Monday, August 25, 2014

How to Choose a Real Estate Agent

I struggled with the title of this post. I considered "How NOT to Choose a Real Estate Agent" but (uncharacteristically for me) discarded that in favor of a positive title although the intent of the post really is about what NOT to do when selecting an agent. I briefly touched on this in a post a couple of months ago but figured, considering the strong shift taking place, that it deserved revisiting..

The thing that got me on this subject again was the recent big increase of properties being listed by out-of-town agents. Over the years I've worked in the Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral market, most property listings here have been with local offices. I suspect most US markets have been the same. Makes sense to have a broker who knows the market and is readily available for buyers and their agents. Things are different now and the change happened quickly. Over a third of the new listings in the last two months in Cocoa Beach and Cape Canaveral are with agents and/or offices in other cities. There have always been some agents in other cities in our county who would have the occasional listing here, even some who did quite a bit of business, but never the proportion that we're seeing now. What happened? Consumers embraced the big online real estate sites for their real estate research and in the process discovered what appeared to be an easy way to find a local Realtor in their target market. The problem? The sites allow anyone willing to write a monthly check, no matter their location or qualifications, to buy their way into the list of local agents.

I searched Zillow this morning for a Cocoa Beach buyer's agent. (Results were similar for seller's agents.) Out of 13 "Trusted Pros" on the first page of 500 total results, only four work in offices in Cocoa Beach or Cape Canaveral. Note that the recommended agents rotate for every search so your results may differ from mine but, after doing several searches, it's obvious that my results are typical. Two of the Cocoa Beach "Trusted Pro" agents work out of offices in other counties over an hour's drive from Cocoa Beach and another seven work out of offices in other cities in our county. Four of the recommended buyer's agents had zero sales in Cocoa Beach or Cape Canaveral in the last 12 months and another agent had one. How did they get recommended? Easy. They pay Zillow to be there. No skills, experience or even physical proximity required. I could buy my way into recommended agent status in Key West or Pensacola if I chose. My value to a buyer in either of those markets would be considerably less than most of the experienced local agents but, that wouldn't stop an online advertiser from accepting my monthly check and proclaiming me a "Trusted Pro" in the area. The same is true for these out-of-town agents on the Cocoa Beach agent list. Does it matter? If I'm landing in Tegucigalpa I'd much rather have a pilot who has experience with that hairy airport than a guy who is making his first landing there. The more experience with that runway, the better. An agent unfamiliar with our market might not kill you but it is not in your best interest to have her in the left seat.

Feel free to use Zillow and other online real estate sites to look for a buyer's or listing agent but do yourself a favor and at the very least select an agent in the actual town you plan to buy or sell in. And, remember that there are active experienced agents in every market like myself who choose not to pay to be included in the Zillow cluster. You may overlook your very best choice if you limit your research to paid ads. I may be forced to surrender at some point and pay to be agent number 501 in Cocoa Beach but for now I prefer to be excluded from the list even though I have hundreds of successful landings and takeoffs here and know the terrain like the back of my wrinkled hand. For anyone looking to buy or sell a place here, you'd be well-served to extend your search for an agent outside the "Trusted Pros".

"Being the quiet, mysterious one doesn't get the ladies unless you happen to be high-end handsome." __applicable metaphor