Just like in any other profession, there are good real estate agents ... and there are, unfortunately, subpar real estate agents, too. But how do you know if you've got a dreamboat or a dud handling your real estate transaction?
One way to know whether you've got a good agent (or not) is to consider some of the tasks and activities that a really good agent will manage for a client, then apply what you've learned to your own agent. If you don't have time to track down all of the things that a good agent should be doing for a buyer or a seller, then you're in luck: We've compiled a list so you don't have to.
Ask you about your homeownership needs (and hopes)
It's dangerous to make assumptions at the best of times, but when it comes to shopping for a home, assumptions are downright dangerous. So if you have an agent who assumes ... everything ... be wary.
A good agent should ask you questions -- lots of them -- about where you've lived, what you liked and disliked about both the home and the neighborhood, where you work, how long you plan to stay there, your future family plans, and more. This is all to the greater good of helping you find the right place, and possibly revealing a neighborhood or property type that wasn't on your radar. So if your agent isn't trying to figure out what would make you happy by asking lots of questions about your homeownership needs and wants, that's a red flag.
Recommend a mortgage broker
If you don't already have a mortgage broker to help you with your loan, then your real estate agent should be providing referrals for someone trustworthy. (And any agent worth his or her salt should definitely ask if you're pre-approved, so if you haven't been asked, be wary!)
Real estate agents work on real estate transactions every day, and they have contacts who can help with mortgage, title, appraisals, inspections, and beyond. Use them!
Get you pre-approved
Speaking of pre-approval, this is also something that a good agent will help you manage. Not every client will need it, but some will appreciate the additional help. Agents can give you an idea of realistic sales price tags, and they can also typically put you in touch with people like mortgage brokers or even sometimes credit counselors to help get you in the best position possible to buy.
Talk about schools
You might not have kids, and you might not ever want kids, but even if that's the case, your agent would be remiss not to have the "and this neighborhood has access to the best schools" conversation with you. Why? Because you're not the only person on the planet, and some of the other people here who might buy your home at an unspecified future date could be parents. They are most certainly going to care about schools.
Your agent should give you a rundown of which elementary, middle, and high schools service the areas where you're searching.
Give you feedback on the neighborhoods
Unless you've lived in a neighborhood your entire life -- and even then! -- there will still be things to learn about the place where you're buying your home.
A good real estate agent should be able to answer your questions and explain how each neighborhood compares against the others. You'll probably have questions about everything from where to buy groceries to where to walk to dog to what people do for fun on weekends, and your real estate agent should help answer those questions.
Help you find a home
You might think that finding a home is as easy as looking it up on the internet, and for some lucky people, maybe it is. But most buyers have to check out endless potentially unsuitable homes before they find "the one" that's their long-term best fit, and pictures (especially on the internet) can be deceiving.
An agent should hook you up with an MLS feed that will alert you when a home that meets your criteria hits the market -- and agents should also help you come up with alternate strategies if the going is just too tough in your price range.
Price the home correctly
For sellers, this is one of the most critical jobs that your agent will complete -- and if they don't do a good job, you could lose tens of thousands of dollars. Pricing the home correctly right out the gate is absolutely vital to selling the home quickly and for fair-market value.
Some agents will inflate the possible sales price and tell sellers that they can always reduce the price if they don't get an offer. Although this is certainly true, those agents are misrepresenting a bigger truth: your listing is going to get the most attention from qualified buyers within the first 48 hours of hitting the market. Price reductions after the home is listed are never going to attract nearly as many eyeballs as new homes on the market -- and you may need to reduce the price well below fair-market value to generate buyer interest if you start off too high.
So it's not typically wise to go with the agent who offers the highest sales price; instead, ask prospective agents how they calculated that sales price, whether it lines up with the typical price-per-square-foot in your area, and how long homes priced in that range tend to stay on the market.
Market the home well
One reason why sellers hire a real estate agent in the first place is because the agent has a marketing platform to use to advertise the home for sale. Some homes require more marketing than others, but agents should have a plan to market every home they list. And marketing goes far, far beyond "put it on the MLS, Zillow, and realtor.com -- then pray you get a qualified buyer."
If you don't know the listing agent's plan to market your home -- or worse, if you don't think the agent has a plan at all -- then that's a huge sign that your agent might not be the best fit for you.
Negotiate an offer
Once you've identified a neighborhood and found a good home, is the agent's work mostly done?
Not remotely. A real estate agent proves his or her worth on the negotiation floor, and you should expect nothing less from your agent. From landing on an offer price that seems fair to all parties, to including contingencies, to stipulating timeline, a real estate agent is your guide on the journey to buying a home, and this is where a good agent really shines.
If your agent isn't really involved in the negotiation process, this is a big problem. You deserve an advocate in this home sale transaction.
