Buying or selling a home is one of the most important transactions you will ever be involved in. This is a complicated process, and there are many pitfalls you need to watch out for. In Alabama, the law requires that a licensed real estate attorney prepare all the legal documents for a real estate transaction. In addition to retaining the services of a skilled attorney, it is also a good idea for buyers and sellers to work with a real estate agent.
A reputable agent helps sellers analyze the current market and set an appropriate listing price, market the property to prospective buyers, hold open houses, field offers, and negotiate a sales price with the agent for the buyer. An agent can help buyers by sifting through the available properties to find the ones that meet their criteria, presenting a good initial offer on the home they want to buy, negotiating the purchase with the seller’s agent, and working closely with the real estate attorney during the closing process.
There are thousands of real estate agents in Alabama and finding the right one to handle your home sale or purchase can be a challenge. One of the first places to start is to ask around among your family and friends for someone they can refer you to. You can also look online or get names from looking around to see which agents are listing multiple homes in your area. For sellers especially, this can be a good indication that they know your neighborhood and they are trusted by other home sellers.
Even after you receive glowing reviews about agents from someone you know or find agents that have a strong online presence or look to be active in your area, don’t just take the word of others and/or assume that any particular agent will be the right one for your purchase or sale. It is best to interview the agents you are considering before you decide which one to work with.
There are several things to look for in a real estate agent, here are five of the most important:
Before you even sit down with an agent, you may be able to narrow your search by how they respond to your initial inquiry. You want an agent you can work closely with, someone who will be your advocate in the buying or selling process, and someone who is highly responsive to your needs, questions, and concerns. If an agent takes a long time to get back to you after you call them initially, this could be a sign that they are not going to be as responsive as you would like them to be once you hire them. Like other professionals, agents are busy. But it is reasonable to expect them to get back to you within one business day or sooner after your initial call, text, or email.
One of the most important questions to ask is, “how long have you been a real estate agent?” Experience is critical in the real estate business, not just because of the in-depth knowledge of the process that is acquired over a period of years, but because real estate is a commission-based business. This means agents only get paid when they deliver results for their clients, and the longer an agent has been in the business, the more likely they are to be successful. It is true, however, that everyone was new at some point. If you are interviewing an agent who is fairly new, it is best if they are part of an overall team that includes other seasoned agents who would also be working on your behalf.
It is important to know whether the agent primarily represents buyers or sellers. As mentioned earlier, agents perform different functions depending on which side of the transaction you are on. An agent should specialize primarily in one or the other. That said, they should have some experience and knowledge with both buying and selling. Otherwise, they would have a more limited perspective. For example, it may be difficult for a buyer’s agent to know what a seller’s/listing agent is thinking during negotiations if the agent (or someone on their team) doesn’t also have some experience with home sales.
Some agents handle specific areas, while others will travel halfway across Alabama to handle a real estate transaction. In general, it is best to hire an agent that works primarily in the area where you are looking to buy or sell a home. Someone who is on top of your local market will be able to analyze, in detail, comparable listings and comparable properties that have recently sold. They will also be familiar with specific characteristics and nuances in each neighborhood that may impact the value of a property.
At the end of the day, you need an agent who is experienced, responsive, someone you feel comfortable working with, and someone who has a proven track record helping other clients to complete successful transactions. Experience will be a strong indicator, but you should also ask for further details about their process (e.g., how they will help you acquire the right home or how they will effectively market your home for sale) and ask for a list of other clients they have previously worked with who you can call and speak with about their services.