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The Match

Need a real-estate agent? Get personal.

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Bill, a Midtowner, put his house on the market in spring, and within days, it was sold. And he got the house he wanted to buy. Mary, who lives in East Memphis, put hers on the market at the same time. It sat for several miserable months until it finally got a solid offer.

Both Bill and Mary would recommend their real-estate agent.

"She's nice" is Bill's simple explanation. Mary, who visibly stiffens when recalling her experience, says that her agent took care of all the details, such as obtaining a termite letter.

Buying or selling a house can be stressful. Having a real-estate agent that smoothes the way is fundamental. But how do you know which agent is the right one for you?

First Things First

Before you start shopping around for a realtor, it's a good idea to learn your limits. Phil Johnson of Sowell & Company is just one of the agents I spoke with who recommends those in the market for a house first get qualified for a loan and find a mortgage broker. This way, you'll know what you can afford.

Ask Around

Joe Spake of Revid Realty, as well as others, suggests asking friends, family, and neighbors for recommendations. According to Spake, "[Those in the market] should look for agents who are willing to spend enough time to develop a good working relationship, who are experienced, knowledgeable, ethical."

Joe Dougherty of Coldwell Banker Hoffman says you should interview no more than three prospective agents and then ask for references.

Quality Time

Garnette Stephens of Keller Williams teaches a class for agents that, in part, deals with the client/realtor relationship. "It's sort of like matching someone up on a blind date," Stephens says. "You want someone perfect for you."

"I am their agent first," Johnson says, "but I have developed lasting friendships with many clients, and I am proud of that. I also know that if there is a misunderstanding, it is always the realtor's fault. That's why being attuned to the same wavelength is important."

Dougherty, who's been in the business for 25 years, is friends with many of the people he's worked with. "I'm old school," he says. "If they don't like what I'm doing, we take the contract and tear it up. It doesn't make sense [to continue] if we're not getting along."

For Stephens, it boils down to three words. "You want someone you like, know, and trust."

Spake is doing his part by actively participating in social media. He's Facebooking, Twittering, and blogging. Everything's out there, he says. "It's so transparent."

Be Real

Along the way to selling or buying a house, there will probably be bumps or wrinkles and maybe wrinkly bumps. It's best to be realistic.

Tonda Thomas of Crye-Leike warns, "There are no perfect houses."

Adept agents will walk you through the process, which may be hard to hear within the din of house-buying/selling excitement. But you must be willing to listen to what your realtor has to say.

$$$

"I think an agent needs to treat a buyer or seller's money as if it's their own money," Stephens says. "Put yourself in their position and under-promise and over-deliver."

Thomas worked for two years showing one couple between 75 to 100 homes before they found the right one. That relationship eventually led to three more sales for Thomas.

Spake sums it up: "I'm going for the win-win."

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