What to expect when meeting with a realtor?
May 7, 2013 1:47 PM   Subscribe

Apparently we're going to buy a house, and that necessitates finding a buyers agent. I'm in the process of setting up meetings with a few realtors (referrals from friends, ones we've met at open houses, etc.) but I have no idea what to expect from these meetings. What should I ask them? What will they want to know from me? What should I be looking for?

My usual approach to situations like this is to walk in and say "hi, you've done this a lot more times than I have, so what do we do here?" I'd like to be prepared to answer their questions, though, and I'd like to make sure my husband and I have at least vaguely talked over most of the things they're likely to bring up. I also want to get the most out of the meeting possible, since whoever we choose is going to participate in the most expensive thing we've ever attempted. Do we just have a conversation about houses and then choose whoever seems the least sleazy? Can you tell me some things you wished you'd asked your realtor before hiring them? I know lists of questions exist on the internet, but they tend to be written by realtors themselves and I'd like to hear from the other side of the relationship.
posted by juliapangolin to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
The following assumes that you're looking for the same qualities in a buyer's agent we were: responsiveness and an ability to whittle down the field of prospective houses to something where everything we looked at was close to fitting our criteria:

We had good luck setting up walkthroughs of properties with them, rather than just a sit-down meeting. If you tell them "I'm looking for X type of house in Y neighborhoods in a price range of A to B" and setup a quick afternoon showing of four houses, you should quickly get a sense for whether they have a feel for you and what you're looking for. Pay attention to whether they're only showing you homes they listed (bad) or only showing you homes at the top of your price range (bad). The outing will also let you know whether you WANT to walk through houses with this person, since that counts for a lot. For us, email responsiveness was also key, which you can get a feel for beforehand.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:53 PM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think your approach is solid.

Two things I'd add from experience. First, make sure it's someone you feel genuinely comfortable with, that you like them personally and professionally. This will be a somewhat stressful (but fun) time, and when you feel like you trust and actually like your broker, it makes a world of difference.

Second, it's typical for a broker to want to show you places that are slightly above your price range. Sometimes they do it so you can get a sense of options in case you can get your hands on more money, but sometimes they're doing it because they're hoping to upsell you into something you can't afford and therefore increase their commission.

Oh wait...a third thing...when you get into negotiations with a seller and it comes down to mostly agreeing except for maybe a little bit of money, a really good broker will offer to reduce their fee in order to help you out.

So I'd ask a broker what they would do...how they would help you with negotiations.
posted by kinetic at 2:01 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Having a buyer's agent is something that is probably beneficial to you if you are inexperienced in purchasing real estate, but it is not necessary, at least not in all jurisdictions - I don't know the laws everywhere. I have both purchased and sold homes without a realtor.

When I have used a realtor, the most important thing to me has been how likable and genuine they seem, and how much they seem to respect what I want out of a real estate transaction. You don't indicate in your question whether you have already chosen the property you want to buy, but I think one clear sign of a realtor you might not want to work with is someone who doesn't pay attention to your price range. They want to be in the driver's seat of choosing which properties to show you and give you the impression that the market is hotter than it is. Trying to upsell you is a common tactic - i.e., you say "I'm looking for a condo that will cost less than $250,000" and they start trying to show you single family homes in the $250K-$300K range, saying "well, this is close to your price range and look how nice it is!" and then they give you lines about how there are other buyers looking at the property you like and you'd better get your offer in ASAP and make it good, when you can never be sure of the truth of the situation. That sort of thing drives me crazy.

My own preference is to say to the realtor: "Just give me access to the MLS and I will look and tell you which properties I am interested in. You can make a few suggestions after seeing the types of properties I like." Gauging their reaction to this and reviewing their suggestions usually tells me how much they care about me as a customer and respect my wishes. I like to negotiate on prices pretty hard too, and so if a realtor gives me a hard time about how low my offer is or how hard I'm negotiating (i.e. "just accept this counteroffer, they're probably not going to go lower and it's only a few thousand bucks"), that is a realtor I'm not very interested in working with again.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:01 PM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Apparently we're going to buy a house, and that necessitates finding a buyers agent.

That's certainly not true, and may, in fact, be an impediment to getting the house you want if you're in a hot market, since the seller's agent will have to split their commission. I saw several open house "previews" that were not open to buyers with their own agents, and it was at those previews that winning bids were made. (Boston is a very tight RE market now.)

