Going Steady With Your Agent
Originally appeared in Hills Publications, August 13, 2004 and ANG Newspapers, August 7, 2004
How long have you been “going” with your agent? Three months? Six months? A year or more? During the past three or four years, many buyers have, by necessity, formed a longer, closer relationship with their Realtor than they ever could have imagined.
Buying a house seems like it should be fairly straightforward: you work with an agent, have him or her find you a home, you make an offer and, about 30 days later, you are a homeowner. In either a normal market or a buyer’s market, that is what happens; however, since January of 1997, our area has been in a seller’s market. Prior to that, such a condition would have lasted no more than three years. To put it in perspective, less than half the Realtors active today were in the business when this seller’s market began.
Today, all price categories are at record levels and there still is competitive bidding, including those in the million-dollar plus level. Of course, the more “affordable” ranges tend to have the fiercest bidding battles. For some, this translates as up to $400,000, to others, $700,000.
Regardless, most buyers can anticipate a skirmish for the home of their choice. They tend to make numerous offers before being successful. Some have made 12 or more attempts before finally achieving a ratified contract. Although this amount of offers is not unusual, it is draining on both the buyer and his agent.
As of today, the longest I have been working with a current buyer is a year, and we are still looking. The shortest is several weeks, but this couple was referred to me after a number of unsuccessful offers with someone else.
Before I commit to representing buyers, we have a long talk in my office about the process. I explain that I do not look for a quick sale to attempt to “get them off my list.” On the contrary, I take whatever time is necessary to help them buy a house that makes sense for them. This may take a while.
It usually means, I point out, that we will have a close relationship. My buyers say they speak with me more often than most people in their lives. This is the kind of involvement buyers do not expect until I clarify market reality. Even repeat buyers are surprised at how long it can take.
Because of the continuing commitment on my part, I ask buyers to approve a “Buyer-Broker” agreement with me. It affirms our mutual responsibilities and is a benefit to them and myself.
Choosing a Realtor
You will want to select someone you feel comfortable with and trust. Nevertheless, a warm, fuzzy feeling about the agent is not enough. Compatibility may be important, but professionalism is primary.
Being likeable may not equate to proficiency at writing and understanding purchase contracts. A pleasing personality may mask a lack of negotiating skills or knowledge of the local area. Establish a relationship with an agent who is both personable and competent.
Your Realtor should be one who takes the time, at the very beginning, to listen to what you want. This is your opportunity to ask specific questions about his background and expertise.
By the time they are successful in their search, most of my buyers have made adjustments to their original wish list. They learn what they need to do to have a happy outcome. We work together as a team to achieve their goal.
Buyers begin with a certain price in mind. After seeing enough homes and following the market, they frequently realize the need to pay more to get what they want. Buyers also tend to become more flexible about features such as size, style, number of bedrooms or baths and type of backyard.
I counsel my clients to buy the best possible location in their price range. Unfortunately, out of panic or weariness, some buyers pay too much to get the features they desire in a home with an inferior location. That is not a good investment decision and is why I urge my buyers to make value their predominant consideration.
When to take a pass
The rejection of innumerable offers is frustrating to buyers and their agents. It may be necessary, at the beginning, for a buyer to have some contracts turned down before he gets a feel for the market.
The main reason conscientious agents tend to work longer with buyers is that they talk them out of many houses. They often suggest the buyer “take a pass” rather than write an offer that does not make sense. Whether to bid or not commonly comes down to price and that is directly related to condition.
In your excitement to buy, you might overlook potentially expensive problems with the property. Homes are usually sold “As is” in competition; this means you are paying extra for the repairs. A Realtor working in your best interests will try to talk you out of houses that are at the top of your price range and will cost even more to fix.
Often, buying a home today involves a long-term relationship with an agent. Protect yourself, and your investment, by choosing an individual who will truly represent you. Look for someone whose judgment you can trust when he says, “I would not buy this house,” as much as when he says, “this is a good one.” When you find him or her, it is time to go steady. You might even end up with a friend.
Buyer Representation Makes Sense
How to Interview Agents, Part 1
How to Interview Agents, Part 2
How to Interview Agents, Part 3
How to Interview Agents, Part 4