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Find the Best Realtor! The best agent is trained to help you make sound financial decisions, to ensure that you are treated fairly and, above all, to protect your legal interests when buying or selling a home.
You have made a firm decision: you are ready to buy or sell a home. You have educated yourself on the basics (or given yourself a refresher course on the basics) and have already done some fairly extensive research on potential neighborhoods and the type of home you desire. What is the next step? From my perspective, you should next find a Realtor in whom you have confidence. When I say "Realtor," I am talking about a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). All members of NAR must know, understand and subscribe to NARs professional code of ethics. They represent you with a high industry standard and are held accountable to that standard. How should you go about selecting a Realtor or an agent? The first place to start, when you seek the assistance of any professional, is with recommendations from family members, friends or colleagues. Remember to ask why they like the individual. You may be looking for a different type of agent than the one they recommend. Perhaps they like an agent because they have an aggressive style, for example, while you may be looking for an easy-to-talk-to person who will gently guide you through the process.
You can also ask the manager of a real estate office in an area that you are considering for a referral. That person may be able to identify the best real estate agent for your special needs, one who knows the neighborhood in which you are interested. The manager wants you to succeed in your future transaction and will give you good advice. Before you hire an agent, though, make sure that you meet that person, question them and then decide if that representative is right for you. Taking the time to make the right decision up front can save you the hassle of looking for new representation in the middle of the buying or selling process.
As you look for an agent you should seek one who is organized, knowledgeable, experienced and fully committed to helping you achieve your real estate objectives. They need to know the marketplace, understand the details of the forms used for each step of the home buying/ listing transaction and be readily available for you if you have any questions along the way. Many work as part of a small team. Whether the agent works with other agents in the office who can help when needed, has a support staff or is part of a team of agents, having an agent who is part of a team ensures that someone is always available when you need a question answered or a phone call returned.
You want a successful agent familiar with your neighborhood. It may seem basic, but you should feel comfortable asking how many buyers they have worked with in the last year, or how many houses they have sold. Make sure that the agent is both dedicated to the profession and able to make successful transactions. If they are new to the business, make sure that they have had some business experience prior to practicing real estate and have been well trained. They must be able to utilize the latest technology and be Internet savvy and comfortable with the wide variety of computer programs that can facilitate the home-buying process. An agent with technological know-how can save you many hours of needless drivebys and open houses.
You want to ensure that your agent is well connected. Does the agent network within the local real estate community or belong to local real estate organizations? Have they been in business for a reasonably long period of time? If not, does the agent work for a broker who has these useful connections?>
Ask Questions When Choosing an Agent
Hire a member of the National Association of Realtors to ensure that your agent is held to the highest industry standards.
If you enter into an agency relationship (such as hiring someone to act as a buyer´s agent), make sure that you receive a disclosure that clearly outlines the agent´s responsibilities in the transaction. On the other hand, if you don´t enter into an agency agreement, do understand the level of representation that you are receiving. Your agent is not legally representing you unless you have entered into some kind of agreement. Make sure that you know the terms of that agreement.
Find out if your representative is an agent, an associate broker, or a broker. Ask your agent, too, about what additional certification they have received beyond the basic courses. You will want an agent who is current on the constantly changing technical aspects of the marke - which usually means that the agent has taken advanced classes.
Inquire about the agent´s marketing skills. Although an agent´s marketing and networking skills may seem to be more important to sellers, they can also be invaluable to you as a buyer. If you are looking to buy a home in a tough seller´s market, your agent´s learning about that perfect listing first -- before other brokers -- can make all the difference. Avoiding bidding wars and having the opportunity to make an offer before the public becomes aware of a house for sale could get you the home you´ve been seeking.
You need someone who can help you navigate the technical waters of finding the home you want and can close the transaction after you locate that residence. Why do I say that? For a very simple reason: purchasing or selling a home can be a minefield.
As you think about buying a particular home, you should ask yourself innumerable questions:
Is the property I´m interested in worth its asking price
How do I determine what the proper price is
Who is a reliable home inspector, one who will honestly determine whether there are any defects in my prospective new home?
Which school district is my potential residence in, and how do the schools rank, locally or nationally? (Even if you have no children, the quality of schools in your area can be important if you decide to sell your home in the future.)
What are the zoning ordinances in the immediate neighborhood? Might major commercial development occur nearby, affecting my property values?
Does the county or state have any road-building plans in the area? Is the floodplain designated just beyond my backyard zoned "in perpetuity" or "temporarily"?
Which condo costs are deductible?
