RantsTacoma Real Estate June 13, 2019

An Insider’s Guide to Choosing the Right Real Estate Agent

Good people often choose the wrong real estate agent. Let’s talk about why. Whether you’re buying your first house or selling your fifth house, a bad fit with the wrong agent can sabotage your whole transaction, leaving you (and your agent) with a bitter taste in your mouth, less money, and a sub par result. Here is peek inside my process for selecting an exceptional real estate agent.

1. Your agent needs to specialize in your specific type of transaction

Let me let you in on a little secret that is not obvious unless you’ve worked in the real estate field for a while: all agents are not good at everything. From the outside looking in, we all seem pretty much the same- we are licensed, put our faces on our business cards, and have training in contracts to buy and sell real estate. Good to go, right? Nope.

Most of us know that we shouldn’t ask our eye doctor what we should do about a heart condition, but then we think that the person we should call about a penthouse condo in the city is the same person that we should call to buy a horse farm or our first investment property. These are three completely different types of transactions, and while many agents are capable of doing a pretty ok job at all three, what you deserve is someone who is the BEST at the type of property you are transacting each time. Don’t settle.

2. Don’t hire your friend to be your agent until you read this

To continue with the medical analogy, my best friend is an oncology nurse. Before I go to the doctor for a medical issue or buy an over-the-counter medication, I will often ask her advice to make sure I’m on the right track. She will tell me what she thinks and then remind me to reach out to a specialist. This approach is SUPER EFFECTIVE at making sure I do the right thing for my health. I’m lucky to have her. She cares about me and helps nudge me in the right direction. Unfortunately this process doesn’t always translate well into real estate. Typically, if you call your friend the agent, more often than not they are going to want to personally help you- even if what you need isn’t their specialty. Some agents will know to refer you, but quite often they will stretch outside of their area of expertise to support you. Often it’s out of a desire to please, but sometimes it can be because a sale is a sale to some folks.

I’ve been a real estate agent in Tacoma, Washington for over 14 years. I’ve worked with all kinds of people on all kinds of deals. As time has gone on I (like most real estate agents) have naturally begun to specialize and grow more and more competent at working with specific types of clients on specific types of transactions. For me, that meant I started to specialize in buyers in the median price range ($300k-500k) in Downtown Tacoma and the immediate surrounding neighborhoods. Most of my clients finance their properties using Conventional, FHA, or VA loans. I know what I do best, and if you’re my ideal client, I pity you if you end up working with anyone else!

But I also know what I DON’T DO BEST. That confidence in specialization has a commensurate amount of humility- I know there are types of transactions I just don’t do as well as my fellow Tacoma real estate agents. I referred my own mother to an agent who specialized in the type of property she was selling. I referred my BEST FRIEND to a specialist in the neighborhood she was selling in. I am relentless- especially with the people I love. If your agent is an expert in buying or selling the type of property you’re out to buy or sell in the location you are buying or selling in, then- FANTASTIC. If they’re not, ask them to refer you to an expert.

3. You MUST have the TRUST

I love that this one rhymes, but I am not being flippant. I know a lot of people who hire real estate agents they don’t trust. I had someone telling me about their agent once and they said,”He’s a shark. I can’t tell him anything. But he’s my shark.” UH, NO. If your preference is for a fierce negotiator, then what you need is a fierce negotiator who you trust to know your bottom line and full strategy. You need a real estate agent you feel compelled to hide things from is called a BAD FIT. Don’t do it. There are plenty of trustworthy, knowledgeable agents who you can trust with your most intimate financial details and pie in the sky goals. Don’t transact until you have one.

4. For buyers it’s about getting what you deserve

When you are buying a home in a competitive sellers market (which most buyers are these days) you need to have an agent who has the time to look at lots of houses with you. You also need an agent who is a true expert in that community- if your agent is driving more than 45 minutes to show you homes they are not going to be able to hustle as hard as you will need. They are also less likely to know the sellers agents and how to structure offers so yours is competitive.

What is “normal” as far as pricing, inspection concessions, and contingencies varies from market to market, from month to month. A local expert can be the difference in getting the house or not, but it can also be the difference in whether or not you have a home inspection. In Tacoma I’ve seen buyers using agents from Seattle overpay for the home, give up things that are typical to give up in Seattle that are not in Tacoma (like inspections or certain repairs), and I’ve seen them have unnecessary complications or expenses because their agents are not familiar with local quirks like LIDS, 100-year-old side sewers, etc.

5. Sellers need negotiation AND marketing, not just a cheap commission

When my friends ask me who they should hire to sell their house, their first question is usually about commission. This makes sense, because when they were buyers they didn’t have to pay any commission; the seller paid both the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent. Now that the money is coming out of their proceeds, they’re rightly concerned about how much they are being charged.

When negotiating with your sellers agent, keep your eye on the prize, which is netting the most money for your house. Great seller’s agents achieve this for their clients by having both exceptional negotiation skills and marketing skills. In 2019, most buyers first fall in love with a home online, and because of this, a home can’t just be thrown on the market thoughtlessly. True professionals package a house for sale like a product being launched to the market—professional photography, often professional video, blog posts, Instagram posts, Facebook ads, retargeting, etc.

The best agent to sell your home is going to be an expert in your community, and they’re going to be someone who has experience selling homes similar to yours. They will know the strategy to command the most attention from buyers, which will lead to the most offers, and they will have the experience to help you select the buyer that will actually close.

Contrarian Advice

You’re still reading? Well ok then, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Every now and again, ignoring pieces of the advice I just shared is worthwhile. Maybe you’re a buyer who has NO IDEA what you want and you are exploring a wide swath of geographic area. Maybe you’re a seller that wants to price your home super high and you’re not in any hurry to sell and will wait for years for the market to finally reach you. In this case, you want a friend or a brand new agent, since these are the two categories of agents who will hustle for years without regard to efficient use of their time or regard for if they will ever be paid. New real estate agents will be down because working with you provides them experience, and your friends because, gosh darn it, they just love you. Be nice to them, folks. And good luck out there!

Marguerite Martin, Founder of MoveToTacoma.com is a real estate agent in Tacoma, WA . As a real estate “Matchmaker,” she specializes in connecting real estate clients to the perfect agent in Tacoma and across the country. Learn more at Meet Your Guide.