Shopping For An Agent

Picky: Experts suggest interviewing at least three real estate agents before settling on one

December 21, 2003|By Christine Demkowych | Christine Demkowych,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Choosing a real estate agent can be a trying experience, especially for first-time homebuyers.

Finding the right person is a little bit like dating - it requires soul-searching, preparation and an honest assessment of future needs.

Most experts suggest that first-time buyers interview more than one before hiring an agent.

A recent study by the National Association of Realtors found that most homebuyers hire the first agent they interview, although 40 percent of first-time buyers interviewed more than one agent before choosing. Experts suggest buyers and sellers interview three agents before hiring one.

"Personalities have to mesh," said Michelle Broccolo of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc. in Towson. "So, when you hold your interview, make sure your personalities click. Also, find out if they sell a lot of homes in the area you are interested in."

She said the best agent is someone who will listen and will show a buyer what the buyer wants to see, not what he or she thinks a buyer should see.

Finding the right person to represent you when buying or selling a home comes down to feeling comfortable with the agent, making sure each side knows the habits of the other and a general feeling of compatibility, experts said.

Buyers' agents - those hired by shoppers to represent them during the process - help target homes in particular neighborhoods within the buyers' price range. They also will help a buyer hire an appraiser and a home inspector once a bid has been accepted.

But how do you find a real estate agent who understands your needs and helps you get the best price?

"The No. 1 factor in selecting an agent is availability," said Calvin Lewis of ReMax First Advantage in Towson. "An agent has to demonstrate that he is available at every step of the process."

Efrain and Katie Ramirez dealt with two agents before finding one they liked. They bought a home in Parkville in November.

"We found the first one on a Web site and he never called us back," says Katie Ramirez. "The second one was a disappointment, too. But the clincher was when he showed up half an hour late a couple of times. That's when we broke up."

Agents typically are paid a commission based on the sales price of the home purchased. In general, the seller's price includes a 6 percent commission to agents involved in the deal.

The commission typically is split between the agent who listed the home - who works for the seller - and the salesperson who brought the buyers to the home.

Commissions are negotiable. Buyers and sellers often hire an agent to represent them - contracts can be as short as a day or as long as a year.

But experts said homeowners should take their time before signing anything. And if they're not happy with an agent, they should just let them know, so time isn't wasted for either party.

"Don't let guilt stop you from switching Realtors," says Stacey Friedman, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Federal Hill. "There's a personality type for every buyer."

The three-year real estate boom has brought scores of agents into the business. The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, for example, said that 40 percent of its 3,300 members have less than three years' experience.

But the group said buyers and sellers should not discount an agent who is new to the real estate industry.

"A new agent is hungrier. They'll go the extra mile for you," said Zhan Caplan, who received his real estate license in September with Coldwell Banker. "They'll spend more time with you because they don't have as many clients."

Leiza Long bought a townhouse in Owings Mills in July, having moved from Houston. Her aunt saw a Realtors' card in a dry cleaning shop and passed it along.

"Because he was new to the business he didn't try to rush the process," Long said. "He explained everything in more detail than someone who is busy with many clients. Even when I was getting tired of looking, he motivated me to find a home that is suitable for me instead of just settling on a home that didn't fit all my needs."

But for some buyers, it's more important that an agent have a lot of experience.

Jeff and Michelle Waltman dropped their first agent because they were uncomfortable working with someone who was just as new to real estate as they were.

"He wasn't paying attention to what we wanted and kept showing us houses outside the neighborhood we defined for him," Jeff Waltman says.

An agent also should have information on first-time buyer programs. First- and second-time buyers should pick an agent with a good working knowledge of financing and the market, experts said.

Finding that right agent isn't the easiest thing to do, most buyers acknowledge. But those who have been through the process said making the right choice is an important part of feeling good about buying a house.

Sheryl Simcox, a single mother who looked for a house near Dulaney High School a year ago, says she dropped her first agent because "our energy levels were not in sync. His style just didn't work for me."

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