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How to Pick a the Right Real Estate Broker to Buy or Sell

The Art and Science of Selecting a Phoenix Real Estate Broker

Issues to Consider and Questions to Ask

One of the largest single transactions you’ll ever complete is the purchase or sale of a home.  A multitude of factors play a role in the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of the transaction, not the least of which is your choice for representation.  While some choose to navigate the real estate waters without representation, most elect to employ the services of a professional Realtor.

Whether you’re looking to sell a Phoenix condo or a buy luxury Scottsdale home, picking a Realtor can be an overwhelming proposition.  The recent housing boom and the perception of ‘easy money’ has caused a huge swelling of the Phoenix real estate agent ranks, especially among Phoenix Realtors and Scottsdale Realtors.  Virtually everyone knows a Realtor, or several.  The problem is, how do you select the best one for your needs?

I put together the following list of suggestions as a good starting point for any prospective homebuyer or homeseller looking for ‘the perfect match.’

 

For Buyers and Sellers

Ask around: A good place to begin the screening process is by asking colleagues and friends if they’ve ever worked with a real estate agent that they think did a great job.  Ask very specific questions so you can get a feel for how the agent truly performed.  “How often did the agent communicate with you?  Were they easy to reach?  Do you feel they negotiated effectively for you?  Was there anything they might have done better?  What kind of personality do they have?  Have you heard from them since the sale closed?”  Have you ever had someone give a glowing review of a restaurant that you just “had to try” only to find once you went that it was mediocre at best?  Everyone has different preferences, so don’t rely too heavily on the opinion of a friend’s experience.

Don’t compromise: When researching Realtors, do your homework and listen to your instincts.  As easy as it is to take the path of least resistance by working with the first agent you meet, don’t settle for an agent who you feel gives you any less than 100% effort and professionalism.

Consider certifications and designations: Real estate is an ever-evolving field.  Trends change, contracts change, momentum changes.  In short, the only constant is change.  You should consider working with a real estate agent who continually strives to better themselves and stay abreast of the latest issues and trends.  Certifications and designations reflect a proactive effort to hone ones skills and result in a better educated, better informed real estate agent.

Ask for references:  In fact, if a long list of references isn’t voluntarily offered, I’d be cautious.  Any highly-performing agent will have accumulated a long list of satisfied customers that they can gladly refer you to.

CALL THE REFERENCES!  You’d be surprised how few home sellers ask for a list of references, and then fail to call even one single person on the list.  Pick 2 or 3 references from the list and CALL THEM!  Ask a few very specific questions about their experience with the agent and take notes so you remember which feedback belonged to which agent.

 

For Prospective Home Sellers

Visit open houses, but BEWARE: Successful real estate teams often divide their agents into Listing Specialists and Buyer Specialists.  In Phoenix real estate, if you visit an open house, you will most likely be greeted by a Buyer Specialist on that team who may not be equipped to answer your questions about the team’s listing program.  You should ask for the Team Leader or Listing Specialist to schedule a listing consultation.

Beware: New Realtors and those who don’t carry many listings will often volunteer to hold an open house to pick up buyers.  These agents may have no affiliation with the Listing Agent whatesoever, except that they work in the same brokerage office.  While they may be excellent agents-in-training, to maximize your chances of working with an experienced team you should only work with a Listing Specialist or Team Leader.  Note: If you ever visit an open house in which you were very impressed with the agent holding the house open but you’re not quite ready to sell, be sure to get his/her card and jot a few notes down on the back, then file it away in your “Mortgage” file so you can pull it out and look them up when it comes time to sell.

Also, never visit an open house if you’re currently working with a Buyer’s Agent without your agent present.  In Arizona real estate, your agent will not be entitled to represent you if you view the open house without them present.  And as mentioned above, many agents holding open houses are specifically looking for unrepresented buyers, so be up-front with them.  See my earlier posting about this subject…

Interview the local specialist(s): Most neighborhoods are served by many Realtors, but may be dominated by one or two ‘local experts.’  A local expert isn’t necessarily the best choice, but can serve as a good starting point.  They have likely visited/previewed more homes than anyone else that works in the community and are better in tune with price dynamics and neighborhood trends.  Furthermore, the local expert usually lives in the area, which means they have a vested interest in preserving property values.  Be aware, however, that the local specialist may not be the right choice for you.  Local knowledge may be offset by a stronger marketing plan or an agent with a better personality fit, among others.

