Tips for Choosing an Agent
Not all agents are created equally.  As you begin the process of selecting an agent, here are some tips to help you narrow down the field and help you decide who the right agent for you is.

Referrals – A good place to start is by asking friends and family if they have an agent they recommend. Find out what their strengths and weaknesses were. Just because you know an agent, doesn’t mean they’re the best agent for you. Do your homework, a referral is a good place to start, but shouldn’t be the only criteria you consider.

Experience - How long has the agent been in the business? How many transactions have they handled? Are they familiar with unique situations? Do they have experience with foreclosures, short sales, VA loans, FHA loans, USDA loans, seller financing, or any other unique situations? Some new agents are fantastic while some experienced agents are disappointing. Don’t let this be the only criteria for your selection.

Service – Does the agent go above and beyond the call of duty? Does he or she provide services that other agents lack? Does the agent feel grateful to have you as a client, or do they treat you like you’re lucky to have them as their agent?

Drive – Is the agent passionate about what they do? Do they have a go-getter attitude? If the agent is ho-hum about your business, this may be the first sign of more bad things to come.

Hours – Does the agent have a 9 to 5 schedule, or do they have flexible hours to accommodate your availability. If the agent is available evenings and weekends this is a good sign.

Accessibility – Can you get in touch with the agent easily? Do they return calls, Emails, and text messages in a reasonable amount of time? Does the agent have an alternative point of contact such as a working partner or an assistant? If you are having trouble reaching the agent before you’ve signed an agreement, it probably won’t get any better once you have hired them.

Availability – Are you ably to easily set up an appointment with the agent or do you have to wait for several days or weeks to be worked into their schedule? Does the agent attend inspections and closings? Does the agent hand off tasks to an assistant that you feel should be handled by the agent personally?

Expertise – What area of the market does the agent focus on mainly? Do they have experience with single family homes, condos, townhomes, garden homes, duplexes, multi-family, lots, acreage, or farm and ranch? Do they focus on commercial or residential? Do they understand agricultural and wildlife tax exemptions? Can they give you advice on remodeling or new construction? Do they understand septic systems, water wells, rain water collection systems, solar systems, geothermal heating and cooling, tank less hot water heaters, solar hot water heaters, security systems, swimming pool systems, automatic fireplaces, lake access trams, automatic security gates, and home automation? Some agents have experience in all of these fields, but it’s probably not a good idea to hire an agent who only sells downtown condos to represent you on you 20 acre horse ranch purchase.

Involvement / Team – Is the agent involved in the process from start to finish or do they hand you off to a lesser experienced team member after hiring them? Are all of the team members licensed agents? What is the experience level of the team members that will be working with you? Some teams have a power agent that acquires the clients and then hands them to an entry level agent to manage their purchase or sale. This may not be the right situation for you.

Attitude – Does the agent have a positive upbeat attitude? Is the agent supportive to your particular situation, or do they try and fit you into their mold? Does the agent set realistic expectations, or do they just tell you what you want to hear? Some agents will agree to anything just to get their sign in your yard. You don’t want a “YES” man or a “Negative Nancy”. A happy median is an agent that will set realistic expectations and esthetically work to accomplish them.

Compatibility – You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your agent while purchasing or selling your home. It’s best to make sure you can communicate effectively with your agent. If your personalities clash, this won’t make for a very rewarding experience.

3rd Party Support – It takes more than just an agent to close on the purchase or sale of a home. Does the agent have a good referral database with contacts each company? Here are some to the resources you may need for the purchase of your home: Home Inspectors, Termite / Pest Inspectors, Septic System Inspectors, Mold & Air Quality Inspectors, Surveyors, Appraisers, Title Companies, Builders, Contractors, Handymen, Cleaning Services, Pool Companies, Landscape Companies, Yard Services, and Movers. Make sure the agent has a wide array of service companies he or she can suggest.

Follow Up – Does the agent follow up after the sale has closed? A good agent will send you a homestead exemption form in January and help you get it filed. They should also send you a copy of you closing statement (HUD-1) in January to help with your income taxes. Are they available to help with property tax protests if the need arises? Good service shouldn’t end at the closing table.

Consumer Complaints – Check out the broker and agent’s credibility with local and state licensing agency as well as their standings with local affiliations. In Austin you can check with the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) to verify that they have a valid active license and that they are in good standing. Another good source is the Austin Board of REALTORS (ABOR). You can also check with the local better business bureau.

For Listings Only

Marketing – You should get a good understanding of the agents marketing plan for your home. Not all advertising is appropriate for every listing. While the MLS is a good tool to advertise your home to other agents and potential buyers, it should not be the sole form of advertising. In today’s world, 90% of buyers start their search online. Does the agent have a good grasp of online advertising? While traditional print advertising still has some useful applications, no more than 10% of the marketing budget should be spent on this medium.

Pre-listing Consultation – Does the agent walk through your home room by room and suggest items to move or remove? Do they give advice about repairs that should be made or updates that should be done before listing your home? Does the agent know the return on investment for various improvements? Can they tell you where to best spend your time and money in preparing your home for sale? Often a couple of days of decluttering and touch up repairs can go a long way to help you sell your home for more money in less time.

Photography – A picture is worth a thousand words, and since a buyer’s first impression of your home will likely come from the pictures they see on the flyer and online, you should have a professional quality pictures taken of your home prior to listing. Does the agent hire a photographer or have professional equipment of their own? Does the agent use professional photo editing software to prepare them for print and online use? If the agent starts snapping pictures with their IPhone, this is a bad sign.

Fees & Extra Fees – Everyone wants to get a good deal, but the cheapest price isn’t always the best financial decision. The old saying “You get what you pay for” is true even for real estate agents. While it may be true that the best agents can charge the highest fees, just because you’re paying a high price doesn’t mean they’re the best agent. For discount brokers, find out what services they’re skimping on in order to offer you the discount. Many discount brokers charge add on fees for services that are included in other brokerages standard service. Find out what they are and if you need them. In many instances, by the time you add up all the extra fees, the service doesn’t look like a discount anymore. Make sure these services are included: yard sign, MLS lockbox, flyer box, color flyers, professional photos, advertising budget, after hours and weekend support, agent willing to show buyers your home, buyer lead capture system, contract negotiation support, and closing support. Finally, find out if the agent charges a “Transaction Fee” and find out exactly what it covers. In most instances this transaction fee is nothing more than an agent bonus in disguise, so take the mask off and don’t be fooled.

Final Thoughts

While no agent is perfect, a good agent should score fairly high in most of these categories. If the agent is lacking in several of these areas, it’s a good sign you should keep looking. Once you have found the right agent, sign a written contract with them to officially hire them as your agent. The contract states that you are their client and they are your agent. This arrangement provides you many benefits and protections and assures you that the agent is looking out for your best interest. If you are working with an agent and you do not have a signed written agreement, then your official status is that of a “customer” which does not provide you with the benefits and protections that the agent / client relationship does.