Finding a Realtor

Imagine a world without realtors. House-hunters like yourself would drive frantically from property to property, trying desperately to find the one house that screams their name. Little do they know that house sits on the other end of town and is presently occupied by the seller, and two real estate agents, and a prospective buyer—all in the process of signing the paperwork to close the home sale.

Fortunately, life doesn’t have to be this way. Realtors exist to do the search for you. All that time you were daydreaming about buying a home, getting your credit history checked and obtaining pre-approval for a mortgage (don’t know what we’re talking about? Read the article on “Buying a Home!”), realtors were checking out the market. They were browsing through the multiple listing service, flipping through Home Buyer’s magazines, driving around in search of For-Sale signs and attending Open Houses pitched to them by seller’s agents. They know which homes have which features, which properties are for sale by which agents, and which homes have been on the market for how long.

What does this mean to you? Well, when you finally decide it’s time to approach a realtor about buying a home, and sit down with your realtor of choice to tell them what you’re looking for, the realtor will already have a plethora of potential homes for you to choose from.

If you yourself have found a couple of prospective homes, either via the Internet, a magazine or just driving by and noticing the front lawn sign flapping merrily in the wind, you can mention these to your realtor, and one of two things will happen. Your realtor will either drive with you to view the home or, if you’ve got a really good realtor who really knows the area, he or she will have already viewed it… and will be able to tell you all about it. His or her account will either leave you pumped to go have a look at this place… or you’ll get so turned off from the details you hear that you’ll decide a viewing isn’t even worth the effort.

Some people fall under the tragically mistaken assumption that a realtor is just the person who helps you close the deal on the home you found yourself. The truth is, a good realtor is the most valuable tool you can have during your home search process. A realtor is like an excellent pair of glasses for the home buying process. Some home buyers find their own home (after a long and grueling search), then find a realtor to make the offer and do the paperwork. This is like reading your course textbook through blurry vision, and sticking your glasses only in time for the final exam.

Okay, so you understand the importance of using a realtor. But how do you actually find a realtor? Or, more specifically and more importantly, how do you find a good realtor? And, before we go any further, what exactly is a realtor, anyway?

You have probably always been told that in order to buy a home, you’d need a real estate agent. Now, suddenly, here we are telling you about something called a realtor. You probably think these words mean the same thing, but there is a distinction. Not all real estate agents are realtors, and not all realtors are real estate agents.

We know this probably sounds like some complicated logic exercise reminiscent of that introductory philosophy course you took back in your freshman year of college. It’s not that complicated, really. The term “realtor” applies to a real estate professional that belongs to an international organization called the National Association of REALTORS®, or NAR. Some real estate agents choose to join NAR; others don’t. However, real estate agents represent only a portion of the members of NAR. Other professionals who join this organization include:

appraisers property managers escrow officers loan officers title representatives salespeople (for example, homeowners insurance salesperson) brokers counselors

What this means, in simple terms, is that if you meet someone at a cocktail party and he or she answers the question “So, what do you do for a living?” with “I’m a realtor,” he or she doesn’t necessarily help people buy or sell property. He or she can do any number of careers that are linked to the profession of real estate. However, all realtors, no matter what their official job title, subscribe to a strict REALTOR® Code of Ethics. Anyone enlisting the help of a REALTOR® in any capacity can expect a high standard of honesty and professionalism.

All that said, the focus of this article is the type of REALTOR® who is involved in the business of buying and selling property—in other words, the type of REALTOR® whose official job title is “real estate agent.”

So, now that you’ve found out what a realtor is, it’s time to start looking for one to help you find your dream home. Some of the most common methods used to find realtors include:

Word of mouth Advertising around the Community Internet Yellow Pages Walk in to an Agency

Word of mouth is a great method to use if you are just starting your hunt for a good realtor. Why? You get a name and a reference all at once. The best thing to do is talk to anyone you know who may have recently bought a home. This source of info can include friends, family members, co-workers, or acquaintances, such as your hairdresser or your favorite salesperson at the nearest department store. This person can give you the name and number of the realtor he or she used—provided they were satisfied with the service, that is.

Remember that when you hire a realtor, you’re after his or her knowledge above all else. This means that you want someone who is actually knowledgeable, not just about the real estate industry in general, but about the real estate market in the area in which you’re hoping to buy. A realtor from another area probably won’t turn down your business, but you’re much better off finding someone whose area of expertise is your prospective neighborhood.

