Teach me the best etiquette for working with a real estate agent
January 29, 2010 7:45 AM   Subscribe

I am looking to buy a home for the first time, and I have questions about working with real estate agents. How much time should I expect a real estate agent to spend with me? Three days a week? Eight hours a day?

I have an impedance mismatch between me and my partner re how much time we should spend looking at houses, and I'm trying to work out a reasonable compromise.

Given our impedance mismatch, I want to work things out by having him be able to look for places with the agent on his own while I'm busy. But, I'm not sure how much time an agent normally spends with people.

Background details

I work full time, m-f, which means I need to pace myself and can probably handle 1 to 2 days in a week to look for places, for 4 or 5 hours on the day I select, with 6 to 8 houses. I prefer only 1 day a week. I need off time from my job.

My partner works freelance and right now has enough time to dedicate to house hunting. He wants to spend 8 hrs in a day looking at as many houses as possible, probably 3 to more days a week.

I think that is an unreasonable demand to place on someone (considering how much time I'd want to spend and applying the golden rule), but I'm not really sure what a reasonable demand is, since I have no experience looking for places and no experience with real estate agents.
posted by bleary to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Disclaimer: I'm not a real estate agent and I've never house-hunted (only apartment-hunted).

But the big thing about your partner's approach is that even if you wanted to spend 8 hours a day house hunting, the number of available houses is a finite one. So what happens if you set aside 8 hours every day to house hunting, and the first day you go look at 3 houses, but then on the second day you eagerly call your real estate agent and they say, "uh....those 3 were the only ones I had to show you right now"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:50 AM on January 29, 2010

We discussed that with our realtor during our first meeting, and he said that usually after 2 or 3 hours, the process can get pretty overwhelming and tiring. We agreed, and we ended up seeing him about once a week for about a couple of hours. If we saw him more than once a week it was because there was maybe one or two houses that came up and we wanted to see them right away.

We found that what he said was true - after about the 5th house in a row, I definitely delt myself glazing over.

8 hours straight is pretty hard on the realtor, plus he/she presumably has other clients to take care of during the course of a day.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 7:51 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A lot of it depends on how serious you are about getting a house within a certain time period. I know when my SO and I were looking for houses, we had our agent email us a huge pile of listings twice a day, we would scan through them, and if any piqued our interest (from the virtual tour and stats) we would typically tour them one day a week, totaling anywhere from three minutes (we showed up and the listing had somehow left out that half of the house still had VISIBLE FIRE DAMAGE that our agent didn't know about either) to four hours one Saturday, where we both toured over seven houses.

Agents, especially in this economy, want to make money, don't worry about asking too much of them, they'll typically be able to push you away if needbe.
posted by banannafish at 7:53 AM on January 29, 2010

Mrs. Deadmessenger and I spent a couple of hours each weekend looking at houses with our agent, plus some time during the rest of the week going over the notes and photos we took during our visits.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:53 AM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: One thing to consider is that you may not be able to spend that much productive time with a realtor. There are a finite number of houses on the market which meet your purchase criteria. Sometimes buying a house takes a while not because you haven't spent enough time with your agent, but because you're waiting for the right house at the right price to go on the market.

I think you should probably let your agent run this to some extent. They're going to know what's on the market, what fits your budget and other criteria, and how to best make that work. They're in the business of selling houses, and they don't get paid by the hour, so they've got an incentive to do this as quickly as possible. They aren't going to want to show you houses you don't want to buy, because that's a waste of your time and theirs. Insisting that they spend a certain amount of time with you in a given period is probably not the way to go. Besides, unless you want to buy a house that only your partner has seen, you're going to need to be there too.

If you're comfortable with your partner rejecting a house that you haven't seen--now that sounds like a fun conversation, don't it?--it might not be a bad idea to let him spend as much time with the agent as the agent can, and then go along to visit those houses which pass his initial viewing as you have time. If you aren't comfortable with this, just point out that this is something you need to do together, so you're going to have to work around your schedule.
posted by valkyryn at 7:54 AM on January 29, 2010

It's certainly possible to spend 8 hours a day 1-2 days a week if you live in a large area, and it also depends on how much you want to micromanage the process. We basically used our agent for his lockbox access and a third set of eyes, so I did research all week (which could sometimes be 2 hours a night) and sent him a list of houses to make appointments for on Friday. We went out for 3-4 hours one, sometimes two weekend days, depending on how many of the houses on my list ended up to be under contract or have something funky that crossed them off the list.

We saw somewhere around 130 houses, and 3-4 hours truly is just about all you can do in one go before you start hating everything you see. It's an exhausting process.

On the other hand, he had clients with a very specific set of requirements, and he pre-viewed any contenders without them first, and might show them one house a week.

Your partner can certainly spend a lot of time reading listings, looking up the properties on Google Maps (I plotted our routes for us that way, as well as looking at the satellite views to make sure there was no pool and a big enough yard, not backing up to commercial property, etc) and Zillow, and putting together a lot of data. That doesn't take any of the agent's time. If you're okay with it, he could go out with the agent for some quick go-sees without you, and then you could go back to see anything good.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:05 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I found that my wife and I spent a lot of team researching and reviewing homes BEFORE we went out with our agent. That seemed to help the process and reduce the amount of time we had to spend with her.

