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Larry Tollen's Blog

By Larry Tollen | Broker in Durham, NC

How do You Choose a Realtor

With over twenty years working full-time as a Realtor I have often found myself wondering how so many people get hooked up with so many really bad Realtors and I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason is they don’t take time to actually interview them. Thinking all Realtors are alike can lead to a lot of heartache and problems for the inexperienced home buyer or seller. It’s comparable to believing all lawyers or doctors are the same so it hardly matters who you use.

Having gone through numerous “interviews” with potential Buyers and Sellers I realize that even those that do want to interview and choose a Realtor often don’t know what to really ask. Here’s a list of five questions I think are the critical ones any home buyer or seller should ask. 

How long have you been a full-time broker/agent? – If they haven’t been in the business at least 5 years I’d say you’re wasting your time. 80% of all Realtors don’t last two years in the business and this statistic has been the same for over fifty years. Do you want to trust one of your largest financial transactions to someone who is either inexperienced or may not even be around two years from now?

How many transactions have you closed in the past 6 months? The past year? Show me a report that verifies this. - If the agent you speaking with hasn’t closed on average at least 1 transaction a month, then move on. The best agents close two or more transactions a month. As a consumer you need to verify this and the way to do it is to require the agent to print out a report from their MLS system showing you their closed transactions and the dates they closed. I’m not concerned about the dollar value of each closing, the fact that their closing deals is evidence that they know how to negotiate and get deals made.

What is the agents position is on “dual agency.” In other words what happens if the you become interested in one of their listings and want to make an offer or if you are the Seller and they have a Buyer who wants to make an offer on their property. The majority of agents will proceed to give you a song and dance about how they then become “neutral negotiators” blah, blah, blah. It’s time to look elsewhere. You aren’t hiring them to be “neutral”, you’re hiring them to represent your best interests. The truth is they aren’t neutral when this situation arises they have but one thought in their heads and it’s this,”What do I need to do to get these two knuckleheads to agree so I can keep the entire commission?” Dual Agency is a clear-cut conflict of interest. When I find myself in this position I step aside from both my Buyer and my Seller and my office designates a Broker who knows nothing about the Seller to the Buyer and one who knows nothing about the Buyer to the Seller and I am removed from the transaction. As a company we believe this is the only fair thing to do. Our clients (Buyers and Sellers) hire us to advocate for them and we acknowledge that if on nothing else but the price Buyers and Sellers have opposing perspectives. Do not accept agents who try to convince you otherwise.

If you are a Seller, you’ll want to know how they will market your property. Don’t worry about print advertising, it’s basically worthless. You want to be all over the Internet and you want premium positioning on the big three real estate websites. Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow. Premium positioning mean the agent is paying money monthly to these sites to promote their listings. Every listing is on these sites for free, you want your to stand out and if they aren’t willing to pay what it takes to do this, then they probably aren’t the agent for you. Ask if they use a professional to take pictures (I do), will they buy a home warranty for your home? (I do for all my listings) This is business and doing business costs money, if you agent isn’t doing these things it’s probably for one simple reason, their not making enough money and aren’t successful. Move on.

How available are you? – Understand a good agent is busy, they probably don’t have a lot of time to waste and you need to respect this. They don’t get paid by the hour, they only get paid when sales close. That said, they need to be readily available. I always have my smart phone with me and never travel without my laptop. It’s not that I like working 7 days a week, but I constantly have multiple transactions working and need to be able to respond to my clients. My clients can reach me 7 days a week from 6AM – 6PM if needed, after 6PM I monitor calls but unless we’re in the midst of a negotiation I probably won’t answer. I’m a morning person, and my evenings are for my family and friends, other agents are night owls, the hours they work are less important than the fact that you can reach them any day of the week and that they will respond within a few hours.

I work in the Chapel Hill, Durham, Research Triangle area of North Carolina, if your interested in interviewing me to help you with your real estate needs.

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Comments

By Brad Roberts,  Thu Mar 8 2012, 08:31
First, I completely understand where you're coming from. There's hardly a case when you wouldn't want someone with experience when it comes to any service. However, how do you propose new agents get started?
By Larry Tollen,  Thu Mar 8 2012, 09:30
A perfectly legitimate question. I would suggest new agents mentor for a year or more with an experienced agent. Different companies have different ways of handling this, and I have no way of knowing what your company offers. However if your company simply wants you to get out there and start working then you might want to look around for a company that can offer you more support.