Your experience may differ from mine, depending on the local talent pool of agents, but both my wife and I are quite web-savvy, and, to be frank, smarter than the average bear. If you register with Redfin and Zillow and Trulia, you can definitely get a sense of where your market is heading and properties that are more or less comparable, and what a good price is. And certainly talk to your friends, colleagues, etc. about the process. There are great resources out there for educating yourself on the home purchase process. And, of course, just because the agent is a buyer's agent, doesn't mean that you'll get great impartial advice. Their only motivation is to get their commission, which they only get when you buy a house. It does not matter that the house is not perfect for you, or that you could have paid less (in fact, they want you to pay more!). Others I've talked to just want to sign me up for MLIS alerts and chauffeur me to open houses. All that info is available on Redfin on pretty much a contemporaneous basis, assuming Redfin is available in your area.

It's great that you seem aware that a generic "agent" is the seller's agent, and doesn't owe duties to you. But it's not clear to me that getting a buyer's agent gives you a great ally or a valuable resource.

Armchair psychiatrist: "Apparently we're buying a house" doesn't suggest to me you're fully committed to doing the legwork involved in this significant purchase. That's a really great way to get a shitty deal. No one will ever care as much about you getting the house you want than you yourself. You're spending the most amount of money you ever will in your life, and buying your home. Agent is looking to make their 3.5%.

But by all means, if you use a buyer's agent, make sure they're ready for you to run them absolutely ragged. Make sure they're accessible whenever you need them in whatever medium--email, txt, phone, etc. Make sure they know you know how to get all the same MLIS info that they can and that you've done your research.

If you're down to the point where you're just trying to get the least sleazy one, don't get a broker.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:09 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

First of all good Real Estate Agents aren't sleezy, they're humans doing a job and earning a living. You want someone you connect with. You want to feel like you can say anything to this person. "This house smells like pee." "This is really ugly, luckily paint is cheap."

Expect a good agent to ask you a lot of questions, what is your budget? What kind of house, what neighborhoods, what's on your wish list, what's essential, what's nice, but not essential. If someone just opens up a book and starts showing you pictures, that's not going to cut it.

You want an agent who's not going to blow smoke up your ass. "I understand that you want a living room that will accomodate your sofa, but are you really going to make a $250,000 decision on a house, based on a $1250 sofa?"

You'll be spending a lot of time with this person, so you should like them as a person. Ask any question you have on your mind, your agent should feel like a teacher. He or she should be patient and willing to help with every aspect of the sale.

You will not be compensating this agent, the agent will get his cut of the commission from the seller, so be aware that a higher price on the house means more commission. You want someone who's willing to forego a couple of hundred buck because he or she knows that referrals are where it's at, and will provide you with solid information about pricing in your area.

FYI, the MLS across the country is realtor.com, so you can start looking at listings so that you can give the agents an idea of what you're looking at.

Just wanted to say though, I bought my last house without an agent and that went just fine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:11 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I found the book "Home Buying For Dummies" to be an excellent first-timer's resource.

No, Really.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:21 PM on May 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding treehorn+bunny---you don't really need a real estate broker or agent, especially if you're in a larger market (and you seem to be) with an online listing service accessible by anyone.

But if you do hire one, know that you're paying for*:

(1) access to what's for sale and what's not-yet-for-sale, but soon will be, since a lot of insider-only deals are often made between agents,
(2) knowledge of the market, and
(3) knowledge of the transactional aspect of purchasing real estate.

Any agent can get you (1), but not all agents are created equal with regard to (2) and (3). Some know nothing about various neighborhoods or the general market they're working in, just blundering along with clients who are themselves just blundering along. I have met some utter morons in my time, people that shouldn't be allowed to sell soap, injecting themselves into what you understand is the biggest financial decision of your life. (1) is important, because in a seller's market a lot of properties don't even get listed, they're just matched up between sellers' and buyers' agents who have people looking for exactly that house. How to find someone with good chops at (2) and (3)? Peruse your online MLS early and often, for months in advance of buying, and you'll quickly discover which areas you like and, more importantly, who's listing houses for sale in that area. If someone's listing (and closing on) a lot of properties in an area that's moving, they are probably also good at (3), though there's no way to know this until you're trying to get financing, surveys, inspections, appraisals, etc., worked out on a house you just looooooove. If you're not spending inordinate amounts of time pricing and getting a feel for what's a good deal in your area, I think you're not ready to purchase a home---by all means, but whatever you like, but it's just such an immense decision for families that it makes a lot of sense to be ready for it.

tl;dr: spend today and every day for the next few weeks or, preferably, months, seeing what's being listed and what's selling and what's not, and for how much, in the areas you want to live in. Not sure if you want to live there? Drive there after you guys get off of work or on a Saturday and just walk around the 'hood. Only after you've done that, then can you turn to finding your trusted middle man.

