How to Choose a Great Real Estate Agent

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If you're looking to buy or sell real estate, a really good agent is a treasure worth finding.

I've been in the business long enough to conclude that this rule applies to real estate professionals: 80% of agents have some level of competency and want to do a good job, but only 20% are great. They have expertise, hustle, and tenacity. These traits will save you time, make the transaction nearly seamless and get you a much better deal than you could have negotiated by yourself.

In my humble opinion, there are 10 core characteristics of a truly great realtor.

1. A great real estate agent uses excellent communication skills.

Your realtor should be a skilled listener and have excellent verbal and written communication skills. Great agents are able to succinctly and clearly articulate the big picture. And they understand and communicate the smaller details well.

2. A great real estate agent puts integrity and honesty above all else.

If someone is dishonest or bends the rules to fit their needs, they're not worth doing business with. Period. There are a lot of moving parts in a real estate transaction, and not many decisions are black or white. Being honest and exercising high integrity matter most.

3. A great real estate agent puts the interest of their clients first and represents them assertively and tirelessly.

A great agent understands that job #1 is to represent you well. He/she probes to understand the best outcome for you and puts your needs and desires above his or her own. If it's not a great time to sell your home because the local market is in a dip, a great realtor will have a frank and honest discussion with you. They won't push for the sale just to try to collect a commission.

4. A great real estate agent is a hands-on problem solver.

Real estate transactions are complicated, and no transaction is the same. Every single property and situation is unique. Each has a different seller and buyer. There are no cookie-cutter deals. A great agent is an adept problem solver. He takes the lead in anticipating issues, suggesting workable solutions and following through until the end.

5. A great real estate agent has the support of a great broker.

And a great broker is one who cares about serving clients well and trusts that the money will follow when the business is focused around that goal. A great broker is an agent's safety net, a seasoned resource to ask questions, a trusted strategy consultant and a motivator who sets a high standard, making sure the best interests of the client stay the focus.

6. A great real estate agent has “grit” and follows through.

In her New York Times bestseller, Grit, Angela Duckworth describes “grit” as a combination of passion and perseverance that's a hallmark of high achievers in every domain. A great real estate agent has lots of grit. Determination and optimistic passion matter as much if not more than talent and intelligence.

7. A great real estate agent is a good researcher and analyst.

Every realtor has a lot of tools at their fingertips. The MLS (Multiple Listing Service) is a goldmine of great information. It can pinpoint the best price and marketing strategy for each property. However, the information needs to be mined and skillfully sifted through. A great agent knows how to dig deep and analyze all the available data to ensure a complete understanding of all pertinent information. And then the agent makes excellent recommendations to buyers and sellers.

8. A great real estate agent is a great negotiator.

That is one of their biggest jobs, after all. A great negotiator does his homework. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of each side. He makes sure he understands all the players and all the plays — negotiations are not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants exercise. A great realtor studies the parties, the options, and the possible scenarios. He then moves forward boldly and confidently to represent your interests better than you can possibly represent yourself.

9. A great real estate agent is a specialist.

Nobody can be good at everything, and it's nearly impossible to be great at more than a few things. Great agents specialize and become better and better at their specialty. Real estate is a huge industry, and there are many paths an agent can take. Some realtors specialize in foreclosure and short sales. Some decide to work with first-time homebuyers. And some focus on working with sellers and love doing listings. You get the idea.

If an agent you're interviewing says he's great at all types of deals and works with all kinds of clients, run for the hills. What he really means is he's desperate and is mediocre at a lot of things. A great agent has a niche and has worked diligently to acquire the knowledge, skills, and hustle to be one of the best in that niche.

10. A great real estate agent has a vetted network of recommended professionals.

These professionals facilitate and expedite successful transactions. There are a lot of professionals involved in a real estate deal — appraisers, title companies, inspectors, lenders and other real estate agents and brokers — and a weak link can derail the entire process.

A good agent will provide you with a list of recommended professionals. A great realtor has personally worked with the professionals he recommends. For example, he knows that his lenders not only offer a vast array of mortgage products, but are adept at and committed to uncovering and presenting client-centered solutions.

A great agent also has recommended tradespeople who pick up the phone when he/she calls and work well with stressed-out homeowners. Contractors, handymen, junk removers and property managers are a few of the tradespeople which buyers, sellers and real estate investors often need to find. And your agent should know which ones are competent and competitively priced.

So how do you choose a great agent?

Interview several agents before you decide whom to work with. Ask lots of questions. Ask them to tell you about what went wrong and what went well in their most recent transactions. Tell them enough about your situation to be able to assess if they're focused and are really listening to you. Ask for the names and phone numbers of their last three clients. Then call those clients to get real-life customer perspectives. To find perspective agents, you can use a free service like HomeLight, which matches users with the top three agents in their area.

A great agent and a mediocre agent cost pretty much the same. But the payoff for choosing a great realtor could be huge. A great negotiator will make a compelling case that ensures your offer gets accepted over another buyer's offer.

The best listing agent will tell you from experience precisely what repairs to make to get the highest selling price in your market. A great agent will shorten the days it takes your home to sell because he has thoroughly analyzed your market and advised you to set the ideal asking price.

Great agents are great at opening doors too, whether you're into real estate to buy your first house or as an investor. In case you're thinking about investing in commercial real estate passively, a good agent can help you find the right properties for that (or you can use online services like Fundrise).

You deserve to seek out the best representation you can find. It's worth doing some due diligence to find a realtor who fits into the 20% of the rule.

Ruth Lyons

Trading three decades of financial publishing experience in the corporate world for a life of personal and financial freedom as a freelancer in 2012, Ruth is passionate about helping others take control of their personal finances and to become aware and educated on their options as self-reliant individuals. Disenfranchised with the high cost and lackluster performance of her IRA, college savings and other retirement accounts handled by a full-service broker, Ruth moved her retirement money to a self-directed IRA in 2015. Ruth holds an MS in Finance from Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business (1991) and a Business Management degree from University of Maryland (1984). You can follow Ruth on: Twitter

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for helping me find a real estate agent. After looking through home listings online, I’ve decided to seek guidance from a realtor to get the best deals at a price that I can afford. I like what you said that a good real estate agent makes sure that the client’s convenience is their priority, which is why I agree that they must represent their clients well. With that said, I hope I can find one who can do negotiations and sign papers on my behalf.

  2. You made a good point about choosing specialists when looking for a real estate agent as they tend to be focused and quite skilled at fulfilling my needs as an investor. Right now, my plan before I get married to my fiancé is to find a good waterfront house that can serve as a vacation house eventually. With that in mind, I think I should look for an agent that specializes in premium lots that have good views.

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