Traverse City Record-Eagle


How do you choose a Realtor?

Team Mike, Ask The RealtorsHello again Record-Eagle readers,

With so many real estate agents available in the Traverse City area, how can you make the best decision for your real estate needs? Do you choose a friend or pick someone out of the yellow pages? Does the flashiest advertising equate with the most capable professional? Should you work with an agent at a large firm, a small firm, or an independent? While there are exceptions to every rule, and every marketplace has its own nuances, here are some guidelines to consider when you want the best representation in your real estate market:

1. Demand Experience

The real estate profession is plagued by high turnover and this creates a professional workforce that, while all equally licensed, can include a lot of inexperienced agents.  When dealing with what is usually the largest investment you will buy or sell, do not settle for a Realtor without experience.

Our rapidly changing real estate markets (not to mention the residential financing world) make looking for an agent with at least two years of experience, and preferably more, a basic first criteria.  Anyone still in the business after two years has probably learned at least the fundamentals of real estate, and proven resilient by sticking with it through challenging times.

Experience with short-sale transactions, land contracts, foreclosure avoidance, successful Internet marketing, waterfront property rights and responsibilities, investment property purchases, public purchasing assistance, taxation ramifications and rights, property legal descriptions and encroachments, and the broad and ever-changing legal issues associated with property ownership and transfer are just some of the areas of real estate experience that are not easily learned from training literature or an online licensing class.  Experience matters – a lot.

2. Look for a full-time, four-season Agent

Another challenge in the real estate industry is the large number of part-time and recreational salespeople. These folks have either retired from some other career, work in real estate seasonally, or are earning a second income while working in another industry full time. Would you utilize the professional services of a part-time surgeon?  How about a part-time defense attorney? If the cost to you was the same, would you utilize a part-time auto mechanic or one that works hard at it full-time?

No matter how long they have been in real estate, a part-timer’s lack of commitment makes it impossible for them to keep up with the vast changes in law, marketing and business practices that are occurring in the profession daily.  If an agent isn’t working at least thirty hours a week, fifty weeks a year, look for someone else to help you achieve your best.

In the Grand Traverse area, some agents still persist in “heading South” for the winter months.  While our real estate market activity peaks annually in late summer and fall, no one turns off the real estate sale tap once the snow flies. There is a lot of property bought and sold between November and May and your real estate agent should be working hard for you all year long.

3. Consider Locality

A real estate agent should live and work within forty miles of the property you are considering buying or selling in order to be considered.  In the age of the internet, you can look up duplexes for sale in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and develop a fairly good notion of property values in that market segment in a fairly short period of time, but a good, local agent will still be able to help you far more than a fast Internet connection.  While taking into consideration the other key points listed here, utilizing a local real estate expert who knows the nuances of the local marketplace can make a big difference between achieving the sweet success you are striving for, and just getting close.  If your agent works more than forty miles from the property you are dealing with, ask him or her for the referral of an expert local agent.  In most cases, your agent can still earn a referral fee from a successfully closed transaction, and your interests in the distant locale will be far better served.  Yes, an agent’s real estate license means they can legally conduct transactions anywhere in the state, but ask yourself if your interests are being best served, or are the agent’s.

4. Internet Savvy = A Must Have

The Internet has permanently changed the real estate industry, like it has most industries, and your real estate agent should be Internet savvy to be successful. Buyers of real property search for property online – period. Little old ladies invite their granddaughters over to help them navigate the web, people in computer-less households go to their local library to gain access, investor clubs print off real estate data they sourced online, lots of people look at property online who are not even “in the market.”  Online real estate perusal is pervasive.  The buyer of your house, and their real estate agent, found out about your property on the Internet.  All other forms of property marketing take a second seat to what your real estate agent should be doing for you on the Internet.  If your real estate agent does not have a thorough, personalized Internet system and presence, you should seek out someone who does.  They cannot be doing the best possible job for you while ignoring the technology that drives the real estate industry.

5. Recommendations are Ideal

Recommendations from friends, family and neighbors are an ideal way to identify a top, local real estate agent to help you buy or sell your property.  One of the benefits of a small town like Traverse City is that word travels fast, and folks will gladly recommend a good professional to you if you ask them. You can also ask your local real estate agent for the recommendation of a local expert in a distant market. Various sales pitches exist warning against working with a friend, family member, or neighbor, but I personally take great pride and pleasure from doing an outstanding job for mine. Maybe those real estate agents promoting working only for strangers don’t have many friends or neighbors? I know I tend to utilize the professional services of friends and neighbors, whether they are plumbers or mechanics or doctors or teachers, so don’t shy away from your “friend in the business.”

6. Don’t get Lost in the Crowd

You cannot get the level of service and the close professional scrutiny of your real estate goals that you should from an agent with a hundred listings and a busload of support staff.  Trying to argue that you are going to be a prospective agent’s top priority amongst dozens and dozens and dozens of other clients is silly.  You should be one of ten or twenty or even one of thirty of an agent’s clients to receive the kind of focused, personalized attention that you will need to be the most successful. Can an agent with seventy five properties listed for sale help you sell your house?  Yes, of course they can. Can that agent offer you the focused attention and time required to glean the maximum possible equity from the sale of your property in a challenging selling market? Can they afford to spend the individualized time necessary to help you find the absolute best value in your marketplace? When obstacles arise between you and your real estate goals, where will you rank amongst all of your agent’s clients?  How much competition for your agent’s time are you willing to accept, and is that your best chance of success?

7. Interview Agents for the Best Fit

You can make brief fact-finding calls to determine which of the agents on your list work full time, are experienced, web savvy, and work in your local real estate market.  Check the Internet to learn more about prospective candidates, their business model, and what type of Internet presence they create for their clients (see above).  The interview itself need not be a formal one, but ask questions and listen carefully to the answers you are given.  A good real estate agent will ask you to explain your real estate goals and timeline, and you should listen carefully to what they propose to do for you to meet your needs.  An interview can help you determine whether you would be comfortable working with an agent, and whether their business style is going to be most beneficial to your efforts.

The Decision

If you follow these recommendations, you will find that there are excellent agents working for firms of all sizes, and that the most important aspects to consider may not be obvious.  Your best decision should be made based on the ability and experience of the individual agent you will be working with on a day-to-day basis, how well they meet these criteria, and who you feel the most comfortable working with.  For most Americans, our homes are the most valuable asset we possess, so choosing which professional can best assist in the purchase or sale of our homes is an important decision indeed.

As always, I invite your comments and questions, particularly those pertaining to real estate in the Traverse City area, and look forward to hearing from you.


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