Beware the slick, fast-talking agent find a listener

SMART MOVES

March 28, 1993|By ELLEN JAMES MARTIN

Know that glib, know-it-all real estate agent? He's not the one for you, if you're buying a home.

"You don't want one of those bums who talks too fast, listens too little and is just a little too slick for comfort," cautions Dorcas Helfant, past president of the National Association of Realtors.

Buying a home -- especially a first home -- can be a terrifying experience. The last thing you need is someone who is condescending, unresponsive to your questions or impatient during your house hunt.

"Finding a good agent is like buying a pair of shoes. It's got to feel good and wear well," Ms. Helfant says.

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Ms. Helfant and other realty experts offer buyers 10 suggestions on finding the right "showing agent," the one who helps you locate a right property:

* No. 1: Look for someone with whom you are totally comfortable.

"You're going to be with the agent for some time, so there has to be a chemistry there," says Alex Karavasilis, broker-owner of RE/MAX Advantage, a Columbia realty firm.

Just because an agent comes highly recommended from someone you trust doesn't mean he's right for you. "Maybe he's too pushy or too lax for you," Mr. Karavasilis says. Among highly qualified agents, some will match your style and others won't, he says.

* No. 2: Look for a good listener who asks plenty of questions.

"Don't get offended if the agent asks you a lot about yourself," Ms. Helfant says. To help you fully, an agent needs to garner information about you. He needs to know your housing requirements and tastes.

And he needs to know your buying capacity (though you can also ascertain your mortgage borrowing capacity through a mortgage lender and then simply forward the information to the agent).

"If the agent doesn't ask you a lot of questions, that's when you've got a problem," Ms. Helfant says.

But buyer beware: Most showing agents work within a traditional system that makes them legally required to represent the interests of the seller, not the buyer, in any transaction. They may be friendly and helpful in showing you property. But in

negotiations over the price of a home, for example, the traditional agent must pass on to the seller financial information given him by the buyer. This can weaken the buyer's bargaining stance, consumer advocates point out.

In working with a traditional agent, it's not wise for the buyer to give away too much financial information. All the agent needs to know is that you could, indeed, qualify to buy the sort of property you're seeking. And in the prequalification process, a lender could certify this for you.

* No. 3: Ask friends and associates for the names of showing agents they like.

When you take a referral, ask whether the showing agent they used proved tenacious during a house hunt. It's one thing to be good-natured the first afternoon you look at property and another to be equally nice after a house hunt has gone on for a while.

* No. 4: Seek names of prospective agents from the sales managers of realty offices.

Tell the manager who you phone what traits you are looking for in an agent and then allow the manager to make recommendations. "I would interview three or four agents before I made my selection," Mr. Karavasilis counsels.

* No. 5: Notice how quickly the agent calls you back after your first contact.

Same-day call backs should be the rule in the real estate industry, Ms. Helfant says.

* No. 6: Pick someone who exhibits good "people skills." "Real estate is both art and science. And part of the art is knowing how to get along with people," points out Peter G. Miller, a Silver Spring-based author of several books on real estate. Even if he doesn't offend you personally, an obnoxious agent could put a damper on your real estate deal by offending the home seller or other agents involved.

* No. 7: Pick an agent who is active in the area you've targeted. John Doe might be a splendid agent to show you property in neighborhoods A and B. But if you're interested in neighborhoods C and D, Jane Doe -- another good agent who specializes in those communities -- could be a far better choice.

One good way to find out whether John or Jane truly specializes in the area you're considering is to drive through and see whether their respective realty firms have for-sale signs posted in the area.

* No. 8: Don't attempt to engage two agents for the same neighborhood.

If you're a buyer looking for property in more than one area, it's perfectly appropriate to engage an agent for each area. After all, you'll need a true specialist for each community. But trying to use two or more agents for the same area simultaneously raises ethical questions. Is it fair to ask several agents to work for you when their chances of reasonable compensation are limited?

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