*I absolutely disagree that you aren't paying it: Just because the seller's paying for the 3 or 3.5 or whatever percent up front that goes to the buyer's agent doesn't mean you aren't paying for it--sellers price their house accordingly and when it's time for you to sell, you're going to do the same and try to recoup that percent (and a lot more) if you hope to break even-ish on your deal. Yet another reason not to use an intermediary if you don't absolutely have to.
posted by resurrexit at 2:21 PM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

One thing they might ask is if you're preapproved for a mortgage, and how much. If you're not yet, I would get on that right away.
posted by Fig at 2:47 PM on May 7, 2013

I agree that now, before you really start hunting, is a great time to familiarize yourself with the market. We have been house hunting for over a year, and scouring Redfin and Trulia helped us get a sense of what things we could sort of afford.

We've been using Redfin exclusively and it's been pretty good for us. I do sometimes wonder if having an agent to really work with the selling agent could help us more. I know there are stories of selling agents being the buying agent as well, and selling the house before it really comes to market. If your area is half as crazy as where I live, things are just insane across the board and unpredictable.

When you actually are ready, definitely get pre-approved for a mortgage right away. Things move fast and you don't want to be caught off guard.
posted by kendrak at 3:08 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok, some have pointed out that we don't NEED a buyers agent. I understand that this is true, but we've decided to use one because we're new at this and want someone to hold our hands through the transactional part, and we have no idea about things like how much to offer in our market. I think this decision is pretty much made, so if people could focus on qualities of a good realtor instead, that would be more helpful.

To give more details about where we're at in the process: We have a very good idea of what kind of place in what kind of neighborhood we want and how much we intend to spend. We started haunting open houses long before deciding it was time to pull the trigger, and we're at the point where we're both refreshing zillow almost as often as metafilter. The supply is sufficiently limited in our market that we can look at the MLS and point to the half-dozen currently available properties we haven't already eliminated due to not meeting our criteria or fatal flaws discovered at open houses. So, we don't need someone to help us brainstorm what we're looking for in a house, and any agent who suggests a McMansion in the suburbs will be instantly disqualified as they will clearly not have listened to anything we've said.

To address Admiral Haddock directly, thank you for your concern (I'm not saying that snarkily. I'm serious.) I think I wrote that because our long-planned house-buying schedule was recently accelerated by a landlord related issue, and while we've been working very hard to get ready, I'm not a person who wraps my brain around transitions very easily. The legwork of which you speak is well underway and being enthusiastically performed by both my husband and me.
posted by juliapangolin at 3:23 PM on May 7, 2013

When we picked a buyer's broker, we "test drove" three. We were about where you are in terms of having already assessed the market, neighborhoods, and wanted someone to help us get serious and catch ones we'd missed.

The bad ones were like house hunters - great house, amirite?

The one we picked had amazing knowledge of the schools systems, roads, builders of various developments. Here are some examples:

posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 3:26 PM on May 7, 2013

Drat, hit enter.

1. As we drove to a house, she said "this road is pretty traffic-y in rush hour. You'd want to do a test drive if you buy anything where it's the main access. It's on the list for widenening, but you never know when it's going to happen." 10 years later, that road is still a traffic nightmare, and our test drive told us it was right out.

2. She'd take us down to the basement to look at the age of the hot water heater and condition of pipes. Non-copper pipes also got a frown.

3. If we were interested in a house, she'd check her files for floor plans from when it was being developed so we could get exact dimensions. She or her office had an impressive setup for that.

4. She always pointed out flaws we wouldn't notice, like "look how there's moisture between the double pane windows. They need to be replaced almost right away." Or, "I think the owners did the basement themselves. The electrical doesn't look up to code." Or "houses built in this period used xxx pipe, which often causes front yard leaks that are expensive to fix. Beware." (subsequently happened to a neighbor, and was indeed expensive).

