Choosing the Right Real Estate Agent

Buying a home may be the largest and most important purchase you ever make. That's why many buyers find it helpful to use a professional real estate agent to walk them through the transaction. But how do you select the right agent for you?Interview Real Estate Agents

You've decided to buy a home, established your budget and prequalified for financing. Now comes the fun part--shopping for a home. Thanks to the Internet, it's easy to quickly sort through listings that match your price and location preferences. But once you find something you like, you still need to see the property in person, have it inspected and negotiate a final price. That's where a real estate agent can come in. A professional agent can walk you through the buying process--from search, to inspection, to closing.

As soon as you're serious about buying a home, it's time to find an agent. Start off by asking friends or neighbors for recommendations. And don't stop at the first candidate. Ideally, you'll want to interview at least three professionals before you commit to working with one of them, says Gregory Olson, a real estate agent based on New York City. "Even if you like the first one you've interviewed, you still want to interview a couple more," Olson says. "And if you still like the first one after that, then I would hire them."

During the interviews, begin by asking each real estate agent about his or her experience, credentials and any professional organizations to which he or she belongs. Olson recommends asking how long the agent has worked in the industry. "Someone who's been in the business for more than two years usually has very good product knowledge," he says. You may want to work with someone is a member of the National Association of Realtors. You may also want to deal with an Accredited Buyer's Representative. This is a Realtor with special training who specializes in transactions representing buyers.

Next, ask the agents when they are available to show homes. "You want to find out if the agent has the same schedule as you," Olson says. "That makes it more convenient for you, and you always know they're available when you're available to look."

And don't forget to find out how well the real estate professionals know the neighborhood. Agents who specialize in a certain area have local knowledge that can help buyers. For example, they can tell you if a certain home is a good value for the area and help you select locations that best match your budget and lifestyle.

At the end of the day, the interview process should provide you with the information you need to achieve a level of comfort with an agent, so ask any and all questions that you feel are important in making that decision.

A Buyer's Agent

Once you get the basics out of the way, you may want to make sure you select a real estate professional who agrees to represent only you--and not the seller too, says Olson. This is very important since you'll be sharing some personal information with your agent, including how much you can comfortably afford to spend on a home. Should this number get back to the seller or the seller's agent, you could be at a disadvantage when it's time to negotiate the price.

You may also want to consider signing a formal contract called a Buyer Agency Agreement. This is a written agreement that specifies the terms and conditions of the real estate professional's representation of the buyer.

It's not uncommon for the buyer's agent and the listing agent to be employed by the same brokerage. In such a situation, called "dual agency," both you and the seller must agree to the dual agency setup. Occasionally, the same agent will represent both buyer and seller in the transaction. In that case, the agent is prohibited from disclosing confidential information to either party, or from negotiating on behalf of one party.

Negotiating Skills

Finally, a buyer should look for a Realtor with sharp negotiating skills. After you make your first offer on a home, the seller may come back with a counter offer. Offers can go back and forth several times before you and the seller come to an agreement. So you'll want your real estate professional to be able to help you determine where it makes sense to be firm and where it makes sense to be flexible, as well as how to handle bad inspections or low appraisals during the buying process, which can sometimes derail a purchase altogether.

"Everything is negotiable," Olson says. If the roof needs $8,000 in repairs, for example, he would try to negotiate a reduction in price or get the seller to make the necessary repairs. You want an agent who will be just as tough on your behalf. "You want to hire someone who's going to represent your interests and have your back in the deal."

Once you have all this information, you should have a much better grasp of who you feel most comfortable working with during the home buying process.

Now let's go check out some open houses.

Interested in learning more about the home buying process? Here are some AOL real estate guides that might help:

Can Fixer-Uppers Work for First Timers?
Common Mistakes Homebuyers Make
Real Estate Appraisals 101
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