Business

How to Find a Great Realtor

August 4, 2016, 9:25 AM HST
* Updated August 4, 4:02 PM
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At some point in life, you’re likely to need real estate agent—for buying, selling or both. Fortunately, Hawai‘i Island has plenty of good ones to choose from.

Whether you find one online through our growing BigIslandNow.com real estate section, through a friend, or by word-of-mouth, there are some simple steps to follow to ensure you pick a diamond instead of a dud.

There are so many agents in Hawai‘i, but how do you select a great one? Photo credit: University of Florida.

There are so many agents in Hawai‘i, but how do you select a great one? Photo credit: University of Florida.

Step 1: Beware of Smoke and Mirrors

Image seems to be everything in real estate. There are plenty of high-profile personalities in the industry, who wink their way from sale to sale, as they zip around in stylish rides, wearing the fanciest clothes and most expensive accessories.

Ironically, many of them may be just couple of failed sales away from being broke.

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Some of the most effective agents I’ve met are ordinary folks, who, while well-dressed, never try too hard to impress. Their modesty can actually draw you in.

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Although it’s great to dress for success in any profession, those looking for a competent Realtor should focus more on the agent’s personality, professionalism and most importantly— knowledge. More on that later.

Age and gender don’t matter. Older and younger alike have found incredible success in this industry; skill and work ethic are the great equalizers.

Nothing flashy needed: focus on an agent’s knowledge and professionalism, not their attire. Photo credit: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nothing flashy needed: focus on an agent’s knowledge and professionalism, not their attire. Photo credit: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Step 2: Test Their Skills

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If you’re buying property, ask an agent to explain to you why you should consider one neighborhood over another. If they know their stuff about an area, they’ll have a plethora of advice on everything from school districts to traffic.

When selling a home, ask the Realtor how he or she plans on marketing it for you, and why you should choose them over other agents (a perfectly fair question).

But perhaps the ultimate test: ask them for an opinion of value. Whether you’re buying or selling a home, a skilled agent should be able to provide you with a well-researched estimate.

How do you know whether they’re legit? Ask for comparable sales or “comps” (give them a day or so to do this), then drill them on how they arrived at the price they recommend for your property.
Skilled agents will produce a list of both closed sales and actively listed homes, and should be able to adjust for differences in quality, size, date of sale, location and other factors to arrive at a number or price range.

If they are impatient, try to rush you, or can’t clearly explain why they arrived at a particular value, then they’re probably doing the real estate version of flipping a coin.

Step 3: Stalk Them (Lightly)

Few professions catapult a person’s image into the public eye more than being a Realtor. Agents understand this when they take the job, and should have no problem with you doing some light stalking. So, dust off your keyboard, and prepare to flex your Google muscles.

Searching online for an agent to investigate his or her presence is both harmless and recommended. Search engine results are helpful, but be sure to also check agents’ licensing status by calling your neighborhood board of realtors to see if they’re active and in good standing.

Once that’s done, ask the agent to produce a full list of the sales he or she was involved in for the past two years. Whether they’ve closed dozens of transactions or only a handful, the quality of their work should be evident.

For properties they listed for sale, look for high quality descriptions, photos and video work. If they didn’t bother to carefully describe the property in their listing remarks or if the photos aren’t clear and bright—these are warning signs…

Ask to speak to past clients of theirs (by email or phone) and for paper proof that they represented them (tax records will verify a purchase/sale). If an agent won’t provide referrals—that’s a bad sign.
Note: Increasingly, agents work in teams. If your agent has no closed sales to their name but works with another Realtor, verify their claims with the person they are referencing.

To check for an agent’s responsiveness, ask a friend to call or email them with an inquiry. It should not take them longer than a day to respond.

Lastly, unless your agent is in charge of their office, ask to meet or speak briefly to their principal broker or “Broker in Charge.” Just explain that you’d like to be introduced briefly to the people who will be overseeing their work and signing off on your contracts. Brokers sometimes oversee large numbers of agents, so give them a couple of days to get back to your initial inquiry.

No matter the dollar size of your transaction, just remember that if an agent or broker isn’t patient enough to answer the questions you have, then your business is not important enough for that office.
Photo label: Explaining Sales – Caption: Expect your agent to be able to clearly explain any price opinions they provide to you. Credit: Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Expect your agent to be able to clearly explain any price opinions they provide to you. Photo credit: Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Expect your agent to be able to clearly explain any price opinions they provide to you. Photo credit: Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Step 4: Are You Ready for a Commitment?

Only after doing your research should you actually consider signing a contract with an agent for representation. The most common contracts are for listing property for sale, as that involves significant expenses for Realtors. However, many agents now are using buyer representation contracts as well.

Read any contracts you’re given thoroughly, and know it is always recommended to have an attorney review them. Don’t sign any agreements you aren’t comfortable with and expect your agent and/or their broker to be able to explain the terms laid out on paper. (Note: we’ll explore contracts as a separate topic in the future.)

Before you sign and shake hands, lay out in clear terms for the agent what you expect from their end during the process (do you want weekly updates? Monthly?). You’re entering into a partnership, one that you both have to agree to in order to be successful.

Treat your agent with respect and appreciation, and expect the same in return. You deserve to get regular updates on your progress, and timely answers to your questions and concerns (again, the 24- hour rule is a good one, though some agents are much faster than that).

If they don’t know the answer to a question, give them a day or so to do the proper research.

Hawaiian property transactions can be much more complex than those found in Mainland suburbia, and good agents spend their entire lives learning.

Give them your support and a fair shot. If, at the end of the day, they’re not living up to their end of the bargain, it is okay to consider parting ways.

We’ll explore that in our next article: “How to Break Up With Your Realtor.”

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