Updated: Apr 2
In this article I wanted to go over how to locate a buyer's agent suitable for a home purchase. Keep in mind that the buyer's agent you choose can be of greater importance than the house or other real estate that you choose since with the wrong agent, you might never see a house. With the right agent, you might win in a situation where 10 other buyers are competing for the same property.
For prospective buyers' agents, it's a good idea to investigate them online. Below I'll give you tools on what to look for and what to find out in an interview.
Items to look for before contacting a prospective agent:
Do They Cover my Target Area & Price Range?
See how many properties they've transacted on in their career on places like Zillow that will often have information like that, though some properties may be excluded.
Image courtesy Zillow.com Look at the price tags of those sales and see if there's a pattern. In some cases their typical range will be on their Realtor.com profile, but in some cases, Realtor.com won't show their sales history if their sole MLS doesn't populate that information, with the main Hampton Roads MLS, REIN, not populating the information into Realtor.com.
Image courtesy Realtor.com
By going through their sales history, you can also look up things like how often they represent buyers. Do they cover your area at the price point that you're looking in? While most buyer's agents cover a relatively small territory, here's an example map below of my coverage area for buyers based on price range with MLS in orange & whited-out areas being areas without as solid MLS coverage:
How Experienced Are They?
While experience doesn't mean everything, an agent's total transaction history is very important. A brand new agent who just got into the business, no matter how much education or good intentions they have, will still have a big learning curve.
Have you ever heard the term "Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect."? In real estate, high volume often means cut corners vs other full-time agents who may be working even harder but putting their heart into it and seeking higher levels of excellence in their craft.
The more real estate education, real estate experience (including total sales) and years of full-time real estate they have under their belt, the better. An easy way to see their current number of years of service & total number of transactions in many cases (though some properties may be excluded due to MLS issues syncing with Zillow or reporting issues) is to look on their Zillow profile.
In my case, at the time of this writing I have over 100 transactions under my belt, started in the marketing department at my firm full-time in May 2014, then transitioned directly into sales at the start of February 2015.
How are Their Reviews?
The values I recommend you look for as evidenced by reviews are:
Saving Clients Money
Keeping Client's Interest First
High Ethical Standards Including Integrity
I have dozens of positive reviews & recommendations.
What Are They Communicating?
Often whether in emails or calls, agents wont' have much depth in what they are communicating. Look for depth and compare it to other agents you're speaking to.
What Have They Published?
Whether they've published a book, have a great website, have published articles for Forbes, or otherwise, the volume of content that they've published publicly can give you an indication of the depth of what they can pull from privately as it applies to situations that may arise over the course of a transaction. The higher the volume of content they have, the higher the likelihood that a question you have for them may produce a new significant piece of content.
As you can see from this website (over 50,000 words, longer than some books), I spend a high volume of time in educating myself on real estate and on sharing my knowledge with others.
Is the faith that they hold very important to you, and is the importance of faith in their life important to you? If so, it's important to find out about that before speaking to the agent.
Adam as an example:
I happen to be a Christian, with faith being very important to me. I hold a bachelors in Christian Education with a minor in Bible from Wheaton College and a masters in Practical Theology from Regent University. I was a youth minister for over 4 years. Some buyers might not be ok with that, while others appreciate it. If my faith is concerning, the following may be a relief from my Linkedin profile:
"Although so much of Adam's life has been devoted to his Christian faith, Adam is open to all. I am an Atheist and Adam has never shown one iota of judgement toward me in the many years since we become friends. He is interested in my thoughts and has asked me to write about them, for him. Atheists can be judged very harshly in this society. I appreciate his friendship. My recommendation to any potential customers who may not share his beliefs is to hire Adam because he is a good person and expect to be treated with respect." Jeff Rich
If you're looking to buy land, and an agent has done plenty of transactions, but never done a land deal, they are much more likely to have issues than someone with a history of at least some land deals. For instance, do they know to check for wetlands before a showing or an offer, and about the 100' buffer addition of certain wetlands?
Likewise, if looking for commercial property, and an agent has only closed in the past on residential, it's important to note. Commercial previous sales of agents are harder to uncover than with residential in many cases. When I do commercial property, I typically will involve my father in them heavily (for instance with listings, I do co-listings with him on commercial), since he's done plenty of commercial deals in his time as an agent, more than many commercial agents have in their career, even though his primary focus is on residential sales.
If purchasing a co-op, it's also helpful to work with an agent with experience, whether they have it themselves or heavily involve another agent with experience.
If purchasing a condo, and your agent has never closed on a condo, they may be unaware of elements like the need to check for whether or not the condo is FHA or VA-approved before a showing if you intend to use one of those loans.
There are a number of additional qualities that you might seek out for a buyer's agent unique to your situation before speaking to them. It's important to know what's important to you.
For instance, if you are a young single female and looking at the prospect of purchasing a low-purchase-price rental property in a high-crime neighborhood, you may want to work with a male agent that is well-built or a female agent that is well-built with self-defense training &/or a concealed carry permit.
Some people prefer to work with someone they know, while others prefer to work with someone they don't know.
Whatever your preferences, it's best to have a good handle of them.
Items to look for before & in your prospective agent's appointment:
Within your appointment and other interaction with a prospective agent you should be able to tell that they know what they're doing. You may be able to see additional educational information on their Linkedin Profile or website. Some of the best advice on real estate I get is from the team at my firm including my dad, who has sold more homes cumulatively than likely anyone in Hampton Roads alive.
What Gadgets/Physical Tools Does Your Agent Have Available?
Many agents don't have much when it comes to this question, even if they've been in the business for years. I'm likely somewhere in the top 1% of buyer's agents in this category. I've dedicated a full page to the subject for myself here.
