Buying a house is the biggest purchase many of us will ever make in our lifetime. That's where the right real estate agent can make a huge difference. If you are on the selling side of home ownership, you want a solid return on your investment.
Real estate professionals understand the market and know how to represent your best interests. Before choosing a professional, you need to understand the three different levels of education, licensing and industry recognition. All real estate agents have to take classes and pass a state test to earn their license. However, not all real estate agents are Realtors. Realtors are also members of the National Association of Realtors, which guarantees association ethics and standards. Real estate brokers have taken extended education beyond what's required for real estate agents and have passed a broker's license exam. These brokers must have worked as agents and can act as your real estate agent or can oversee a staff of agents.
Get to know the real estate agent with whom you will be working. Ask for references, discuss their area of expertise (residential, commercial, buying or selling), and see if they are familiar with the area in which you are looking to buy or sell. Since all agents work under the auspices of a broker, find out about the broker's reputation as well. If you can, speak to other homeowners in the area and ask for their recommendations. One low-stress way to meet an agent is to visit open houses in the area (check classified listings or street signs) and watch the agent in action; make notes on the back of business cards about the agent's demeanor, knowledge and friendliness.
Who does the real estate agent work for, the buyer or seller of the property? Chances are that if you've gone into a real estate office and asked to see available homes -- an agent offers to show you some that fit your desired description without a signed contract -- the agent is working for the seller and representing their best interests. In many states, the agent is supposed to let you know if they are showing you houses listed by their agency on which they will collect commission. A buyer can hire an agent and sign a contract with him, expecting the agent to work for his or her interests; the buyer in this case pays the commission. Although frowned upon in many states, a dual agent can work for both the buyer and the seller, in which case they would split the commission. While most real estate professionals are ethical, some states forbid the dual agency role completely rather than risk making the completed transaction more important than each party's interests. A dual agent must inform both parties that he is working for both.
Do your own homework before choosing a real estate agent. As a buyer, be familiar with the average home prices in the neighborhood where you are looking. As a seller, get more than one evaluation of your home's worth to ensure an accurate selling price. Ask agents or brokers about their experience and whether they sell or buy more homes and check with the local Better Business Bureau for any reports on file.
Real estate lawyers are not a requirement in every state, most agents use standardized contracts; however, hiring a real estate lawyer can help guarantee that all of the terms to which you are agreeing are fair and equitable.