Tips for the interview: There are many pieces of information that you should collect before and during the interview in order to make the best choice for your needs.  Does the Realtor show up on time for your appointment?  Are they dressed professionally?  What sort of ‘vibe’ do you get at the very first moment you meet?  Are they comfortable to be around and easy to communicate with?  Do they sound like they know the area?  Remember, this agent will be representing you to prospective buyers, title officers, lenders, and other Realtors.  Your agent should convey the image that you’d expect of a professional and have the knowledge and experience to get your home sold!

Once the introductions are made, let the interviewee ‘lead’ the process.  They should ask for a tour of the home before you ever sit down for the presentation.  During the tour, do they ask lots of good, fact-finding questions about your home?  Do they tour the entire home, including the back yard, sides of the house, closets, and garage?  They should already be trying to determine how to best position your home for the market, even before the listing is issued.  A thorough inspection is part of the process.

Focus on the Marketing Plan: After the tour is complete, the interview begins.  The Realtor will present his/her marketing plan and why they believe they’re the best candidate for the job.  You should look for a marketing plan that advertises to a broad segment of the market, both online and in print.

Make sure your agent will communicate with you: As I detailed in an earlier post, the biggest complaint I hear from sellers about past Realtor experiences is that their Realtor fell out of contact with them after they scored the listing.  “They took my listing and I never heard from them again!”  Your agent should commit to providing detailed, written status updates so you will have a formal record of the progress on the sale of your home.  You should know what is being done at all times to market your home, as well as how it’s being received by the market.

Ask for a cancellation clause: Ask each listing agent interviewee if they will put in writing that you may cancel the listing agreement at any time if they’re not performing to your expectations.  Any Realtor that believes in their quality of service should be willing to offer the same assurance.  Just ask for it.

Don’t put too much weight on sales stats:  Many articles encourage you to ask a Realtor about their listing statistics: average days on market, list-to-sale-price ratio, etc.  I disagree.

Why?  Because stats can be deceptive.

For example, of you list your property on the low side of fair market value, it’s highly likely that your agent will sell your home faster and closer to the asking price.  In this example, days on market and sales price as a percentage of list price will both be favorable for the listing agent.

And what about short sales?  I represented clients in a Phoenix short sale that took 6 months to close.  That’s a transaction that could negatively impact my days on market (time to sale) stats.  To pad my stats, I’d have to turn these clients away.

Finally, you can’t easily validate an agents statistics.  I quit providing sales stats when on one listing appointment I had my sales statistics recited back to me by a seller who had previously interviewed another agent that worked in my area.  Not surprisingly, the other agent had superior numbers.  It’s pretty easy to position yourself against the competition when you know the competition’s numbers.

The bottom line about sales statistics is that they don’t always tell an accurate story.  You can ask for them, you can’t confirm them or interpret them.  Place more emphasis on other screening factors mentioned here.

 

For Prospective Home Buyers

Don’t commit until you’re comfortable: It’s a commonly-accepted practice for a Buyer Broker to require clients to sign a Buyer Broker Agreement, which confirms agency and outlines party commitments.  In my opinion, you should not sign a BBA until you have a chance to evaluate a buyer’s agent.  At a minimum, you should have an initial consultation, be set up to receive Phoenix real estate listings or Scottsdale real estate lisings, and go out for one property showing appointment to determine whether or not there’s a good match with the Realtor.  You will learn so much about the agent the first time you go out to view properties together and you’ll know whether or not you’ve found the right professional.  Once you’re confident that you have, you should be ready to commit to the agent just as the agent is committed to you.

How well does the Buyer Specialist know the process?  You should ask all the questions you can think of about the purchase process, escrow, inspection period, and the contracts.  Even better, ask to review some of the forms that you’ll experience during the purchase process.  Does the agent answer your questions promptly and confidently?  Do their answers make sense?  If the Realtor can’t explain things clearly or you just get the feeling they don’t have everything straight, then find someone else.  No need for you to be a ‘learning case.’

There are so many Scottsdale real estate agents and Phoenix real estate agents that it’s hard to even know where to begin to look for the right one for your needs.  If you follow the tips that I’ve offered here, you will be on the right track.  Just remember to be patient and not to compromise your expectations.

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