So, you want to know how to hire a real estate agent to help you buy a home. The best way to select a real estate agent is to ask your friends for a referral to an agent they have used. Then call that agent, make an appointment to meet them at their office. Spend 20 minutes just visiting. Basically, you just need to do a standard kind of job interview.
What sort of questions should you ask? Here is a list of questions that I would want answered if I were looking for someone to handle a real estate transaction for me. Don't be bashful...remember, this is a job interview!
1. How long have they been in business? It takes years to learn how to do this business. If an agent has only been in the business just a few years, you will want to ask about the people standing around mentoring them. If that network appears to be solid, there is no reason to avoid working with an agent who is new. You might consider meeting some of the people in the network, too. Everyone was new to the business at some point. Some of the most rewarding work I do is helping new agents at my office.
2. What is their level of production. The national average is 3.7 sales per year. It is almost impossible for a person producing at that level to be competent or to be earning a living. I would want someone who is doing one or two transactions per month. If they tell you that they are closing 50 transactions a year, the next question you want to ask is how much support staff do they have working for them. If the answer is none, that would make me suspect that you are going to have real trouble getting that person's attention. The best answer is going to be something like Goldilock's porridge...not too many, not too few....but, just right!
3. Do they have experience with the type of loan you plan on using? There are all kinds of loan products. Finding an agent who has experience closing the kind of loan that you plan on using is a good idea. Your mortgage officer and your agent will need to work together to coordinate the details of your home purchase. Examples of loan products that can get tricky are Jumbo Loans, VA loans, the loans that include post-closing repair money (FHA 203-K, or Homepaths Repair loans, or, in Texas, a loan that establishes a Mechanics and Materialman's Lien). If the property is income producing or a converted store-front, navigating the lending process requires a pretty large experiential knowledge base.
4. Do they have experience with the type of transaction that you are doing? If you aren't buying or selling a single family home, you need to identify an agent who knows how to do the kind of deal you are doing. Buying or selling a condo is different in many ways from buying a house. Buying a home in a subdivision with an HOA requires access to information about how that HOA Board actually administers the Rules and Regulations. If an agent doesn't have experience with that area, do they have access to people who do? Rural properties require an understanding of septic systems. Agents who only work in urban areas aren't even going to know to ask those questions, at least, not usually.
5. The final consideration is a subjective evaluation. It isn't a question to ask the agent as much as it is a question you will ask yourself after the interview is over. How do you FEEL about the time you spent with the agent you are interviewing. Did they behave professionally? Did they answer your questions? Did they ask you questions about how YOU want to do business (preferred methods of communication, time frame for home search, etc).
Buying a home is a journey. There is a good chance that you will become friends with your agent during the time that you spend together buying your house. I recently was at a social event, a birthday dinner hosted by a friend at a local restaurant. We filled up 7 separate tables. At my table, someone asked how did I know the Birthday Girl. Well..... I sold her a house. We started looking around. Turns out, I had sold a house to at least one person at all 7 tables. That is how this business tends to work!
Good luck with your search!
***image courtesy of alancleaver_2000 via Flickr.com Creative Commons http://www.flickr.com/people/alancleaver/