Help you pick an inspector
When a buyer is financed for a home loan, the lender is going to want to know that the investment is solid -- that the house doesn't have any major issues, for example. That's where the inspector comes in, and the inspector will have to enter the picture before closing.
Your real estate agent should help you find an inspector and answer any questions you have about whether the inspector's price tag is reasonable.
Attend the home inspection
For a buyer's agent especially, this should be a must -- and it's a good idea for a listing agent, too. The inspector is going to look at the nuts and bolts that put the house together, from the foundation to the wiring to the exterior, and note the home's condition.
Almost every home is going to have something "wrong" with it per the inspection; houses, like all other goods, deteriorate over time, and building codes change. A good agent will help sellers prepare mentally and financially to tackle any possible issues, and a good agent will also take note of what the inspector finds to help the buyer negotiate repairs in the deal.
Negotiate home inspection repair requests
Speaking of negotiation: Who should pay for the repairs if the home needs a new roof or (heaven forbid) some foundation work?
That's going to be between the buyer and the seller, but an agent really should be available for both sides to help with the negotiation process. There's no right or wrong way to manage repairs; some sellers will want to tackle them while others will prefer to knock some money off the asking price and ask the buyer to handle them. Whatever the case, the real estate agents should be the people managing this negotiation.
Attend the appraisal
A lot of agents do not consider attending the appraisal to be particularly pressing -- and that's fine. But if the appraisal comes in under the sales price and there were no agents present to answer questions or help the appraiser figure out the home's value, then you've got a problem that might not be very easy to solve.
Many buyer's agents will make a point to attend the appraisal and make sure that the appraiser has access to everything he or she needs and can get any information necessary to complete the appraisal thoroughly. Is yours one of them?
Communicate, communicate, communicate
A lot can change between putting an offer on a home and actually moving in. The real estate agent should be the person who knows all of the different parts and pieces of the transaction -- and is willing to serve as the point of communication between them.
If the appraisal is delayed, or there's an issue with the loan, then the agent is one who is communicating that information to the people on each side who need to know. An agent's job is to make the transaction easier for you, and that typically means managing the messages for everybody.
Help you prepare to buy or sell
As the closing approaches, there's a lot to do for both buyers and sellers who are getting ready to exchange ownership of a home.
Both buyers and sellers need to pack and arrange for at least a truck to move their things. Sellers are also going to have to clean -- the oven, the bathrooms, the works -- before they hand over the keys, and ensure that any trash is hauled away.
Your real estate agent should be sharing resources to help with some or all of these activities.
Stay on top of the mortgage
If the mortgage loan doesn't go through, then the sale is lost. That's why a good real estate agent will make sure that the loan is ready to go -- in every way.
For a buyer's agent, that probably means working with the buyer to ensure that they have all the documentation that they'll need to present to the mortgage broker, and helping the buyer track down any missing pieces of paper.
And for the listing agent, that means keeping in close communication with the buyer's agent so that there are no nasty loan surprises while everybody waits for close.
Tie up any loose ends
There are a lot of moving parts and pieces to a real estate transaction, and a good agent is going to be there to make sure that those parts and pieces are moving correctly -- and to work on anything that could be a problem.
If two appraisals need to be reconciled, the inspection repairs need to be documented, or the title search hasn't happened yet, then the agent is the person who tracks down the scofflaws and whips everything into shape.
Help you manage emotions
Buying a home is a process fraught with anxiety, feelings of missing out, and even sadness surrounding a big change. Sellers especially might be caught off-guard by how they feel about leaving a house when the time comes to pack everything up.
Good real estate agents understand that emotions are part of the package and will both warn you that you might be feeling a little blue about everything, and be there to help you get your bearings and power through.
Follow up to see how the move went
When all is said and done and you've got most of your possessions transferred from one home to the next, then the agent's work is mostly done -- right?
Well, maybe some agents, but a superior agent knows that your life is still in upheaval and will check in to make sure everything went smoothly with the move. Did you forget anything at your old place? Do you need help cleaning and getting settled in? A good agent will ask you these questions and help solve any problems that emerged as a result of changing your address.
Offer help finding contractors
As stated before, all homes deteriorate -- so you can expect to have to make some repairs on your new place at some point, even if the inspection indicated that everything was perfect. But who do you call to take a look at your plumbing or your landscaping?
Ideally, you'll already have a list of local contractors in hand that your agent provided for you when you moved in -- but if not, this is something else that your agent should be able to help with. So ask!
Keep in touch
If someone asks you in three or four years whether you can refer them to your agent, and you can't even remember your agent's name, don't feel too bad; it's not uncommon for clients and real estate agents to lose touch as years pass.
But that's why the best agents make a point to keep in contact with their best clients. A good agent will reach out to help celebrate your homeownership anniversary, ask how you're doing, and generally stay apprised of any emerging housing needs that you might have.