The longer I have been in real estate (almost 25 years now…wow how time flies) the more I recognize that while the public perception is that all real estate agents are the same, there are 3 very distinctive boxes in which you can pretty much place any agent. Take a look and consider from which box you will choose the agent for you.
Box #1: Typical REALTOR® Box
This box contains the real estate agents who are doing their jobs quite well and who have a reputation with their sphere of influence and within their communities as being good people and competent professionals. They tend to work with a variety of clients and have no particular preference as to where a home is located or with whom they work.
Their mantra is something like, “I will work with anyone who wants or needs to buy, sell, or invest.” Not only will these agents work with just about anyone, they will work until midnight, on weekends, and skip their kid’s soccer game only to be stood up by a buyer who already signed a contract with a competing associate. Keeping focused and maintaining a balanced life can be hard for this group.
As years go on, some agents in Box #1 decide to expand and hire support staff or team members, while others choose to remain solo. Because they are worn-out and burned out, they typically look forward to the day when they can scale back and not work as hard (sooner is better than later). Box #1 agents are the equivalent of a Super Wal-Mart. They carry a little bit of everything and are required to negotiate their price and principles because their value is diminished by the law of supply and demand.
Box #2: Atypical REALTOR Box
Fortunately, this box is not nearly as big as Box #1, but it is a box full of agents nonetheless. This is the box that neither the agent community nor the public prefers to know about (much less talk about), but bumps into on occasion. This box contains the segment of agents — existing in every market I might add — that are incompetent, lack integrity, or are only “in it for the commission.”
These agents usually come and go because consumers have plenty of other agents in Boxes #1 and #3 to choose from, but there are a few bad apples out there tenacious enough to withstand public, professional, and legal scrutiny.
Despite their lack of ethics and shotty business practices, Box #2 remains with people preying on the naivety or ignorance of consumers and frustrating the H.E. double hockey sticks out of agents in boxes #1 and #3. Box #2 agents are like Enron…they may be able to create a profit for a while, but eventually their run will end in certain disaster and public humiliation.
Box #3: Expert REALTORS
Over the years, smart real estate professionals have learned that trying to be all things to all people is exhausting. Hence, the evolution of Box #3: Expert REALTORS. Let’s be clear before I go on — I’m not talking about those agents with all the alphabet soup following their names. This isn’t about how many classes people take or how many initials they acquire to string behind their signatures (many of the ones with a bazzillion designations have the least amount of sales experience). No, being an expert is about expertise … it’s about focus and intention toward one (or maybe two) specific market or consumer types.
These agents know virtually everything about their target audience and have chosen to focus their attention on a very specific type of consumer. By doing so, these agents not only provide a higher level of service to their clients, but they aren’t so bloomin’ worn out from trying to learn EVERYTHING about every type of property, area of town, potential buyer or seller, etc.
Just like attorneys, physicians, and financial gurus, REALTORS in Box #3 find a niche and serve that niche masterfully. Consider Nordstrom and Starbucks when you think about Box #3 agents. They know their target audience and the provide a product AND experience that keeps them returning for more. They certainly aren’t always the cheapest, but the quality they offer is unmatched. These professionals have earned a very loyal following and their customer service rankings that are off the charts.
Choosing an Agent from Box 1, 2, or 3: How do you know?
So, you have decided to buy a home or sell a home and you are looking for a real estate agent who is the “right fit” for you and your situation. You get a couple of referrals from friends, you see a for sale sign on your street, there is an agent you met at an open house, and there are at least 2 or 3 that go to your place of worship. Unfortunately for you, Realtors don’t have tattoos with their box numbers on their foreheads, so knowing which box they crawled out of that morning is a mystery.
Categorizing agents into boxes is great way to begin your interview process. This can be done by phone or in person. A word of caution… it’s very difficult to determine whether an agent falls in box #1, #2 or #3 by their online image alone. Anyone with some money and a good programmer can look good online – proof is in the person.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing your agent:
1. How do you FEEL when you are talking to them (in person and on the phone)? Do you feel comfortable or do you get a pain in your stomach? Pay attention to your intuition and your physical reactions to certain people (this is true of anyone you are considering to hire or get into relationship with). If you feel pressured or like someone is trying to “sell” you, it’s probably a good indicator that it’s time to move on.
2. What do their references say about them? Yes…that means getting references. Not only do you want someone to vouch for their professional competence, but what about their personality. If you have certain characteristics you are looking for (or want to avoid), you will need to do a little digging and ask some direct questions of those who know and have done business with the agent you are considering.
3. Are they an expert in your type of transaction? While geographic proximity used to be a big factor in real estate expertise, this is no longer a big qualifier thanks to the internet. Now days it is more about helping you with what is important to YOU. Have kids… your agent needs to know school systems and kid-type stuff! Moving to a retirement community…choose an agent who is a Certified Senior Housing Professional and knows the in’s and out’s of this type of move. Want to live in the new hip area of town…find an agent who makes it their business to know about the cool stuff there.
You’ve Got This!
Hopefully this has given you a bit of information to “chew on” as you consider your next real estate related hire. Oh, and remember, if you do hire someone and find out afterward that he is in Box #2… FIRE HIM!
Chances are you will know fairly quickly that you have chosen the bad apple (poor communication, no follow through, high pressure, the feeling of “funny business,” etc.). It’s OK to cut ties and start anew, but it sure is easier if you know from the beginning that you chose a winner!
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