When you receive your next set of orders to move, what is the first thing you do when returning home that evening (or possibly, back to your office)? Do you quickly search the internet for details about your new city? Have a deep discussion with your significant other, be it spouse or cat, about the potential city highlights? How about scroll through listings of houses near base or your new office? Before you know it, you’re calculating price points for buying vs. renting and dreaming of granite counter-tops and barbecue grills in the backyard.
Almost all of us take the time to vet the next home where we will live.
The question is, how many take time to truly research and screen the real estate agent who will be the key player in helping find and secure that home?
In our earlier article, Russian Roulette: 3 Ways to Find an Agent, we outlined some of the techniques used to find a real estate agent. Most play Russian roulette, read reviews, or rely on a friend or relative to provide a recommendation. However, none of these are ideal solutions for finding the right real estate agent for you, especially if you are relocating.
Instead, we’ve tried-and-tested a five step process that will help you to ultimately end up with the best agent for your unique situation. Below is the basic framework for how to vet an agent.
1. Understand Your Needs
2. Collect and Analyze Historical Data
3. Pre-Screen the Top Agents
4. Interview the Best
5. Connect and Begin Your Real Estate Transaction (*WeVett's step five is "Provide our Recommendation & Ongoing Support")
This process should take someone with little real estate experience around 7-10 hours to thoroughly complete. Because of our experience with real estate and relocation, this will typically take the WeVett team 3-6 hours, ensuring a quick turnaround on a vetted agent for our clients. Whether you take the time yourself, or have WeVett research and interview an agent for you, you will greatly increase your chances of success in your real estate transaction.
Now, let’s take a deeper look at each step:
1. Understand Your Needs:
Boil down your home needs to the essentials and "must-haves" then write them down. Since you’re going to be spending time interviewing multiple real estate agents, you'll want to be very certain and comfortable with the basics of your search. If you’re buying a home, determine the size of home, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, any major family needs (like a large backyard or mother-in-law suite), price point, etc. Keep these home buying needs simple to start. Once you narrow down your pool of agents in steps four and five, you’ll be able to go more in depth.
The most important part of step one, and the most often missed, is understanding your personality and what personality in a real estate agent will best fulfill your expectations. If you are analytical and cost-driven you might look for someone who can provide you a lot of information on the market, good comparable homes, breakdowns of pricing, demographics, etc. If you are relationship and community-driven you might look for someone who is well-connected and can share all the ins and outs of the city, neighborhoods and local insights. Some agents are 5-stars because they are excellent with the analytical details, however, if you are relationship and community-driven, you likely won't have a very fulfilling real estate experience with them (and vice versa). Know your needs, and know the basic type of personality that you’re looking for in an agent before you start step two.
2. Collect and Analyze Historical Data:
WeVett researches and reviews all of the multiple listing service data in your relevant city. We then compare that data with the top agents who fit your basic criteria from step one. If you’re looking to buy, we look for agents who are experienced as a buyer's agent. Similarly, if you are selling, we'll look for an agent who specializes in listings. We also analyze if the agent’s previous transactions match your price range and if they are well-versed in the area of town you are looking to buy or sell.
This step can be challenging as an individual and tends to take a good amount of time to complete, but using sites such as Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia can help. Make sure to reference multiple sites during your research, as each site is prone to its own issues (that’s a story for another article). Start by searching in your relevant zip code - look for agents that have 2+ years experience minimum, have strong 5-star reviews, and show that they have at least 20 transactions for the year. This data can help weed out a lot of agents. Make a list of the agents that pass your initial scan. From there, dive in deeper. Read the reviews, look for agents that have experience with relocation, with military moves, with VA loans. See if they have any negative reviews. Check their personal websites and even their Facebook pages. Look for indicators of whether or not they will fit your criteria from step one. Once you have researched and reviewed as much data as you can handle, write or type out the top agents on your list. Ideally, this list should consist of at least 3 - 10 real estate agents.
3. Pre-Screen the Top Agents:
Now that you have a good grasp of your own needs and a list of potential agents, on to pre-screening. First, determine the questions you will ask the agents. The questions should be a structured series so that you can make the calls quickly and ensure that you’re evaluating each agent using the same method. Include criteria similar to previous steps, such as number of years as an agent, 12 month transaction history, do they work with more buyers or sellers, have they dealt with out of town buyers/sellers, etc.
It’s essential that this pre-screen is a phone call. Remember, in step one how we mentioned that personality type is important? Even though it may seem easier, unfortunately, emails and text messages won’t provide you a good indication of your agent's personality. When you call the agents from your list, make sure that when you ask them your predetermined questions, you get a straight answer back. Many real estate agents are superb salespeople (which is good, as it will help you buy or sell a home!), but you want to get to the core of their skill level, not just hear their sales pitch during this pre-screen.
4. Interview the Best:
Pick the top three agents from your pre-screen and conduct a second interview to gauge their overall real estate expertise, confirm their skill with relocation and determine whether they will be a good match for you. It might even be helpful to have your spouse sit in with you or conduct the interview themselves. This offers you a second opinion. If you conduct both the pre-screen and the final interview yourself, that's okay too. At the very least it provides a second opportunity to learn the agent's mannerisms and determine if they were being honest and open during the pre-screen.
Out of all the steps, this one is essential. At this point, you have gathered all the facts and made a careful examination. This final interview is your opportunity to be more critical and ask your top agents open-ended questions, such as "What experience do you have working with military?", "How do you conduct long distance showings, and inspections?", and "What sets you apart as an agent?" The key here is that you ask a standard set of questions to evaluate each agent fairly, but you keep those questions open-ended so that you can get an honest response from each agent. These open-ended questions will help you flush out the sales pitch from reality. The good news is, this step is when you finally start to appreciate and see the rewards of your labor. A high quality, well-suited real estate agent is more than worth it!
5. Connect and Begin Your Real Estate Transaction:
(*WeVett's step five is "Provide our Recommendation & Ongoing Support".)
Finally, after all of the long hours of research, the numerous phone calls, and subsequent headaches and fatigue, you are at the successful end of your vetting process. Based on your top agent interviews, choose the most qualified agent and, more importantly, the one that "felt right". Not to discourage you, but vetting is just the beginning of your home buying/selling process. If you have the right agent though, what could have been a long, arduous task will now be much more enjoyable! Inform your new agent that you have chosen them as your real estate agent and that you'd like to get started! Your agent, presuming you picked well, will now hit the ground running to help you either buy or sell your home!
If you've read through the above five step vetting process and are feeling overwhelmed by the task, remember, WeVett is here to help at no cost to you. All you have to do is ask!
Disclaimer: The information contained, and the opinions expressed, in this article are not intended to be construed as investment advice. You should always conduct your own research, due diligence and obtain professional advice before making any investment decision. WeVett, LLC & its members will not be liable for any loss or damage caused by your reliance on information or opinions contained herein.