A good agent* should be:
1. Up-to-speed with loans: knowledgeable of the constantly changing lending criteria you will face as a buyer, so everyone, including you, can be assured of what you can actually afford before wasting time. I do NOT recommend using a loan broker as your transaction agent as a good transaction requires a totally different skill set than a good mortgage broker skill set.
2. Empathetic: “hearing” your real needs and capacities, not just listening to what you say, but asking correct and in-depth questions to figure those needs and capacities out with you.
3. Industry smart: Knows how to find all the properties that would be of interest to you (ie: with 83 MLSs in California, not all properties are listed where you’d expect them). Don’t hesitate to ask him/her directly how he/she would help you find the best property for you.
4. Your Champion: Advocates for YOUR interests at every step of your purchase, including the searches, the (multiple) offers, the escrow (ie: absolute focus on getting the best deal for you). Don’t hesitate to ask him/her how he/she represents the client’s best interests. If he/she understands and focuses on that, you will get answers, not just a blank stare.
5. Honest and property smart: Fully discloses ALL property issues even those possibly not disclosed by the seller. Ask what disclosures are usually included in the transaction.
6. Experienced: has done many successful transactions (don’t hesitate to ask how many deals done in the last year or two) so you will be sure to not be “on job training” for the agent. Don’t hesitate to ask for buyer referrals. A good representative will have buyers wanting to talk to others about their positive experience. A bad agent will be full of excuses, like confidentiality…
7. Has a good team: knows and has a good and reliable team of experts available – mortgage broker, pest inspector, home inspector, escrow officer, etc. This team can make or break your deal. Don’t hesitate to ask the agent how much inspections cost, how often they have ordered inspections, and/or why they feel that a particular inspector is good, or why they selected that “team” member over another person.
8. Is an excellent negotiator: knows every aspect of a deal in order to capitalize on every opportunity for your benefit. (ie: typically a good agent should be able to save the buyer money even during escrow negotiations). Don’t hesitate to ask the agent how he/she handles negotiations, how he/she feels about making multiple offers at the same time, how the escrow works.
9. Has solid backup: no one person can be constantly available. However, as a buyer, you don’t want to be left in a lurch when your agent is unavailable. Don’t hesitate to ask who will help you if the agent can’t. Most agents do NOT have a backup, which is one of my major complaints with the standard industry business structure. I think an independent broker is more likely to have a secretary or admin or another agent that can back him/her up as necessary.
How to find a good representative: I strongly urge you to interview several independent BROKERS (franchise brokers are not usually actively representing clients). Ask them about their experience representing buyers, and other questions stemming from and included in the attributes above.
In California, agents have only a “saleperson” license, and cannot practice real estate without being hired by a broker. A broker’s license is much more rigorous, demands more experience, more in-depth knowledge, and is the license that gets sued if things go wrong. It is much more likely you’ll get far better representation from an active broker, than just a salesperson.
* A “realtor” is just a licensee that pays annual fees to the California Association of Realtors.