Buying a home can be difficult, stressful, and unpredictable, but a good buyer’s agent who is knowledgeable about your local market, reliable, and responsive, can offer some relief. With listings and sales data readily available online, it’s possible to purchase a home without a broker’s help, but for first-time buyers an agent familiar with your needs, budget, and values can make the complex homebuying process much smoother.
With the proliferation of online real estate marketplaces, there’s also no shortage of agents to choose from. How do you pick the right one? “Consider it like dating,” said Sarah Staley, the consumer spokesperson for realtor.com, speaking to Curbed in 2017. Don’t just move forward with the first agent you meet; meet a few and see if the chemistry is there. As Staley noted, “Homebuying is a complex and emotional experience, so you want to be sure there’s a personality match.”
You should begin “agent dating” before embarking on a home search, to ensure you’ve got a partner from the very beginning of the process up until you sign a contract. Ensure the right fit—and avoid any broker breakups—by heeding these tips from the experts.
Ask for references, then play the field
“One very typical route for finding a broker is through a recommendation,” Lauren Riefflin, spokesperson for the real estate website Streeteasy told Curbed in 2017. Ask friends and family if they’ve had a good experience with an agent, then followup with interviews of your own. You can also use real estate websites to find brokers who specialize in areas you’re interested in buying a home.
Even if you hit it off with the first agent you meet, you should still “play the field,” as Lawrence Lee, an agent with the startup real estate firm Triplemint, put it in an interview to Curbed in 2017. “Don’t blindly accept the recommendation of a friend, or use the first broker you meet,” Staley echoed. “Set a shortlist of brokers before you decide.” She suggests meeting each broker in person and asking them tough questions about the process ahead before making an informed final decision.
Communicate what’s important to you
Is there a neighborhood you’re dying to live in? Or are you dead-set on buying in a pre-war cooperative building, or a brand new condo? Knowing what you want, as well being upfront about your budget, will help set the tone with your future agent. Maybe you need an agent who specializes in your dream neighborhood, as well as the surrounding areas, to best guide you. Or perhaps you need a specialist in cooperative buildings who knows how to best navigate co-op boards. Or maybe you’re unfamiliar with the market, and need an agent who can take your budget and show you where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Initial interviews with agents should reveal the best ways they can work for you.
“The most important factor for the first-time buyer is chemistry with their broker, and a lot of that chemistry is based on listening,” Staley told Curbed. “The agent should understand who you are and what you and your family needs.”
Make sure they’re open to new possibilities
Beware the agent who doesn’t offer a broad range of buying options. “Part of a broker’s job is to broadly navigate the market and potentially show a buyer new neighborhoods and homes they may not have thought of before,” said Riefflin. “You want to make sure brokers don’t have any mental guardrails that would prevent you from getting a great buy a few blocks away from where you want to be.”
Lee notes that a good broker will also gently push back on any unrealistic expectations from the home buyer. “They will be able to show, and prove, what’s on the market in your price point,” he said. “They’re going to tell you what’s feasible, what’s not feasible, and show you alternatives.”
Ask about availability
Before you begin working with a broker, you’ll need to know their level of availability. Is this a full-time or part-time job for them? Do they work during set hours of the day, or will they promptly answer your panicked 8 a.m. text? Will they be available to, at the drop of the hat, arrange a showing at a great property that’s just hit the market? Do they have support—other brokers or an assistant, for example—to fill in if they’re not immediately available?
“If the home of your dream pops up, you want to know they’re ready to jump,” Staley said. Or as Lee put it, “A good agent will ask you what your schedule is like. They’ll understand that they need to accommodate their schedules to buyer’s times and availability.”
Follow up on their prior work and internet presence
References are helpful to know if an agent has a history of good work. Real estate sites like Zillow and Trulia also offer agent reviews. Little things matter, too, like a comprehensive bio with a reputable brokerage firm alongside a social media presence. “More often than not, these things are an accurate representation of the thoroughness of the agents, how much they care, and how focused they are on the business of real estate,” Lee said. When in doubt, you can always search state public records to be sure an agent’s real estate license is valid and up-to-date.
NEED TO KNOW FACTS:
- The buyer’s broker’s commission is typically paid by the seller (usually split 50-50 with the seller’s agent), but the commission comes out of sale price of the home (aka your money).
- The buyer’s broker’s loyalty is solely to you, the buyer, not the seller.
- If you’ve already started looking on your own, it’s not too late to start working with a buyer’s broker, but do engage one before making an offer.