Real estate is a competitive business, which means agents have to compete for their clients. Just as they work to find their next client (that they hope will turn into repeat business and a positive testimonial), you need to work to find the right real estate agent (one that you feel comfortable with to guide you through the whole process of buying or selling a home). How do you choose with so many to pick from? As with any selection process, there’s a few steps you can take to quickly narrow down your options. So take the time now to find the right person and you could prevent a lot of hassles down the road.
What agent to find
Finding an experienced agent who specializes in green real estate and in your particular area is ideal because they’ll have the right mix of experience and knowledge to assist with your specific situation.
Of those three factors—experience, green homes and location specialization—you might get lucky and find someone with all three. If not, you’ll have to weigh the relative importance of each.
How to find an agent
Referrals are always best. Ask friends and family if they know someone that they’d recommend. If you’re lucky enough to get referred to a green home specialist from someone you trust, your task finding an agent could be a short one.
You can turn to the web for quick results. EcoBroker, considered one of the most established green real estate agent designations, operates a member search directory on their website. In Canada, The National Association of Green Agents and Brokers maintains an online directory of green real estate agents. If a search on your area pulls up any listings, you can then start looking through those agents’ websites.
It’s a good idea to run a search on Google for “green real estate agents <your location>” (without the brackets: i.e. green real estate agents Denver or green real estate agents Colorado). How high these agents’ websites rank is not necessarily an indicator of the agent’s experience, popularity or number of homes sold, but is an indicator of their popularity on the Internet, and that fact alone means a lot in terms of how much visibility your home will get when listed.
You might not have any luck finding someone who specializes in green homes or in your specific area, so you’ll need to take your search further afield. If in your search you come across a great agent, but who doesn’t specialize in what you’re looking for, don’t hesitate to ask for a referral to one who does. You can also ask around at local agencies to come up with a list of agents’ names.
Alternatively, if you have the time, Elizabeth Weintraub, Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate, recommends tracking for sale signs in the neighbourhood to see when they go up and when they’re sold. You could also attend open houses to see agents in action and meet them in a casual environment rather than interviewing them.
Assessing an agent
Go through agents’ marketing materials, websites and interview them, keeping an eye out to determine whether the agent is puffing themselves up or not. Do they really have the experience they claim to have?
A look through their websites might help you discover the answer. See how many listings and sales they have. If they do have a lot, look for the fine print to see whether those are actually their own listings or if they belong to other agents in the office. Also check to see if they advertise on other home listing websites, which would increase the visibility of your home for sale.
An agent with a high traffic website is akin to an agent who advertises a lot in print. The more visible they are, the more visibility your home will get when for sale. It’s also possible that if they’re a highly visible agent, however, they’re really busy and don’t have much time for you. They may have an assistant who will do most of the work, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the assistant is knowledgeable enough.
Once you've found a potential agent, visit one of their open houses to see them in action and to decide whether or not you think they'd do a good job showing your home.
Assessing how much an agent knows and how much experience they have doesn’t always equate to the same thing. According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, “A freshly-licensed REALTOR can do a wonderful job and will have up-to-date training; those in the business longer bring more practical experience.”
Clarifying their qualifications
Real estate agent certifications are managed by state. Though requirements vary by state, qualifying as an agent typically requires taking a course of at least a few weeks and successfully completing an exam.
Once getting licensed, agents can pursue a number of different certifications/designations that give them an added level of knowledge in specific niches. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) offers 23 designations, including the Green Designation and Accredited Buyer's Representative.
A “REALTOR®” and a “real estate agent” are not the same thing. The former are real estate agents licensed by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). A REALTOR® is a real estate agent, but a real estate agent who is not a member of NAR is not a REALTOR®. To be a member in NAR means that the agent is committed to the REALTOR® Code of ethics. REALTORs also have access to Realtors Property Resource® (RPR), a national database of over 147 million property records that provides valuable data on all the properties in the U.S.
In Canada, the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) licenses REALTORS. The Real Estate Institute of Canada (REIC) also offers a set of designations and accreditations. If you see the FRI designation beside an agent’s name, you’ll know that they’re accredited by REIC. The FRI (Fellow of the Real Estate Institute) designation is considered by REIC to be the gold standard for real estate sales. This designation means that, at a minimum, the agent has at least five years of licensed real estate sales or marketing experience, has taken a few courses and has gone through an interview process.
Though these designations can assist in assessing how much experience agents have and to figure out the specific knowledge of different agents, they are of limited help. For one, there’s a lot of difference in experience between an agent with five years of experience who just qualifies for a designation like FRI and one with 35 years of experience. Another issue is that there are so many designations that someone could go out and get a bunch of them but have limited experience whereas a highly experienced agent might not bother going for them. Though these designations help, to make an informed decision you'll have to do more work than just looking at the credentials beside an agent's name.
Interviewing an agent
If you get a positive impression based on an agent’s marketing materials, proceed to call them up for an interview.
If an agent claims to have expertise selling green homes or selling in a particular area, ask them about those transactions and for references to those clients.
Ask specific questions about the market for your home. Weintraub recommends getting the details on important numbers like median prices, days on market and inventory. If their response offers little specifics and a lot of generalities, it could very easily point to a lack of knowledge and/or experience.
To assure a fast sale you’ll want to ask agents about their marketing plans (e.g. how big their advertising budget is and how often they would run open houses) and how they’ve sold homes like yours in the past. Also, feel free to ask them details about how they operate, what their fees are, how negotiable they are, etc. CREA states, “A good REALTOR® makes forms available to you before you are required to sign them. Ask to see agency disclosure, listing agreement, seller disclosure.”
It’s always possible that things may not work out between you and your agent, so ask about the terms of the listing agreement and whether you can cancel it.
Call up an agent’s references up and ask them what their experience with the agent was like. If the response was negative, don’t hesitate to keep on looking. There are plenty of agents out there eager for your business. If all sounds good to you at this point you can enter an agreement with the agent and move on to selling or buying your home.
- howrealtorshelp.ca: 10 questions to ask when hiring a REALTOR®
- About.com: How to Find, Interview and Hire a Real Estate Agent
- About.com: Fluffery of Agents
- Real Estate Institute of Canada: Designations
- National Association of Realtors: Designations and Certifications