Essentially, she knew the neighborhoods, the product, and cultural ecosystem, and was an effective advocate. And we were looking about 10 miles outside her primary area.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 3:34 PM on May 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I have an agent who I really love, and the following is what he does that I value, then reformatted into questions you could ask your potential agent.

--Is very responsive. Either he or his partner is always working, so if I call or write, I can expect a same-day response, usually within two hours. This is important in my market, where things have started to move rather fast. ("How long does it take you to respond to calls and emails, on average? If I find a house, say, on a Sunday at an open house and want to put a bid on it, how long would it take me to get a hold of you and get the process rolling?")

--Has good people skills. People get really weird when buying and selling houses. He is very good at calming freaked-out nerves, and at talking people down when they're angry. ("What's your technique for dealing with an angry seller/buyer?")

--Has good business sense; a la what treehorn+bunny said upthread, he respects my negotiation style. ("I tend to like to bargain soft/hard. What is your general approach to negotiating?")

--Knows a lot about house structures (he's a landlord). Can tell me when the foundation is seriously cracked and when the problems are cosmetic. Can tell me approximately how long it'd be before I'd have to replace the electrical panel. 90% of the time he's right. ("What is your experience with the trades and tradespeople? Have you done any work with houses outside of your work in real estate?")

--Has a big stable of related professionals who he can recommend: title insurance people, accountants, electricians, lawyers, mortage brokers, home inspectors, etc. ("Do you have a working relationship with a house inspector/mortgage broker/electrician in case we need one?")

--Is the one at the house with the inspector comes. Is the one who calls and sets up follow-up appointments with the sewer guys, underground tank inspectors, and any other tradespeople who need to be contacted after the initial inspection. ("What role do you take during the home inspection process? What inspections do you usually recommend we do?")

--Didn't make me sign a buyer's agent contract. He said we'd work together, he'd work his butt off for me, I wouldn't contact other agents, and if I decided I wanted to sever our relationship I'd just have to tell him. ("Do you require that I sign a contract to only work with you for the next X months?")

--Listens to what I want; doesn't pressure; tells me when he thinks I'm making a mistake. Nice to be around; funny. This part is hard to ask about, but is something you might be able to suss out if you go see the agent a couple of times in action.

Good luck, juliapangolin! I hope you find a great agent and a house you love.
posted by feets at 5:07 PM on May 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

What I love about our Realtor - she's fair, honest and 100% on our side. Her notes on our conversations with other Realtors and sellers where meticulous. She has any army of professionals that she recommends - contractors, painters, lenders. After the sale, I told her that the painter didn't do a good job. I didn't expect her to fix it, but I wanted to let her know to stop recommending the guy. She hauled him back and walked through every missed spot until the job was correct. She didn't have to do that, but she's meticulous in her work and her vendors perform.

What you're looking for is evidence that this is someone who's going to do the work. She doesn't need to be smoozy. She (or he) need to be ready to get the work done.
posted by 26.2 at 6:55 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

--Has a big stable of related professionals who he can recommend: title insurance people, accountants, electricians, lawyers, mortage brokers, home inspectors, etc. ("Do you have a working relationship with a house inspector/mortgage broker/electrician in case we need one?")

--Didn't make me sign a buyer's agent contract. He said we'd work together, he'd work his butt off for me, I wouldn't contact other agents, and if I decided I wanted to sever our relationship I'd just have to tell him. ("Do you require that I sign a contract to only work with you for the next X months?")

These are huge, especially the second one--if they trust you to be honest and not work around them when they're working hard for you, that's a big sign that you can trust them. Agreed, completely.

You mentioned that you've liked other houses already: when you meet with a realtor, give them that list of addresses or MLS numbers and tell them MOAR LIKE THIS PLS (and also tell them what you haven't liked) so they'll have an idea of what you're looking at and won't throw something odd at you. Honestly, if they know the area well enough, they will know which houses you're talking about most of the time.

Something else to watch out for: when you put an offer in and your agent's constantly telling you to bring your highest and best offer; while this may be the case in very hot markets where you only get one shot at an offer and you're competing with several or dozens of other potential buyers, this is not the case everywhere. If your market's not like that, this is a warning sign.
posted by resurrexit at 6:30 AM on May 8, 2013

« Older Looking for pronunciations of US city names   |   80's Stand-up Routine About Huey Lewis Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.