One example of word of mouth gone wrong comes to us from north of the border. Several years ago, Leo, an Albany-based accountant who started his career in Toronto, decided to purchase a home. He’d scrimped and saved and earned just enough money to purchase a condo in an eastern suburb of Toronto, called Scarborough. He asked around his office and found out that Debbie, a marketing representative in the same company, had used an excellent realtor just last year to purchase her home. Debbie gave this realtor such rave reviews that Leo called her up that very afternoon. The realtor agreed to take on Leo’s case.

What Debbie had failed to mention, though, was that her new home was a spacious mansion in Forest Hill, one of Toronto’s most prestigious neighborhoods. The realtor had sold homes in Forest Hill for years, and had little experience with the suburbs. What was worse, the realtor herself lived in central Toronto and was scared to even drive that far out east, having fallen victim to a myth that suburbs were dangerous places. Every time Leo drove out condo-shopping with Debbie’s realtor, he ended up getting nauseous from the realtor’s constant slamming on the brakes every time a car she deemed suspicious drove by. As if this weren’t bad enough, Leo and his realtor saw eight condos that didn’t meet any of Leo’s requirements before finding a decent one. The realtor was apologetic, but really, what could she do? She didn’t know the Scarborough market, and was doing her best with what little information she had.

Leo eventually did find a condo, but he wasted a lot of time with the wrong realtor. Though friendly, helpful and enthusiastic, this realtor simply didn’t know enough about the area in which Leo was interested. Leo should have used another method to find a Scarborough-based agent, and drawn on that agent’s already existing database on homes in that area—specifically, condos in the area. (As if her Scarborough ignorance wasn’t bad enough, the agent new very little about what to expect in a condo.) Moral of the story? Sometimes word of mouth just isn’t good enough. You have to speak to someone who knows the area where you want to move.

Which brings us to our second method of finding a realtor: advertising in the community. You’ve probably been in areas and noticing smiling faces on posters in bus bays, on benches or even on billboards. If you can’t get a word of mouth referral to a realtor in a specific area, calling up the smiling faces on these advertisements isn’t a bad way to go. These realtors are advertising where they are for a reason: they are familiar with that community. Remember, when you buy a home, you’re not just buying a place to crash, or storage space for your possessions or furniture. You’re buying a place to start a life. So you have to consider not only your house, but the neighborhood. Is it friendly? Safe? How far are you from the nearest fire station or hospital? Will you be close to shops and other services you may need? What’s the crime rate like? How much can you expect to pay in property taxes, maintenance fees or utility bills? These are all questions a community-based agent can answer off the top of his or her head. While you can’t guarantee the quality of these realtors—you’d still have to interview them, and possibly phone a few references—you can at least rest assured that they’re familiar with the area.

Another option is to track down a realtor using the Internet. Many websites have databases that connect you to realtors, and you have the advantage of being able to read up on which areas they serve. Some online services even allow you to chat anonymously with realtors to find one that suits your needs. You can also check out the home page of any realtor you’re interested in. A good realtor will provide plenty of information in his home page, such as where he or she has sold homes, and what strategies he or she has used. You’ll also find a page of testimonials. Obviously, all realtors will try to pitch themselves, but you’re better off going for those realtors who can back up their claims with actual success stories, or facts.

Still stuck? Try the Yellow Pages under Real Estate or Realtors. You’ll get phone numbers and addresses of realtors and of real estate agencies. Phone them and arrange to meet with someone. Don’t be deterred by addresses that are nowhere near the area in which you wish to buy. You may be calling a head office. They may have realtors who deal with other parts of the city who can help you out. Alternately, you can just walk into an office and speak to someone there. This gives you the advantage of being able to source out the office before making a commitment to one realtor.

No matter which method you decide to use, be sure to interview prospective realtors before deciding to contract them. Remember, you’ll be driving around with your realtor, checking out potential homes. Once you’ve decided on a place, your realtor will remain with you throughout every step of the buying process. Why spend all this time with someone you are not fond of? It’s crucial to get together with possible realtors a few times beforehand to make sure there is good chemistry between the two of you, and that you trust them and value their opinions.