I think it's critical that we realize we're overseeing what's typically the largest investment most people will ever make and unfortunately getting a real estate license doesn't really take all that much effort and most of what you need to pass the licensing test isn't all the applicable in terms of training you in how to work with people, understanding the nuances of the contracts we use, negotiating skills etc. These only come with time and experience from closing transactions.

In my opinion new agents should not be encouraged to think this is an easy business or that it doesn't require a lot of hard work and effort. Having been around as long as I have in the business I know that unfortunately there are many real estate schools and companies who don't set reasonable expectations for new agents to begin with. There's a reason for this and it's that if prospective agents had any idea of how hard it was to build a successful business and how little they would likely earn in the first few years then they wouldn't get in. It also behooves most companies to have new agents as they retain a larger portion of the commission as new agents don't tend to start as high as proven top producers.

This blog post was geared to the end user (the public) and not to industry insiders many of whom I'm sure would argue with me, but my guess is their arguments are more focused on what's best for them and not the public at large.

I appreciate your reading my blog and your comments and wish you all the best in your career.
By JacobRego21,  Sun Jul 15 2012, 10:30
Great article, congrats on helping me see the light!
By Larry Tollen,  Sun Jul 15 2012, 11:21
Jacob,

Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment. I wish you all the best as a professional Realtor. My last bit of advice is focus on your clients not on the money. If you do this; rest assured the money will come as sure as your next tax bill ;-)
By propertiesbyruthy,  Wed Sep 19 2012, 05:13
Hi Larry : I have a question about Buyer Agent commission. Agents sometimes charge an hourly fee or other fees to their buyers. I am in a situation where my buyer agent fee was reduced by the sellers to make the deal happen. I want to ask my buyer to supplement the difference. In order to present this to him, am I allowed to specify my exact payment structure with the seller's agent and my own brokerage and how much I am losing by having the commission reduced in order to effectively convince him he should supplement the difference? Also, how might you do it? An addendum to the P&S? Personal check? After-the-fact Exclusive buyer with the new commission structure? Mostly, though, I am unsure about disclosure. I know he would want to know how much I'll be getting both with and without the reduction.----I would really appreciate your advice----Ruthy
By Larry Tollen,  Wed Sep 19 2012, 06:40
Ruthie

First off whatever you do must be fully disclosed and agreed to in writing by you and your buyer otherwise you'd be in violation of real estate commission rules. For this reason you cannot do a separate check from the buyer directly to you.

I would speak with my Broker in Charge to see how they might want you to handle things.

In your buyer broker agreement with your client you have a stated commission already agreed upon. If it's for more than you're receiving then your buyer has already agreed to a rate. That said if commission was an issue in order to make the deal the time to have said something to your client was as soon as you were put in to the position of having to cut your commission in order to make the deal. If you wanted the buyer to contribute or offset your contribution you should have discussed this with them then. Discussing it after the fact seems inappropriate to me and I'd probably let it slide and learn for the next time. If you feel you can do this without alienating your client, then there's nothing prohibiting you for doing so.
By propertiesbyruthy,  Wed Sep 19 2012, 06:56
Thanks for the advice, Larry. I would have discussed the increase at the time, but I felt it would be more inappropriate to do so while he was going through intense negotiations with the sellers. I was trying to be prudent. I have been working with him for so long while we searched and then waited the sellers to reduce that I feel that I can at least ask him to supplement and that he can either agree or not. I did not do an exclusive agreement with him from the beginning which was a rookie mistake on my part. But I am getting out of RE after this deal so I want to get as much as I deserve here. I just wasn't sure of the best legal way to go about it. Thank you so much and if you have anything more to say on it, I'd be happy to hear.
By Larry Tollen,  Wed Sep 19 2012, 07:06
Ruthie,

Sorry to hear that you're getting out, but I know it's a hard business to make it in and not for everyone. ITalk with your BIC and Im sure they'll do what they can for you.

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