One of the most important physical gadgets/tools for an agent is their phone & options for virtual tours in the event that an unrepresented buyer ever needs a virtual live tour (since often the online virtual 3D tour isn't enough). At the time of this writing I have, some would argue, the best camera phone on the market for the task, which provides competitive video with some $5k cameras at the time of this writing. In addition, I have a stabilizer for making the video better, instructions for the buyers watching the video, lights to go onto the setup in addition to my phone camera lights, a separate camera for a higher quality recording that can be sent to the buyer after showing, the brightest flashlight sold to enhance exterior shots after dark & assist with certain interior shots, & more. See more on my video visuals here.
What Digital Tools Does Your Agent Have Available?
Many agents don't have much when it comes to this question, even if they've been in the business for years. I'm likely somewhere in the top 1% of agents in this category. I've dedicated a full page to the subject for myself here.
What Multiple Listing Service (MLS) are available for searches & for research properties found independently (up to 5 with Adam)?
Buyers often don't understand the importance of this one. Most agents aren't willing to fund being in more than 1 MLS (for instance, REIN MLS has 6021 agents, while Williamsburg MLS only has 475 agents despite REIN being more dominant than WBG MLS within Williamsburg).
You'll notice that in some cities/counties, one MLS is dominant, while in others, a single MLS might not even have 50% of the total listings in that city or county (i.e. Williamsburg/James City County). The lower the dominance of 1 MLS in a city/county you're considering for a purchase, the more reason you have to be in more than 1 MLS.
It's also a good idea to know how long someone has been closing on properties in the dominant MLS of your area and it's good to know if they have had any special education specific to the dominant contracts of the area. I've had access to REIN MLS since when I began as a Realtor in February 2015, listed my first home in Williamsburg MLS in June 2019, listed my first home in CBRAR/CVR in August 2020, & gained access to Northern Neck MLS in May 2021. I've also listened to a greater than 5.5 hour course on the VAR Residential Contract of Purchase, which is commonly used outside of REIN territory, while only rarely used within REIN territory. Because of my familiarity with the VAR contract, in part from that training, I've been able to save my clients potentially big time in some cases.
For instance, did you know that if you don't write in an appraisal cap in the VAR offer on a conventional loan, if your property appraises lower than the purchase price, and you have the ability to purchase anyways, you are not in a good position to walk away from the contract contractually? If you did anyways, you might lose your earnest money deposit and could be pursued for further damages to the tune of thousands or even 10's of thousands after you attempt to walk. That issue isn't a problem in REIN offers due to different built-in contractual language on the subject.
For more details on MLS, go here.
What's their buyer brokerage policy?
While I'm not an attorney, I believe that many agents break the law on this subject. Those that don't break the law sometimes engage in unethical practices, not being up front about a buyer brokerage agreement until the buyer is under pressure from them to sign one. For more details on my opinion of the law & how agents go about buyer brokerage, go here.
Some agents will do only exclusive buyer brokerage agreements, and some like me will allow non-exclusive if the buyer wishes.
Some agents will have a low commission minimum for buyer brokerage agreements, and in some cases it could be much higher. In some cases, agents have a certain minimum price point disclosed, and in some cases, they don't have one in writing but may not help you directly (though they may be willing to refer you to someone else) if you ask for it based on your price point. After meeting certain minimum price points ($150k+ for properties closest to me as detailed in my coverage map at the time of this writing), I require only 2% for a buyer's agent commission, which I've found that more than 97% of active listings meet or exceed when I checked last. If Ryan Homes is taken out of the equation, who sells more below 2% commission homes for buyers agents than all other sources combined when I checked, more than 99% of active listings offered 2% or more for a buyer's agent commission. Conversely, I've met an agent who charges 4% as a minimum buyer's agent commission, no matter how high the price.
Often buyer's agents have minimum buyer brokerage agreement terms, such as 3-6 months.
How do they handle agent showing fill-ins?
The importance of expeditious showings is hard to under-emphasize. I've heard from some buyers where when their agent was on vacation, they offered no recourse for the buyer to see a home with another agent. Often when buyer's agents provide agent fill-ins, it's newer agents with plenty of time on their hands and not much to lose with experience to gain. Knowing up front the level of experience you can expect for fill-ins based on location and amount of notice is important. As long as there's sufficient notice, I seek out only experienced agents for fill-ins, with the rare exceptions being when I'm unable to get an experienced agent there due to a short timeline or a long distance. I'm willing to pay extra for it too, offering higher amounts than I typically see offered in showings vs other agents at my firm seeking fill-ins in order to get that extra experience. Higher amounts offered will entice agents that otherwise wouldn't be willing to spend their time. I typically don't see minimum requirements for agent fill-ins (i.e. based on transaction volume, MLS accessibility, and phone type if for a video showing) excluding in my own requests. I list some of my go-to experienced agent fill-ins here, who typically have more experience than I do.
Do they lock you into using their lender?
While not applicable with cash, some buyer brokerage agreements or related forms require that as long as you have a buyer brokerage agreement that you work with their lender.
How do they handle dual agency?
Dual agency is where one agent attempts to represent both buyer and seller in the same transaction. Some listing/buyer's agents perform dual agency regularly, while others purposefully avoid it. I have never done dual agency, and hope to not ever engage in the practice. It's so fraught with problems that it's illegal in some states, and while legal in VA, prohibited without special permission at my firm.
If you need a buyer's agent, and I serve your area in the price range that you're looking in, feel free to reach out to me.
Even if I don't serve your desired area in your price range, I can often provide a referral Monday-Saturday. That said, at unusually low price points (i.e. $30k on a 3% commission), I may be unable to do that, with few exceptions. An example of an exception at an unusually low price point/commission is if you are a non-profit working towards a cause that I care deeply about, like combatting human trafficking. For something like that, no matter the price point, I can still provide referrals.