In search of the right agent

#232 in a series of true experiences in real estate
March 1998, Hills Newspapers

Probably you will have no difficulty choosing an agent you like, someone you can easily talk to, someone who has the time and inclination to consider you individually. But there is more that you should seek: You want an agent who other agents want to work with.

Particularly when your offer is one of several, who your agent is can make the difference between failure and success. You want to be represented by an agent who is known in the real estate community as having his or her act together.

What qualities are we looking for? Most important, a superior agent represents a client who has the money, the desire, and the information necessary to complete the sale. This agent isn’t guessing about any of these; he or she has checked them all out and has taken the time to educate the buyer.

This agent is also, very importantly, organized and available, able to keep things going, letting the other side know what is happening. Without this constant good attention, the sale process can become a nightmare for everyone.

Agents know about other agents; we talk to each other. Things agents say in frustration about other agents:

1. “The buyer’s agent is never available. I have not been able to talk to her directly since she presented her offer. I call and leave messages, but she doesn’t call back. I can’t find out the simplest things and this makes me look bad to my sellers.”

2. “Last week I called the listing agent to ask how to arrange with the tenant in the in-law to get the fireplace man in. I also have to know if the tenant owns the refrigerator and we still must get a copy of the rental agreement.

“It took him four days to call back and leave me a message saying, ‘I think the refrigerator belongs to the tenant but I’m not sure.’”

“That’s all! No mention of anything else like when we might hear from him again.

3. “She showed up at the presentation half an hour late, her contract was incomplete and she had never given the disclosures to her buyers. She had a prequalification letter with her but it turned out that her clients don’t have enough cash to buy the house. No one had bothered to check.

In a transaction that often involves four clients, a mortgage broker, a lender, title company, termite company, and at least one inspector, not to mention a lot of stress and sometimes last-minute changes, if the two agents cannot orchestrate things smoothly, a sale is a lot harder than it needs to be.
Agents aren’t always complaining. They are happy to pass along rave reviews of agents they’ve worked with.

“He’s wonderful. He sold my listing in Albany and it was heaven dealing with him. He knew his clients, was on top of the loan, kept me informed all the way.

“Just as we were about to sign papers, we found that the rental my sellers were going to move into wasn’t going to be vacant in time. We had to do a rent-back for two weeks. The buyers were upset, of course, but he worked it out with them. They felt they were being taken care of. He was even there to cheer them on the day they moved in.

Another difference in agents is in their ability to draw a picture of their buyers. Agents “present” offers to sellers. The buyers aren’t there to say, “My grandmother’s dining room had a built-in buffet just like this one. That was one of the things that sold me on this house. I remember playing with my brother, hiding in the cabinets when we were kids.

Not always, but often, the passing of a house to someone new is an emotional experience. Many sellers want very much to know why their house has been chosen, want to know who they will be passing their house onto.

We were the listing agents for such sellers not long ago. It happened that there were three offers. We asked the agent representing the highest offer what his buyers liked about the house.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s a nice house. They wanted to offer on that house around the corner but it needed too much work.

The sellers pressed. “So it’s our kitchen remodel that they like?”

“Maybe, he said. “They said that it’s close to BART.

It is certainly possible that those buyers were head over heels in love with that house. Had they been there talking to the sellers, they would have said so.

As it was, they lost the house because the sellers could never attach themselves to the buyers. They accepted less money from another buyer, a buyer who had the edge because her agent was able to sketch her well.

Sometimes an escrow is awful, not because the agent is inattentive or inept, but because he or she is representing a difficult client. The client is scared and indecisive, or greedy and demanding, or simply incommunicative. The agent tries to keep things moving along but he or she is slogging steeply up hill.

We’ve heard agents say about a client, “I wish I knew what to tell you. She agreed yesterday. Today she’s changed her mind. I’ve talked and talked and still have no idea what she’s going to do next.
A good agent does everything possible to satisfy this and any other problems that come along. Instead of holding on for dear life, if it becomes clear that the client cannot proceed, the agent gets the client out of the sale. The agent keeps everyone informed, good news or bad. He or she also completes paperwork on time, monitors all of the parts of the escrow and loan, is with clients when they sign their papers at the Title Company.

It’s the agents who do not attend to these things who get a bad name among fellow agents.

We wish we could tell you how you can know for sure your agent’s abilities. By all means, rely on your instincts, especially if your instincts have proven right in the past. And please, whether buying or selling, before you select your agent, check his or her references.

If several past clients tell you that their sales went along relatively smoothly, that their agent was at their side all the way through until everyone lived happily ever after, it’s a pretty good bet that you have found a good agent, one you and other agents will be glad you chose.

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