All agents will play up their strengths, but some might overplay things a bit. Not that they’re necessarily trying to mislead you or anything; it’s just that some agents are stronger than others and they’re all competing for business.
You’re the best judge of which is the best agent for you, but here are some tips on how to spot common techniques agents sometimes use to make themselves seem better or more experienced than they really are.
THE NON-EXPERT EXPERT AGENTS
Sometimes agents will try to stand out by showcasing expertise, but check out those claims.
- If an agent has lots of property listings up on a Web page, check the fine print. Sometimes there are an impressive number of listings, but someplace (often in little tiny letters, down toward the bottom of the page) you’ll see the phrase "office listings." That means that, while the agent might be very busy, not all those listings belong to that agent. Some of them – and maybe all of them – are actually listed by other agents in the same real estate office.
- Sometimes agents will identify themselves as a specialist in a particular neighborhood, or an expert in certain kinds of transactions. Just because agents want to be an expert doesn’t mean they are experts, though. Does that agent have listings or closed deals in that particular neighborhood? Can the agent describe a couple of those special transactions that have successfully been completed, and provide you with the names of clients and the property addresses? Ask.
AGENTS' WEB SITES HAVE MISSING INFORMATION
Having the right information can pay off when you’re negotiating a deal, whether it’s through an agent’s experience or the timely data he or she possesses.
- Does the agent’s marketing material list years of experience? If the agent has a lot of experience, it will be clearly visible to you. An experienced agent can bring that experience to bear and help you make the best deal. If the agent doesn’t list it, that might be because the agent is fairly new to the business.
Mind you, that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker; you might prefer smart, friendly agents without a lot of experience to a very experienced bunch of agents who are grouches and have made lots of enemies over the years. But if you don’t know, you can’t weigh experience as a factor.
- Do you get vague answers to specific questions about the market for buying a home? Is the agent long on generalities and short on specific data, especially key numbers such as median prices, inventory and days on market? In times like these, the devil is in the details, so you probably don’t want an agent who doesn’t have a good handle on those details.
- A testimonial from a satisfied buyer is a great indication that an agent has made a customer happy, and might make you happy too. So can you talk to one? If marketing materials include a glowing compliment of an agent, but no name for the person who likes the agent so much, you might want to ask for one.
Not that anyone would make up a testimonial. Probably. Good agents with happy clients often ask those clients for permission to use them as a reference. If you’re checking out an agent, ask whether you can talk to some previous clients about their experience.
Not every bad agent uses tricks like these, and sometimes agents might make mistakes in presenting themselves without any intention to deceive, but if you ask the right questions, you can help make sure that you get the right agent – one that will do right by you.
At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.