If you don’t have a good real estate agent, your search could take longer and be more frustrating. In some ways, a bad real estate agent could be worse than no agent. If you’re feeling iffy about your agent, compare his or her performance to this list of good agent qualities. Note, this is for buyers only. I’ve never sold a home, so I can’t comment on that.

Knows Your Needs
This is absolutely the most important. Our real estate agent started by asking us what we wanted. I listed kitchen, three bedrooms, two baths, not a shoebox, and no pool. That was important, because many homes in our area have pools and we definitely don’t want one. She also asked questions about our plans – which neighborhoods we’re interested in, how long we’re planning to stay, do we have children or are we planning to, what’s our budget, what’s our down payment. I sent her a list of homes we’d visited as open houses so she could see our taste, as well.

Knows Competent Professionals
The first thing she did was refer us to a direct lender and a mortgage broker to get loan approvals. We already had one from a broker we know, but we got a second approval from the direct lender as a back-up. Because she has a relationship with the lender, she can call him for updates on approvals, rates, and time to process without our involvement.

Actively Searches for Listings for You
Although sites like Realtor and Redfin make it easy for you to search for homes, you should also let your real estate agent do some of the heavy lifting. I receive Redfin alerts, but she also added me to an automatic listing which she can more readily fine-tune. For example, Redfin does send me pool homes, but she doesn’t. After seeing several homes with us and going to offer (it didn’t come through), she has a good grasp of what we want and can take us to it when it comes on the market.

Previews Homes
The first weekend we went out to look, she took us to four homes that she picked for us, and we said we wanted to see. As we looked, we pointed out things we like and we didn’t. She pointed out things that would need to fixed, checked the condition of the property, and advised us on the costs of various repairs so we knew what we were getting into.

On another occasion, we said we wanted to check out a home, but she went first to make sure it was up to snuff. Turns out it needed $100K worth of work, so we didn’t even bother to look at it.

Aware of Current Value and Market Conditions
Some real estate agents are still stuck back at 2007 values, but ours is aware of current values and the direction the market is going. When we look at a house, she gives us some idea of how much it’s probably actually worth, which helps guide the amount we’d be willing to offer. She wants to make sure we don’t overpay for a property because values are still declining. Should we get into a bidding war, she will advise us of the right time to pull out in order to avoid overpaying.

Knows the Process In and Out
After a second round of looking, we had a long talk that involved a bit of hand-holding to soothe our fears and explained the terms of an offer, timelines, and what happens in each step. She explained what she does, what we do, and what the seller does. If we decide to buy a short sale, she’s intimately familiar with the process. She’s also familiar with buying foreclosures and traditional sales. She knows exactly how to deal with each situation.

Monitors Homes You’re Interested In
This is key, if there’s a home you liked, but didn’t get or isn’t showing at the moment, your agent should monitor it. There’s one we’re interested in that isn’t showing, but she checks up on it regularly to see if the status has changed. If it does, we’ll be there to look at it right away.

Steers You Away from Inappropriate Homes
There was another home we considered going to look at, but she pointed out that it’s on a very busy street and knew we wouldn’t like that after looking at other homes with us.

Responds Quickly to Calls and Emails
Your real estate agent doesn’t have to be available 24/7, but should respond within a reasonable time-frame. Our agent returns emails within 2-3 hours during business hours, usually less, and phone calls within an hour during business hours (not 9-5, more like 9-8.)

Many real estate agents got into the business during the run-up, and have since left the business. Our agent has been doing this a long time, and therefore has experience with declining or typical markets. This is not the time to be working with someone who’s only had fast sales in a rapid market. Don’t go with the first agent you meet. Check out my real estate agent search article. And remember, if he or she seems good but turns out not to be, you can always switch.

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