How to Find a REALTOR
Author: Tracy Ruddell
With around 45,000 licensed REALTORS® in the Toronto area, consumers have a lot of choice when it comes to hiring a Real Estate professional. Add to that the choice of going with a traditional brokerage, a discount brokerage or a for sale by owner (FSBO) model and it’s no wonder why so many buyers and sellers feel overwhelmed. Worse, it's no wonder why so many buyers and sellers end up with shady agents who care far more about their own bottom line than their client's.
Last post, we talked about the dangers of double ending. Today, we’re going to give you some tips on how to hire the right REALTOR® - someone who's going to have your back and deliver exemplary service.
#1 Ask Around. Search Online.
The first step is to research until you have a short list of REALTORS® amassed. It’s not hard to find the names of Toronto REALTORS® with an online search. The hard part is knowing who should make your first-round cut.
Firstly, don’t get dazzled by flashy marketing ploys (and I say this as a Marketer). Postcards and brochures left in your mailbox promising the moon and the stars are not a good indicator of the value of the REALTOR® behind them. Be particularly wary of jazzy sales lines like “sold 150% over ask!”. Sure. Except that it was under-listed by 60% to start with. Selling fast for over-list is the norm these days in the Toronto Real Estate market, particularly for freehold homes as just about everyone is under-listing from true market value. “Sold for X% above ask, in X many days” statements do little to set a Realtor® apart from their peers in any real sense beyond marketing spin.
Here's what most Real Estate companies won't tell you: all REALTORS® live or die by their leads. Unlike our business model here at Property.ca, most brokerages do not supply their REALTORS® with business leads, instead leaving it up to the individual REALTOR® to market themselves. While postcard drops and the like are not a red flag about a Realtor® – they have to drum up new business somehow, after all – you do have to ask yourself, if a REALTOR® is spending all of that time and money marketing themselves, how much time and attention is being taken away from their clients as a result?
To narrow down your interview list, focus instead on the marketing channels that will really matter when it comes time to sell your home. Look for REALTORS® who have strong websites and feature listings that are representative of the quality of listing you would want as a seller (even if you’re on the buyer end, this is a good indication of the quality of service you can expect). Have they invested in professional photography? Is their content meaningful, articulate, and compelling? Do they present themselves in a fashion that seems authentic and transparent or is it all a bunch of fluff?
Another tip is to look for REALTORS® who openly share information and educate their potential customers. If you find a REALTOR® who’s often quoted in the media or who publishes a popular Real Estate blog, that’s likely someone who believes in transparency and not holding “secretive” Real Estate data close to their chests. A great REALTOR® understands that, to build their personal and/or corporate brand, you need to connect with audiences in a real way and that means communicating meaningful information, being truthful and honest and not using every bit of content as a sales plug.
Most consumers realize that, in today's GTA Real Estate market, a REALTOR’S® value is not in the data they can access on MLS. It’s in their strategic expertise in pricing and positioning properties for sale and in negotiating circles around the competition in a buying situation. It’s also in their ability to foresee legal issues and protect their clients from situations that can be a financial and emotional drain. Again, more important in today’s market than ever before given the sheer volume of multiple bid situations we're seeing here in the GTA and how crazy offer night has become.
So, try to gauge a REALTOR’S® expertise and personality by their website, media articles / blogs / vlogs and the quality of their listings materials (even if you’re a buyer, this is a good indicator of their service level). Pick the top three or four whom you think come off as knowledgeable, trustworthy and whom provide impeccable listings materials.
#2 Interview Several REALTORS®. Don’t Just Pick a Family Friend or Relative to be Nice.
Now that you have a short list, you can start your request for interviews and make sure you interview at a minimum two different agents (three or four is best). Whether you’re buying or selling, this is the likely the largest transaction of your life so make sure that you secure the best representation possible. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who’s a REALTOR® and it’s great to meet that person and see if they’re a good fit but don’t sign on the dotted line until you’ve interviewed several candidates, just as you would if you were recruiting an employee at work.
Any REALTOR® worth their salt (if they feel they can meet your needs) will be happy for the opportunity to pitch for your business. Pitching is part a REALTOR'S® job so don’t feel bad if you take up some of their time only to say “no thanks”. What is appreciated in exchange for their time though is feedback, even if they don’t win your business.
A REALTOR® should do some research before coming to pitch for your business so expect to answer some basic questions over the phone such as the type of home and neighbourhood you’re interested in buying in, if you’re selling, why you’re selling and the price you’re hoping to attract, etc. The REALTOR® will most likely prepare a formal presentation for the day that you meet but make sure to leave time to get your questions in. Although it’s their pitch, you are in the driver’s seat and you’ll want to ask a number of questions to properly evaluate them as candidates.
Make sure to ask:
What’s your experience?
Do you have a speciality?
How do you work with your clients? How will you communicate with me? Are there hours / days when you are unavailable to answer your phone?
For sellers, ask how will you price and market my home? Can you show me examples of your past sales?
For buyers, ask how will you handle a typical offer night & how do we win a bidding war?
What are your fees? Are they negotiable?
Are my expectations realistic?
Is now the right time for me to buy/sell?
Can you provide me with recent references?
When interviewing, I also recommend that you do so in your own home (even if you're buyer who's currently renting) so that the REALTOR® gets a better sense of who you are but also so that you’re in the driver seat in an environment you’re comfortable in.
#3 Review Your Agreement in Detail Before Signing
Whether it’s at this first stage interview or at a second meeting, before you sign on the dotted line, make sure that the REALTOR® is talking you through each section of their buyer or seller contracts in detail. You want someone who is honest and explains things thoroughly. If they’re rushing through it or skipping over important clauses such as the contract duration or holdovers, question whether this is the person you really want to work with on one of the biggest transactions of your life.
Note that there are standard contracts that brokerages use but they can add and change certain things and blank spaces (such as contract duration) are filled in. You can start by reviewing the templated contracts (you can request a blank contract at your initial interview meeting) but make sure to read your specific contract over in detail when it follows as some elements may be different.
#4 Above all Else, Listen to Your Gut
Finally, trust your gut. Research is critical and you want a REALTOR® with expertise and experience but you also want someone whom you trust. You don’t have to be best friends with your REALTOR® but you have to feel in your gut that they are trustworthy, knowledgable and going to do well by you.
Happy hiring, my friends!
Lead image © Olivier Le Moal from Shutterstock.