There has been quite a bit of controversy lately over proposals by various groups to try to provide agent rating advice based upon various differing criteria, but mostly based upon volume of business. The presumed theory in that is that an agent who handles a large volume of business must be good.
I've also heard of many listing pitches that revolved around numbers of listings or numbers of transactions over the last year. Many seem to center upon the length of time that the presenting agent has been in the business; with the unstated presumption that time in the business equate somehow to knowledge about the business.
Both of those assumptions are often wrong, but I'd like to discuss the later a bit more.
“Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.” – Steven Wright
I like that little saying that I saw on a blog somewhere. A corollary might well be, “Knowledge is something that you don’t get until after an experience.” In real estate this is particularly true. The barrier to entry into the real estate business is relatively low. Just about anyone with a few hundred bucks and the ability to learn and be tested can get a real estate license. That and a few bucks more will get you a coffee at Starbucks, but you still won’t be a Realtor®.
Realtors work within a proven system. The most important component of the system is the brokerage, which is responsible for taking the newly minted real estate agent and turning him/her into a Realtor. Of course there is also the local Multi-List Service, the local Realtor Association, perhaps a state association and the National Association of Realtors. All of these groups provide bits and pieces of the system that the Realtor must learn to work within. That is a part of the experience that the beginner gets, which hopefully starts the process of the accumulating of knowledge.
Good brokerages for those just starting in the business will have extensive training programs and perhaps a mentoring program that pairs the newbie with an experienced agent. The broker himself (or more likely the local office manager in larger, multi-office brokerages) will be responsible for the training of the new agent and for monitoring his/her work through their first few real estate transactions. The broker (or manager) serves as both a manager and counselor during this start-up phase. Most brokers and managers have years and years of experience and tons of knowledge about the real estate process.
One can often tell very quickly how successful the new agent will be by watching how he/she uses this important resource. Those who fail and leave the business are most often those who try to go it on their own and don’t leverage the resources of their office to help them over the start-up hump. Many of them get into deep trouble by not asking for help. Conversely, those who cling too tightly to this help and are afraid to try things on their own are also doomed to failure or a career of mediocrity. One must be able to wean oneself from the security of never making a decision on one’s own. A real estate agent is an independent contractor and eventually must be able to operate and make decisions largely on his/her own. Being able to do so is largely dependent upon that agent's ability to accumulate and use knowledge of the business.
A key to turning the experiences that one has into knowledge is the ability to stop and look back over the experience to see what one can learn from it. Maybe the knowledge gleaned is “I’ll never do that again” or perhaps it is. “OK, I see what I did wrong and how to avoid that problem in the future or work around it if I hit it again.” Both are correct, but the latter is more valuable knowledge because it contains the thought process of learning from the experience and not just avoiding similar situations.
There is something to be said for seeking out an experienced Realtor, but if you happened to encounter a relatively new agent that you otherwise think is a nice person; ask them how they get help within their office and perhaps ask to meet with their manager or broker. Let that manager know that you expect that they will be assisting the new agent with any issues that come up during your client relationship and see what they say. A new agent will be eager to please you and probably work very hard; you just need to be sure that they understand how to work within the support system that they have around them to get help when they need it.
A final note is that time on the job alone does not assure that the person putting in the time has gained the knowledge that they should have from the experiences that they’ve had. I’ve met way too many “experienced” agents who still did not fully understand the process or have the ability to work through issues. Many times, one agent or the other in the normal scenario where there are two agents involved (a seller’s agent and a buyer’s agent) will have to take on tasks for both sides in order to get the deal closed; even if both sides are represented by “experienced agents.” Just because an agent can say, “I’ve been in the business for 10-15-20 years”, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve accumulated a lot of knowledge during that time or that they can handle situations that may come up well. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard statements like that and I was thinking at the time, "Then why didn't you know how to handle this; have you learned nothing over that span of time?"
Unfortunately there isn’t any easy way that you can really test the knowledge base and problem solving ability of agents whom you might interview before signing up with them. An in-depth interview that focuses more on how they do business than just how long they’ve been in the business or how many transactions they closed last year is probably the best thing. Asking to talk to 1-2 past clients might also help (assuming that you aren’t the first client) or reading their reviews from past clients, if the company does that sort of thing. You can also ask questions like; “What was your toughest sale/client and how did you handle that?” You should then listen for their problem solving approach and their honesty about the situation and how they handled it. They should be sharing the knowledge that they gleaned from that experience.