For example, from the listings she sent us based on our criteria, we narrowed it down to 20 homes that we were interested in. One night after work, I drove past the 20 homes and brought that list down to about 12 that I wanted to share with my wife (she trusted me enough to discount any homes that had qualities that we weren't interested in -- like the house right next to the bus depot). My wife and I drove past those 12 homes and narrowed that list down to 8 that we wanted to see with our agent. In that day we saw about 8 homes in 4-5 hours (very close geographic area helped).

Now, we were certainly lucky that we found the home we bought in that first day, but I think the legwork beforehand was very helpful. We felt like we made the best use of the time with our agent rather than spending time driving to a house that we instantly didn't like.

Also, if you are going to spend a long time looking at houses in one day make sure you take many many many many photos. They will all blur together by the third house and you'll find yourself asking which house it was that had the purple shag carpeting and not being able to remember.
posted by tommccabe at 8:12 AM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Btw, I've only spent one day looking (we really have just started). Indeed, my brain glazed over after 6 houses. I thought perhaps I'd dismiss some places really fast, but it didn't turn out to be true.

And my brain seemed to be toggled on the whole time. My brain doesn't work weel when it has to be toggled on for the whole day. At work I have brain flow for a few hours, then I can go get coffee or something to recharge, then have more brain flow. This is not like that.
posted by bleary at 8:13 AM on January 29, 2010

Seconding Lyn Never. If you (and by "you" I mean "your partner") want to be completely hands-on, there's a lot of stuff you can do before you even talk to the realtor. Look up house listings online, drive by the houses you like (because you don't get the whole picture in an online listing; sometimes the neighborhood just really sucks), go to open houses, etc.

If you find a realtor you trust, on the other hand, the more information you can give him/her, the better he/she will be at finding you houses to look at. We were very, very specific on our needs and wants and because of that, and because of the size of the town we live in, our realtor had us look at ten houses over two weeks. We ended up buying the second house we saw on the first day. But again, we were very specific (only brick exterior, must have a basement, must have at least three bedrooms, quiet neighborhood, did not have to be in move-in condition, etc.) and our town isn't huge.

But eight hours a day, three days a week? That seems like quite a lot.
posted by cooker girl at 8:13 AM on January 29, 2010

Okay, I am a Realtor (but not your Realtor)...I tend to show only five houses per client session. More than 5, and your eyes will begin to glaze over. I also ask my clients to give each house some sort of signifier to help them remember, i.e. 'the house with the great new kitchen with rooster wallpaper' or 'the house of the constantly running toilet' or the 'house with the NSFW poster in the bedroom' (aside: folks if you're selling your house, please remove the 'Periodic Table of Sex' posters).

The area I practice in is relatively small and the houses are easy to get to -- so I budget 2 hours per showing session.
posted by rtodd at 8:18 AM on January 29, 2010

I just wanted to add that a couple of things mentioned here were definitely true for me as well: 1) my husband and I spent a lot of time online looking at the listings and researching what we wanted, and we spent more time doing that than doing the rounds with the realtor, and 2) we took a notebook with us and took notes on each house. What's even better is to print out the listing for each house you are going to go see and write your notes on that sheet. It will make remembering each house clearly easier.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 8:21 AM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: Btw, I live in Chicago. lots of houses here. I've slimmed down the area to a few neighborhoods. Maybe one problem I've had is that I've been doing most of the online searching. I could switch that task over.
posted by bleary at 8:24 AM on January 29, 2010

Oh, DrGirlfriend's tip about printing out the listings and making notes on them is really, really helpful. "Ah, this was the one that said it had a gourmet kitchen, and I wrote "WTF smaller than bathrm?" next to that. Into the discard pile!"

You will, in time, know how to dismiss a place the moment you see a real dealbreaker, but make notes on that too. Because of our financing (and because prices were dropping as we looked), we ended up doubling back to see a few places we'd originally written off for minor preference mismatches, but could still skip "Hole In Floor" and "Water Damage" because we kept the notes. We now live in "Too Small," so you never know how things might turn out in the end. (It's really not too small, and "Would Die For" up the street apparently had serious structural issues, judging from the work that two owners and a bank have done on it in three years.)
posted by Lyn Never at 8:44 AM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: I love the idea of printing out a notes page for each house. I've been using redfin for searching on a map and have posted a lot of feature requests to their website q&a forums. Once of which was being able to have a special printout per listing added to favorites for when you go to view them.

(I'm skm on there. You can see how obsessed I got on my first day by the plethora of posts to the website q&a forum).
posted by bleary at 8:58 AM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: Btw, I went ahead and straight out asked my real estate agent how much time she has available to spend per week on us. I figure that she can titrate if need be.

If there is an impedance mismatch between how much time she has available vs. how much time my partner wants to spend, I'll need to figure out how to handle that (I suspect it's already reached that, but haven't actually verified this).

