Tips for auditioning a real estate buyer's broker
April 3, 2014 10:45 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I will be sitting down with a real estate buyer's broker over the weekend as we start our home search. The broker would like to represent us exclusively, which I'm not necessarily averse to, but I'd like your recommendations for how to chose a broker to help us be certain she would be the right fit before wasting our time.

As I mentioned in a past question, we are focusing our search on Boston's western suburbs (and particularly those that have some form of public transportation to downtown)--Newton, Wellesley, Needham, etc.

It is a hot market here, and all things being equal, I think I'd prefer not to have a buyer's broker--but we're looking for more local knowledge about each town and the neighborhoods in the town, and well as some guidance on crafting a good offer letter in a competitive situation (i.e., how best to draft an escalation clause, how much contingency we can put into the inspection requirement, etc.). This is not a "normal" market and we'd like some help navigating it.

To state the obvious, we don't want someone who is just going to sign us up for MLS emails and tells us to bid higher.

Do you have any tips on auditioning a broker? How have you gotten a good sense of how proactive a potential broker would be? Is there a (reliable) site that tracks reviews of individual brokers, like BBB or "good standing" databases for attorneys?

And in this market, no one is selling before the open house, since there are invariably multiple bids. How important is it to select a broker from the very biggest office in a town or area to benefit from "office previews" (where a home is showcased to brokers from the same office) rather than the general "broker previews" (where brokers from other firms are shown the house)?

I found this comment from Feets to be along the lines of what I'm looking for--but I'd love some more perspectives before meeting this person.
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We dealt with a buyer's agent for our purchase recently, and would absolutely use her again. They are Boston based and they are exclusively buyer's agents. On top of that, most of them are attorneys as well. Don't misunderstand, they are not the attorney for the transaction - but they understand fully the laws involved and are very knowledgeable. The agency as a whole feels so strongly that the buyer gets their own attorney, that they reimburse you X-amount based on sale price of the house to be used towards a closing attorney. Our agent in particular seemed to know an awful lot about construction - pointing out code violations, oddities in construction, wanted to look at electrical panels - I presumed it was from her on-job experience.

We also found her extremely responsive. She had an iPad with her every time, took copious notes, was prompt on sending us things (electronically) to sign and writing (and re-writing documentation, contracts, offers, etc). She never pressured us, but she did take interest in what we were looking for. She'd even talk me off a ledge when I started looking outside of our original defined scope.

She sent us MLS listings, but we also found some on our own and brought them to her. She did the appointment arranging and met us there, etc. She recommended our home inspector - who turned out to be incredible and someone I in turn referred for home inspection a couple weeks later.

I would recommend my agent, in fact, she'll probably help my parents when they are ready to buy something else.

If you are interested in the name of the agency, MeMail.
posted by jerseygirl at 11:01 AM on April 3, 2014

I'll second the value of having someone who is familiar with construction, etc. We haven't bought a house, but we recently went to an open house for a place we thought might fall into our range. Because it was older and would need some updates, we were musing out loud about things like knocking down a wall, moving ductwork, etc.

The agent overheard us and said, "Yeah, that'd run you about $2,000" and "Depending on whether it's load-bearing or not, that could be $X." She was ready with all sorts of possibilities and seemed to have a good handle on the going rate for certain repairs and construction tasks, which she probably dealt with frequently given the types of homes in the area (roughly 100 years old and not always workable for current families).
posted by Madamina at 11:06 AM on April 3, 2014

Make sure you understand totally the terms of the exclusivity contract. Specifically you want to be totally sure that the terms under which the contract states the broker has earned their commission are favorable to you (or at least don't put you in a shitty situation) because that point may not necessarily be the closing itself.
posted by griphus at 11:08 AM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

We've gotten a good sense of brokers by saying "Here are 3 houses and the area we're interested in" and trying to setup a 3 hour afternoon of looking at houses with them. Then pay attentions to the questions they ask you and the houses they show you. Are they houses all within the ballpark, with the "nos" only falling just short? Or are they way too expensive/wrong house/wrong neighborhood etc.? A good broker will figure out what you want and what information gaps you have and work from there. You should be able to do all of this before you sign a contract with them.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:53 AM on April 3, 2014

When buying here in Cambridge I was surprised at how often I'd ask someone if they'd recommend their buyer's agent, and they said, "NO" or even "enh". When I finally found someone who was enthusiastic about their buyer's agent I jumped to get her contact info. And she was responsive, helped craft good offers and a good P&S, and then hooked me up with the best handyman, electrician, home inspector, and lawyer.

So I don't have an answer on what to ask potential buyer's agents, but I would see if you can talk to previous customers to see how happy they were.
posted by ldthomps at 12:02 PM on April 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Our buyers agent was also awesome. He told us early on he would not let us buy the wrong house. He recommended our inspector, counsel, even the tree guy. I'd look for hyper-local knowledge about where different areas are going, what various towns are trying to accomplish in the next decade, and someone that sugarcoats NOTHING. Have fun and good luck, it can be a bizarre ride.
posted by vrakatar at 12:03 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Our buyer's agent is awesome and I enthusiastically recommend her to everyone I know. She is great because she is able to tell me whether to bid higher or lower (by her estimates, depending on how much I want the house) and what things are "the norm" in the area and what aren't. She is also able to often successfully get a house in a competitive market. She works with a big company, but really acts like an independent agent. (Most RE companies have different fee structure options for agents who want to use their sign/office/legal documents.)

You should ask your potential agent things like: what are the hottest types of houses? how often have they successfully gotten a house? how often did they have to bid over the listing price? etc. Also get references.

However, I would be wary of signing an exclusivity agreement with any agent. I never signed one with mine (through two home purchases, and looking at easily over 100 houses), and the fact of the matter is, she is supposed to get a commission for showing me the house that I end up buying anyway (even if I decide to "fire" her, since the seller pays commission and the legalities of it are complicated). So in my opinion, any broker who asks you to sign an exclusivity agreement is someone who knows you'll want to ditch them, and putting in insurance ahead of time.

Or it's possible that my market is very different from yours.
posted by ethidda at 12:20 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Even if you love her, talk to at least one other agent, preferably two. You'll either end up more confident that the first one is better for you or will get a better agent. Also, don't depend too heavily on what other people think. We chose based primarily on a huge number of positive recommendations, which I'm sure were honest, but I don't think he was the best agent for us.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:31 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Having dealt with buying a home in a hot market, I can say that you want to be sure your buyer agent will attack a potential opportunity like a starved dog. Otherwise, you're going to miss a lot of good opportunities.
posted by Vhanudux at 1:11 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

A BIG question to ask is "Who will be presenting the offers to the seller?" I would want my agent representing me and my offer in front of the actual seller.

You do realize there is no such thing as a buyer's broker. All brokers get paid by the seller.

Remember if the seller's agent finds a buyer he/she doesn't have to split the commission, and may be able to convince his seller that his deal is better via a sales commission reduction.
posted by Gungho at 1:24 PM on April 3, 2014

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