At a recent open house, real estate agent MaryBeth Darcy noticed a dozen prospective buyers arrive unaccompanied by an agent. The scene that played out was familiar to her: when asked about their representation, one spouse would ask the other to pull up an email with an agent’s name.
"If an agent tells you to just go to an open house and give your card, it’s a red flag," said Darcy, who works full time in real estate for Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. "Our job is to show them properties."
The nuances of finding the right real estate agent are often overlooked, especially by anyone without real estate experience. But when preparing for what is likely the largest transaction of an individual's life, recognizing the green flags and avoiding red flags is critical for prospective homebuyers.
"The best thing they can do is arm themselves with as much knowledge about the process," said Tricia Gleaton, vice president of the Home Ownership center of the Community Development Corporation of Long Island. "The more educated an individual is, from a neutral third-party like a homebuyer education course or workshop, the more they go into those interactions prepared and fully knowledgeable of what looks good, what should be happening, what doesn’t sound like it should be happening."
From communication to friendliness, here's what homebuyers should look out for when working with a real estate agent:
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In a productive real estate agent-client relationship, the agent asks questions about preferences and objectives. An agent should be trying to get to know you and paying attention to what you do and do not want.
"Are they taking that interest in you as an individual, to try to meet your goals?" asked associate real estate broker Shaan Khan, of Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. "Because that’s really what it’s about, right? You’re hiring someone for a service. To help you reach your goal."
Someone who knows the community — and, ideally, lives there — is best equipped to answer questions about neighborhoods and businesses from an insider's perspective, rather than relying on Google.
"We’re starting to see a lot of one-off Realtors listing houses in towns that they don’t know at all," Darcy said. "I think we’re selling a lifestyle, not just a house; so you’ve got to have someone that knows that area."
Darcy, who is from Rockville Centre and lives in Point Lookout, said she only sells in towns she knows and focuses on her hometown. This tip is especially relevant for those who are new to Long Island.
To find out whether an agent is familiar with an area, read reviews, look for any of their sales in relevant communities, and ask questions: Do they live near the listing? Which local restaurants do they know? What else does this community have to offer?
Pay attention to an agent's interactions with others at open houses, looking for signs that an individual is sociable and has contacts in the industry.
"You want to see that your real estate agent is outgoing," Darcy said. When she takes buyers to an open house, Darcy introduces them by name to the seller’s representation.
If Darcy and her clients make an offer later that night, it is more likely the selling agent will remember them.
"If somebody is not making you feel heard, somebody is not giving you the feeling that you and your concerns are important to them," Khan said, "that's a huge flag."
And if an agent gives a "Just trust me"-type of response, Gleaton said, be wary.
"Anybody who is resistant to answering questions or providing information, steering them into certain neighborhoods, those are the things that I think we would recognize as concern," Gleaton said.
"You want somebody who can communicate what’s happening in the market," Khan said — someone who can "give you guidance and advice on a property, the pros, the cons, the things you should be considering."
Khan said "finding a comfortable fit" means finding someone with a compatible communication style.
An agent who is not willing to take phone calls presents another red flag. Darcy said agents should be accessible, and that she values communication by phone — not just via text or email.
A real estate agent should be considerate of you and your needs, and accommodate accordingly. This might mean helping a client through a language barrier, or taking extra care to explain a concept to a first-time homebuyer.
"If somebody isn’t taking the time to explain things to you, and is rushing you, you know, that happens," Khan said. But if that concern is voiced and not acknowledged, that becomes a problem.
Just as one might ask a friend or family member to recommend an orthopedist, Darcy recommends asking for real estate agent referrals and reading reviews online.
"You can’t just walk blindly into an office and say, ‘Hey, can I have a real estate agent?" Darcy said. Also, the "Request a Tour" link on real estate listing websites may lead interested parties to a real estate agent who advertises with the website, not the listing agent.
An agent should be available to preview listings for their clients. This means visiting a listing before the buyer does, and letting the buyer know whether it meets their criteria.
A good agent also does their research — verifying details like taxes and property size — before visiting a property with a client, Darcy said.
"The agent should have a team of people that work with them, be able to refer a mortgage person, a real estate attorney, an inspector," Darcy said.
However, Gleaton reminds prospective buyers to remember that they are the ones assembling their own team. A real estate agent is one member of that team and may recommend others, but the client makes the final call.
"It’s important for individuals to know that they have choice," Gleaton said, adding that any attempt to limit someone’s freedom of choice is a red flag.
"There’s a lot of extremely knowledgeable and professional people," Khan said. "You have to be able to feel you can trust the guidance you’re being given. Otherwise it’s not going to help you."
Arielle Dollinger joined Newsday as a staff reporter in November 2022. Previously, she covered local and national news as a freelancer for The New York Times, Newsday, and various other outlets.
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