How would I handle that?
posted by bleary at 9:01 AM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: Same problem here, 20 years ago. DH has NO patience with looking at houses for hours on end. I, however, loved to do it. So. I did the research and did the drive-by first look. In my experience, a drive-by will rule out 80% of the available homes, for us it did anyway. That left us with a very small number of houses each week to see each week, which fit in with DH's schedule and attention span. We did NOT use a realtor, however, as we had access to the MLS on our on.
posted by raisingsand at 9:02 AM on January 29, 2010

If there is an impedance mismatch between how much time she has available vs. how much time my partner wants to spend, I'll need to figure out how to handle that (I suspect it's already reached that, but haven't actually verified this). How would I handle that?

I should think that if this is the case, the situation has been handled for you:

Your partner: I want to look at houses 8 hours a day, 5 days a week!

The Realtor: Sorry, I can only do one day a week.

Your partner: But...uh...okay.

Honestly, what would your partner do in that case? Insist that the realtor stop time?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:17 AM on January 29, 2010

yeah, I think your partner can spend all day and night obsessively researching the houses, then selecting the best options for you to actually visit with the Realtor.

(I was obsessive-researching partner in my househunting. There was binder, with a page for each house for notes.)
posted by desuetude at 9:48 AM on January 29, 2010

I was in this exact situation, although we were renting so the situation was a bit less important. Here's what we did:

I let my partner research and look at houses to his heart's content. If he wanted to spend a whole week, 8 hours a day, looking at houses, then more power to him. I trusted him enough to weed out the crappy ones and keep enough borderline ones. If he found a house he absolulely loved and need to be decided on that day, I'd go over after work and take a look. Otherwise, he'd make a big compendium of 4-6 houses that were the best of the lot and we're re-view them on the weekend.

I think your partner's going to quickly realize that there are probably not enough houses to look at, unless the requirements are really really vague. Too vague.
posted by muddgirl at 10:02 AM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: Honestly, what would your partner do in that case? Insist that the realtor stop time?

Call up 7 realtors for each day of the week? ugh.
posted by bleary at 10:03 AM on January 29, 2010

Best answer: Let him do the online research. Have him do a drive-by BEFORE you request a walkthrough. Believe me, this will take a lot of non-realtor time.
posted by muddgirl at 10:04 AM on January 29, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you everyone. In summary:


* in practice, people usually see 5 houses per appointment
* number of viewings a week seems to vary, but keeping to 1 does not seem irrational


* take lots of notes
* do homework before making appointments, including drive-by, to help cut down on the number of appointments
* trust agent to tell us if she does not have enough time to make appointments
posted by bleary at 10:36 AM on January 29, 2010

I'm in the first time home buying process right now too. I guess our price range and our insistence on a single family home in a decent neighborhood is weeding stuff out for us, because we're finding a lack of homes to view even if we wanted to go that crazy.

Does your Realtor do the automatic MLS searches for you? Ours sets up searches based on our criteria in the official MLS. We have 22 searches currently running (11 neighborhoods, each with searches for 2 bedroom and 3+ bedroom houses). We get emails when new or changed listings meet our searches and have a special log in so we can see the search results. Each house listed in the results has a Yes/No/Maybe checkbox and a space for comments. So we go through the search results as they come in and anything checked Yes we expect to see that coming weekend. Often we get into the Maybes too, because of the small # of homes meeting our criteria. I think where your partner can spend more time if he is so inclined is to do more research on the houses that come up in the searches - checking out neighborhood stats (schools, crime, transit access, walkability, whatever is important to you guys), driving by, etc.

Each week, we spend maybe 2-3 hours with our Realtor on one weekend day looking at the houses we checked Yes or Maybe on (typically 4-7 houses). She maps the route based on efficiency and appointment times and picks us up and drives us around. She also prints out the full list sheets for each house that we can keep and use to take notes.

One time she did meet up with my husband on a weekday evening (I was out of town) to see a house that had a offer deadline stated in the listing. But so far once a week has been plenty.

My recommendation is to Bring. A. Camera. We didn't at first and I wish we had. It all becomes a big mess if you try to keep it all in your head. So many listings don't have good or any interior photos. Also, don't be afraid to ask to see a house multiple times if you did like it but aren't sure.

Good luck! We've got a bid in on a short sale house but are continuing to look in case it falls through. It's a crazy stressful time consuming process, for sure.
posted by misskaz at 10:52 AM on January 29, 2010

Does your Realtor do the automatic MLS searches for you? Ours sets up searches based on our criteria in the official MLS.

Oh yes, seconding this. If your realtor hasn't mentioned it yet, please talk to them about the automatic MLS search e-mails. These searches are so helpful to get timely information and will make the process faster, I think. A year later and I still get the e-mails because I like to know what is on the market in town.
posted by tommccabe at 11:17 AM on January 29, 2010

IMO, the more time you spend doing research the better. This will mean you spend a LOT less time with the realtor. Don't look at any houses that you haven't at least looked up online. It can take the same amount of time to rule-out 20 houses from home, than 2 houses in-person.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:21 PM on January 29, 2010

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