Some basics are:
- honesty (of course, only can be tested through references).
- an agent whose personality is a match to yours and is willing to work with you (ie not pushy).
- an agent who at least picks up phone to tell you "I'll call later" and follows up later.
- an agent who knows neighborhoods well and knows local agents (most Palo Alto local agents will do, but generally do not go with someone who is active in Los Gatos for example). Lack of familiarity with local neighborhood can be serious liability in competitive market like Palo Alto.
- an agent who works with clients who are in a similar boat/budget as yours. This is important and needs to be discussed while interviewing. For example, a few agents in Palo Alto are connected to Asian buyers who have a completely different set of criteria than local buyers who are buying properties as primary residence. (disclaimer: I do not want to start a debate on local versus outside buyers, I am just pointing out that the needs + budget of both types of buyers are different).
- an agent who is willing to go through disclosure packet of the property and consult re. this. For me, this was where I think my agent added value. We are in Internet Era where property can be easily located on mlslistings or other websites, and Google Earth would show me how far it was located from busy roads etc. So we do not need an agent for that data. We need the agent to negotiate and to help us navigate through the paperwork such as disclosure docs etc.
- Keep your mortgage pre-approval (finances) separate from agent. That way, if the relationship does not work, you can move on without giving a feel that you've exposed all your cards. At least I would feel a bit nervous ending relationship with someone who knows my net worth and salary etc.
- No offence meant to agents, but if you do think that the relationship is not working, do not hesitate to end it. We have worked with some incredibly aggressive folks during our search who has strong references and happy clients (presumably) -- but we could not work with at all.
- Do your due diligence also by visiting open houses. In Palo Alto, almost every house (even a $6M asking price) -- is open at least one day. So it's easy to do your homework. Keep track of comparables as houses are sold.
Hope this helps.
As long as the agent is available (i.e. has time), prompt with responses and has basic knowledge about real estate, his/her role is not that important. We used Redfin agent and are very very happy with the process since we got a small rebate and got excellent loan broker reference, which I think is more important than RE agent.
The most important factor is do to your home work regarding comps and sales history in your area and attend many open houses and see whats available and how it sells eventually, and keep your eyes open and do your own research. What you are looking for is what most people are looking for (price range and not needing major remodeling - I found that cosmetic stuff does not add much value in PA anyways), so there will be a lot of other people bidding for the same limited number of houses. In a bid situation, no agent will be able to help you (they all want you to bid as high as possible), so only you would know how much the house is worth to you.
So be ready to do your due diligence and if you go with Redfin or someone who offers a rebate, you can save a bit in the process (and may that tiny extra will help you in the bidding process :)
Nina, home buyer, Palo Alto, CA
1. Show the records of recent sold transactions (3-6 months). What were the listing prices and what were the sold prices? This provides you a sense of what price range of over the asking price you will get into.
2. How well connected he is? A well-known agent will receive responses from seller agents quickly. They (friends in this small community) do each other favors, which are expected to reciprocate in the future. They will share information that an out-side area agent would never know.
3. Ask about the services that he promises to delivery. Just pay attention to those services that you know you don't have access to the internal data.
4. Propose scenario to see whether he is ethical in solving the suggested problem.
5. Call, email, or text him a few times afterward to see if he responds promptly, or just too busy to answer, or ask his associates to deal with you.
6. Gather his advices and suggestions with the offer, bid a couple of times even though you know you won't get the house, then re-evaluate the outcomes after the house sold to someone else to see if his advices and recommendations were consistent, accurate, and his level of aggressiveness in the suggested offers.
7. By now, you should know that the agent is a good one to keep or not.
1. Honesty, integrity, and acting in your best interest.
2. Someone who can close deals. Ask the agent how many homes he has closed in recent history.
3. Someone who is not only familiar with Palo Alto, but also operates in Palo Alto. He/she needs to have either prior connection or to be able to build a rapport with selling agent and seller in matter of minutes to close the deal.
I don't think hiring an agent in large company matters. I don't believe there are "deals" and from off market opportunities. Having said that, a colleague did buy a property off market and I believe at discount. It was unique and at very low end of market. It was not in PA, but just north of PA. Extremely small house on flag lot (used to be the cottage) and in poor condition. Not for everyone.
I'm an engineer by day and I'm normally data driven. But house market is not a spreadsheet. You can run all the analysis you want, such as multi-dimensional model using living area sq ft, lot area, etc. But every house, street, neighborhood is unique. In the end, you basically use the data to validate your emotions.
In today's market, it is next to impossible to find move-in ready 3BR SFH with office (not to mention 4BR) at your price range, unless there are some less-than desirable attributes: large street, small lot, poor condition, etc. When you pull up the listing, look at those sold in past 3 months, rather than current list prices. In any case, find the right agent and start looking. Good luck.
I would suggest you interview several agents along with talking with friends, family, coworkers, etc. One should rise to the top which you will value.
All the best in your home buying process.