to deal with potential conflicts of interest (i.e. the listing agent for the house you want is your agent's boss). "'Who's your boss' is a great question," Boyd said.
Brobeck also suggests asking agents if they will search for all properties that meet your specifications, no matter what the commission split. The seller's agent typically splits his or her commission with the buyer's agent, and there's always a danger that a home on the multiple-listing service with a stingier-than-usual split will get ... ah ... overlooked. (See more about splits in last week's How-to post.)
Many agents will let you search the multiple-listing service in their office if you ask, Brobeck added.
John F. Sullivan, an exclusive buyer agent with Buyer's Edge in Bethesda, notes that you'll want to know when -- and how -- you can get out of an agreement with your agent if you're not happy with the service. The standard agreement can be terminated before the expiration date only if both parties OK it, he said, but some are more flexible.