Step 1: The easiest part? Kinda but not really.

Finding a real estate broker is in one sense the easiest part of the process- easy because few brokers will turn down your business. There is no shortage of supply when it comes to brokers- you find ads on receipts at the grocery store, bus stop benches, the internet, a multitude of other signs as well as brick and mortar offices. There are plenty of us ready and willing to help.

What is less easy is discerning which of these many agents will be able to service you well. Since real estate is very relationship oriented, many people simply go with a relative, friend, or a friend of a friend because they expect that the connection will keep the agent accountable to provide quality service. During my licensure training, I remember the instructor telling us that a real estate agent is the third least trusted profession behind the used-car saleperson and the lawyer. There are certainly agents out there who support the impression- at a holiday party I met agents who said things like, “Money is the only reason we do this.” I have no problem with money, but I was disappointed after that conversation. I recently had a first meeting with a client who asked me to be honest with her and affirm that I would make more money in commission if she and her husband purchased a more expensive home through me (implying that I would secretly try to have her buy a more expensive home). I explained to her exactly how my commission worked and showed her that even if her price point moved up $20,000, the difference in my paycheck wasn’t hugely different. What is a great improvement for me as an agent is doing the transaction instead of receiving nothing. I suspect her suspicion was up because of advice about working with agents from friends or relatives- there are enough horror stories out there that it is not unreasonable. Fortunately the explanation helped clear things up. It’s natural to want to go with someone you know. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that as long as that agent is competent about what they’re doing and has the bandwidth to work hard for you.

Brokers with lots of experience and high volumes of transactions likely won’t be able to service you themselves. However, they may have a team in place that can still do so effectively while still being able to guide the process at key points with their expertise. Brokers with a smaller operation might have more expertise in a niche market or may be able to provide more customized support throughout the process. Both large groups and independent agents can either provide excellent service or leave you feeling forgotten.

For a broker to serve a client well specifically for buying a home, availability is a big factor along with experience, neighborhood expertise, and reputation. Availability matters because a great deal coming on the market usually attracts more than a few sets of eyes in short order. Being able to join a client to show them the property and make an offer quickly is very helpful. Getting that much from your agent doesn’t require a ton of experience, just an ability to make the client a priority. In that respect newer brokers might actually be a better option as they’re usually a little more hungry for a deal. However, once it comes time to make an offer and once that offer is accepted, then come the tasks where experience and neighborhood expertise justify the broker’s commission. Experienced brokers have a more intuitive grasp of what a home will likely go for in a particular neighborhood, and their experience will help navigate the many hiccups that can arise between contract acceptance and closing.
Now for my pitch: Even though I have been working specifically with home buyers about a year, I work with highly experienced and well-respected brokers in the highly educational environment at  Keller Williams (which is currently the biggest brand in real estate in America as measured by transactions, agents, and sales volume). Though I’m capable providing service on my own merit and have functioned largely autonomously even while under my team lead during my first year, I’d still say one of my biggest assets as an agent is that I have a network with expertise to consult when odd situations pop up. By myself I bring availability and attentiveness along with a fairly good awareness of the Chicago market, and my office provides a helpful support system when needed. As a client, you get the best of both worlds.

All that said, here’s what often happens when you come in contact with a broker: either over the phone or at a face-to-face meeting, the broker will ask you some questions about what features you’re looking for in your home, price range, timeline, and if you’ve already been prequalified with a lender. They will explain their own experience, answer your questions about the buying process, explain how the agency relationship works (I plan to write about this as well), and perhaps start searching for properties online with you. Many agents would like some sort of commitment to work together before they start showing you properties. Personally, I don’t mind meeting someone for the first time while viewing a property and then spending a few minutes afterwards on these topics. Various agents do things differently that way. I like to get right to work and kill two birds with one stone if the client already has a place in mind they’d like to see.

As I mentioned, I will write about the nature of agency relationships in the future. For now, I hope this has proved to be a helpful orientation on this topic of finding a helpful broker to be your buyer representative.


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