In addition to advising on these types of issues, your agent can also assist you on all of the legal contracts, addenda, appropriate federal and state disclosures and forms that you will sign when you buy a home. Many buyers feel so excited about finding a home that, in the absence of the counsel of an agent, they might just sign any contract offer without fully understanding all the terms of a legally binding contract.
When you hire an agent, you will gain substantial benefits. First, an agent knows the value of homes in any particular marketplace. Also, in a fast seller´s market, an agent may have knowledge of homes coming on the market that have not yet been entered into a Multiple Listing Services (MLS). Having the broadest selection of homes and (most important) finding out about these listings at the earliest possible moment will give you an invaluable edge in your search. An agent has been trained to guide you in making a sound financial decision, to ensure that you are treated fairly and to protect your legal interests in buying or selling a home.
You want an agent who continues their education. Laws and standards continually change, and your agent should be aware of these changes in order to provide you with the best and most current information and advice. Finding an agent with some of the designations listed below can help you determine the agent´s level of knowledge.
GRI (Graduate REALTORS¨ Institute) This designation is given after the agent completes approximately 80 hours of advanced training after becoming licensed. Many professionals will have completed this training.
CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) This designation denotes the completion of numerous advanced courses on a variety of topics. In order to hold this designation, a Realtor¨ must be willing to put in a great deal of time and effort toward furthering his or her education. Becoming a graduate also entitles the Realtor to continued access to new and emerging real estate information. Before receiving this designation, an agent must have sold a certain number of homes.
e-PRO An e-PRO is a Realtor who has successfully completed the e-PRO training program for real estate professionals. Endorsed by the National Association of REALTORS, the e-PRO course teaches professionals the "nuts and bolts" of working with real estate websites, email, online tools such as home tours, instant access to neighborhood data, email notification of just-listed homes, and referral networks.
SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist) These Realtors are qualified to address the special needs and concerns of older citizens. Since 1998, the Senior Advantage Real Estate Council (SAREC) has offered a specific designation, SRES, to identify those members who have successfully completed its educational program along with other prerequisites. By earning the SRES designation, your Realtor has demonstrated the requisite knowledge and expertise to counsel senior clients through major financial and lifestyle transitions involved in relocating, refinancing or selling a family home.
ABR (Accredited Buyer Representative) The ABR designation shows an agent´s dedication to enhancing their skills in buyer representation. It also proves the agent´s proficiency in meeting the special needs of buyers.
When you enter into a relationship with an agent, it is important to understand that person´s role in the transaction and to know your exact level of representation. In the business, this is typically referred to as "agency relationships." Agency disclosures are an important component of the real estate purchasing and selling process. Virginia law requires agents to disclose to all parties who they represent. This puts everyone on a level playing field. We Realtors hold our fiduciary responsibilities to our clients at the highest level, yet we also have an ethical requirement (National Association of Realtors code of ethics, which we all take an oath to abide by) to treat all parties of every transaction fairly and honestly. This is known as the law of agency and every state has similar requirements. Agency contracts are complicated, but you should familiarize yourself with the various kinds of representation available to you.
We should start by defining the term "agency." An agency relationship is formed when you hire someone to represent your interests in a particular transaction. In Northern Virginia, when someone acts as an agent for a client, that agent assumes certain obligations on behalf of the client. Let me put it another way. An agency relationship can be formed between a principal (that is, a client, who is buying or selling a home) and an agent who will represent the principal. Look at the principal as the "body." The agent is like an "arm" of that "body," an extension of the principal. An arm will do no harm to the body, and an agent will do no harm to the principal. The arm, in fact, performs at the will of the body. The principal makes all final decisions. The agent acts solely to benefit the principal. It is important to understand that the principal can hire and fire an agent, but an agent can also choose not to represent a principal. An agent is not obligated to represent every wish of a principal. An agent must end an agency relationship if a principal expects an agent to act in a manner that violates the Professional Realtor code of ethics.
Homebuyers choose to use an agent (rather than representing themselves) for many reasons. The primary reason is that an agent has extensive knowledge, skills and experience in a particular field. If you need legal help, you immediately consult an attorney. Professionals are better educated in their specific areas of expertise, and thus are better equipped to handle particular transactions.
We're All About Service and Results
Pat Paulas, Drew Paulas and Associates, Realtors Loudoun County Real Estate and West Fairfax County Real Estate
Prudential PenFed's TeamWorks 11864 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 101 • Reston, Virginia 20191 703.909.6333 e-mailtheTeam@eLoudounHomes.com
Real Estate: The Ins & Outs Our Continuing Series on How it All Works.