5 Traits to Look for in Your Real Estate Agent

Picking a real estate agent has a potentially massive impact on your finances and future enjoyment of the place you and your family live.

Mar 16, 2014 at 9:30AM

In this Internet era, we've gotten to a place where we require all of our information in bite-sized, white-and-charcoal grey pieces. But when it comes to creating interpersonal and professional relationships that really work, lists of interview questions and "what to Google" articles can fall short of fully fleshing out the factors that make us mesh with someone.

So let's go a little deeper. Picking a real estate agent is a business and a relationship challenge – one which has a potentially massive impact on your finances and future enjoyment of the place you and your family live. If you take that seriously, here are a handful of characteristics I recommend you look for as you evaluate prospective agents.

1. Creativity. Some transactions go precisely as planned, clicking right along on schedule. Others – many others – get messy:

  • the loan underwriter issues bizzaro, last-minute document demands

  • the appraisal comes in low

  • the buyer backs out

  • you see 50 homes without any winners, or

  • the inspection reports reveal issues that make you wonder whether the home is a diamond in the rough or a money pit.

Whether your transaction will be easy-peasy or uber-messy, you cannot know until you're in it. When you're agent-hunting, it behooves you to look for someone who has the experience and creative problem-solving skill to help you methodically think through the facts, surface alternatives, propose solutions and engineer obstacle workarounds – just in case the going gets tough.

2. Deep, varied expertise. Buying or selling a home is much more of a lifestyle design experience than it is a financial transaction, truth be told. To do it with results that work well for yourself, your family and your finances for the duration, you need an agent that's an eager partner with you. One that will deep-dive into all the nooks and crannies of your aesthetics, your psychology, your life plans, your financials and even your relationship dynamics.

You also need an agent with deep – not surface – understanding of homes, neighborhoods and local real estate market metrics, practices and contracts, and someone who deeply *gets* the home buying or selling process itself – so they can brief you on it and fruitfully coach you through it.

Have you ever taken a class from a novice teacher vs. a class from an experienced professor? The difference is nuance: a deep, mature understanding of a complex subject allows the more experienced instructor to give you insights into patterns they've spotted over time and repeat transactions. Same goes for your real estate pro: you want to make sure that either your agent or someone that will be working with them on your transaction (like their manager or broker) has deep knowledge and understanding in most or all of these areas, so they can share the nuanced insights and patterns they have spotted in the past which you can harness to your advantage in the present.

3. Calm resilience. When you lose out on a home to other offers, it can feel like the end of the world. When you list your home, stage it to the nines, and not a single offer is forthcoming, feelings of discouragement, frustration and even depression can easily arise.  In both cases, it's easy to delve into fear (fear that you'll never get the home you need, or will never be able to move on to the next stage of your life) or paralysis (freezing up because you just don't know what to do – period).

A great agent – and there are thousands and thousands out there – can bring a massive, game-changing dose of calm resilience to the table. They've been through this before. They know that there are lots of homes and lots of buyers out there, so losing out on any one is not a death knell to your dreams. They also know how to tell the difference between a normal delay in receiving an offer or an acceptance on your market and when your approach requires some serious course correction (see #4, below).

A great agent will be able to receive the news that you've lost out on a home or take in negative feedback from a prospective buyer, call you and deliver it calmly and right along with some smart, constructive suggestions for action items you should work on next, to keep the process moving forward.

4. Frankness and optimism. You want – no – you need your agent to be frankly honest. You need them to be frankly honest with themselves and with you about all facets of the reality you'll face as you proceed through your transaction. Sellers, you cannot afford to have an agent who will let you persist in fantasy-land beliefs about what your home is worth – contrary to all evidence as to what homes in your area are actually selling for and feedback (read: silence) from prospective buyers who have seen your home – without challenging you to look at the data and adjust your pricing strategy. Buyers, by the same token, you can't afford to work with an agent who encourages or allows you to make 5, 10, or 15 lowball offers on a home without urging you to face the truth that you need to house hunt at lower price points or make higher offers in order to be successful.

You need an agent who is willing to tell you the truth and have these sorts of hard conversations with you even when you won't like it.

That said, you want an agent who possesses both this frank integrity and an ultimate optimism that, with right thinking and strategic action, you can and will ultimately succeed at making a great buy or sale.

5. Bandwidth. This one might sound strange, but the fact is that it can be difficult to get the advantages of having the best agent in the world if the agent is wildly over-subscribed and so busy they struggle to respond to calls and emails. This is why I don't always say a great agent will necessarily have years and years of expertise. Some agents who have wonderful experience and wisdom are simply too busy to do the time-intensive guidance your situation may require. And some agents who are new to real estate bring highly relevant expertise and skills they've developed in other careers, have ample time to devote to your transaction and can enlist the real estate-specific insights of an experienced team leader, manager or broker.

If you know you're going to want to meet up weekly for a house hunting session or debrief with your agent, tell them this up front and ask them flat-out how much time they can devote to your process. Make sure you're comfortable with their response or solution (example – their listing specialist or partner can meet with you when they can't) before you make your pick.

My advice for agent-finding is to engage in a multi-step process:

  • First, make sure you get referrals from your friends, colleagues and relatives to the agents they have worked with and love.

  • Also get a few names from our Agent Finder on Trulia, which allows you to get incredibly specific about what sort of homes, areas and transactions your ideal agent will have worked with.

  • Then, check all of your prospective agent candidates out online. Narrow them down a bit by what you see in terms of reviews and style of advice you see them providing on channels like their blog, website or social media pages.

  • Reach out to all the people on your short list through whatever medium you prefer to communicate – phone, email, etc. – and note how quickly you get responses.

  • Then book appointments to meet with a handful of agents and let them present their method to you.

  • Get references and check in with those past clients – ask them to tell you about their transaction experience, warts and all.

By the end of this process, you'll likely find someone who fits just-right with your own personality, timing and transactional needs and possess these five traits.

This article originally appeared on Trulia

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Tara-Nicholle Nelson is Trulia’s Real Estate Realist helping consumers make real-life real estate decisions smarter. She is the author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." 

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Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

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David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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