Word of mouth referrals are still the best way to find a real estate agent. You can have luck searching for professionals online, but you need to know how to go about it. Many online listings for real estate agents are paid advertisements, so the biggest, brightest listing isn’t necessarily the best.
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These tips of what NOT to do when searching online for an agent will help you compile a good list of agents worthy of interviews.
1. Don’t just search for the agent’s website – look for the agent’s online presence
Savvy real estate agents maintain an effective presence online. Whether you’re a buyer or seller, this network of resources will make the agent better at helping you find the perfect home or get the price you want for your property. Start your process by searching potential agents’ names and see where they show up.
Ideally, the agent should be connected on Google+, LinkedIn and other social media like Facebook or Twitter. An agent’s social media will help you gage his or her expertise, personality and the areas in which he or she works. You can usually get a strong sense of how they do business pretty quickly by reading the content they put online about themselves.
Sometimes, the company website will have amazing bios about its agents that help you identify someone with a good personality match. I do not know this broker and have never worked with this agency, but the sketch of Erin made me want to read about her work. Her bio impressively tells you to expect some spunk if you work with her.
2. Don’t accept online comments or testimonials as truth
When you check out the agent’s corporate and personal real estate websites, look at reviews of the agent and company as well. (A Google search will bring up both.) It’s important to read up on the agency, because often what you want is an entire company with a good reputation for clients like you. This makes it easier to get great service even if the agent who initially interests you isn’t the right fit. Furthermore, if your agent’s company has poor reviews (even if he or she has good reviews personally), you will want to ask the agent directly in the interview about those negative online comments.
Likewise, remember that online forums like Yelp are an easy way for clients to vent frustrations – even if they were part of the problem. For example, the review may say that the agent didn’t communicate often enough. Since you won’t know how often the agent said he would communicate with that client, you cannot judge who was in the wrong. You can, however, make it a point to ask the agent during your interview how he or she prefers to communicate (via email or phone) and how often you can expect to an update.
Read reviews on these types of sites with a bit of skepticism, because it’s very easy for people to use these sites either to try and undermine competitors or artificially inflate your own company’s reviews and ratings. However, the overall tenor of reviews is certainly useful for getting a sense of which companies and agents have happy clients.
Typically, an agent’s site will also have testimonials. Look for testimonials that say why the client was happy with the agent’s service – not just “I love so and so realty.” A testimonial that expresses how a client solved a problem or overcame a hurdle gives you much more information. If you decide to interview the agent, ask if you may contact the clients who wrote testimonials.
3. Don’t pick an agent who claims to know every neighborhood
Unless you live in a small town (and maybe even then), an agent cannot be an expert in every area. He or she may be knowledgeable about every section of town and outlying rural areas, but being an expert means the agent is in that that area all the time, talks to other agents in that area, knows about tax incentives and keeps tabs on local happenings and crime.
A good real estate website will show the areas in which its agents have sold or represented homes in the past year and will allow you to click on those past listings (or a location on the map), so you can get more information on the houses. This allows you to determine if the agents usually represent homes like yours – or the one you want. If you can’t find this type of information on the website, but you are still interested in the agent, you need to ask several questions about the agent’s work in your location (or desired location).
Buying or selling a home is typically one of the biggest financial decisions you will make. So while you can use the Internet to identify potentially good real estate agents who might be able to meet your needs, you should ultimately reserve the decision until after you’ve had a chance to meet and speak with all the potentials on your list.
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Larque Goodson is a real estate writer at Reply! with over 15 years of experience in journalism and marketing. To learn more about her work, connect with her on Google+.