When I talk to someone who felt that their last real estate agent was awful, I usually find that the amount of time the person spent looking for their real estate agent was minimal. Often they just used a real estate agent referred by a friend, or looked them up in the phone book, and that was all they did to qualify the agent. Referrals are great and can mean a lot, but if you want maximum value, you still need to spend a little time sorting through your options before you make a decision. Often people assume they don’t know enough about the business of real estate to be able to identify a great real estate agent. This is not true! Real estate is not rocket science; it is the passionate, creative application of experience, common sense, people skills and hard work. This article was designed to give you some ideas on what to look for, and how to find a GREAT real estate agent in Santa Rosa, Windsor and the surrounding area.
A good real estate agent can bring tremendous value to the real estate transaction. They can help you identify better homes and help you get them for less money. A good agent can make the home buying process easier, faster and more enjoyable, and they can be a tremendous reassurance during the escrow process.
A bad real estate agent on the other hand, can make the experience painful and can even stop you from finding a home of optimum value. Unfortunately with the crazy real estate market we had a few years ago in Santa Rosa and the surrounding area , far too many people became licensed real estate agents for the wrong reasons. Some of them really don’t know real estate at all. I’ve met a few that can’t even spell it. It is my expectation (and hope) that many of these real estate agents will disappear now that the market has cooled off. Meanwhile, YOU have to be careful, and PICKY.
There are a number of ways to select the best real estate agent to help with your home search, but they all begin with some important fundamental ground rules that would apply to every situation;
To begin with, if you have used a particular real estate agent in Santa Rosa or the surrounding area previously, and you felt the real estate agent did an exceptional job handling your transaction, I recommend that you consider using that agent again. If their performance was “Good” (not exceptional), keep them on your list but look around for a possible upgrade. If your last agent was less than good, take them off your list. I don’t care if they ARE related to you, because you deserve a great real estate agent and they really do exist.
As you start your process of finding a real estate agent, a great way to get insight to the agent is simply from visiting the agent's website and reading about their philosophies. Beware of websites for agents that lack personal and creative content. What percentage of the agent’s site is devoted to “selling” you something and what percentage is for helping you learn about real estate? If everything on the website is just a corporate shell, or "copy and paste" kind of information, you will not learn any relevant information about the real estate agent. Ideally, the agent will have a personal website and hopefully a BLOG giving you plenty of opportunity to judge the agent’s understanding of real estate, experience, and personal approach to issues.
Despite the fact that the Internet has become as pervasive in the real estate business, as it is in every other part of life, the truth about real estate is that it is a "local business". There are countless internet sites telling you that they can help you buy or sell a house. They say they are experts in every market in the country. Some of them even offer vacuum cleaners, and “free” college degrees. How handy is that? Big problem is that most of them are not LOCAL.
One of the huge benefits a real estate agent can provide to you is knowledge of the LOCAL market in Santa Rosa, Windsor and the surrounding area. In my opinion, any real estate agent that is trying to suggest that they are an expert for all of Sonoma County is highly suspect. Personally, I don’t know of any real estate agents that are (or could be) experts for all of Sonoma County. I do know great real estate agents who literally specialize in specific neighborhoods within Santa Rosa, Windsor, or Rohnert Park, etc. Any real estate agent that makes it to your "short list" should be living and working in the area where you want to purchase.
All licensed real estate agents in California are required to perform their duties under the supervision of a California licensed real estate BROKER. The experience, education and licensing requirements for a broker are much more difficult than they are for a real estate agent. In Santa Rosa, a California licensed real estate broker is able to work independently, without supervision. There are some great real estate agents in Santa Rosa who simply don’t want to hassle with a broker license, so it is not universally true that a real estate broker will have more knowledge and experience than a real estate agent. However, I do think that more often than not, a BROKER license is a big plus.
Brokers are available in two different flavors, "Independent Brokers" and "Broker- agents". Broker- agents are licensed real estate brokers who have completed all the requirements for a broker's license but they still work under the supervision of a company broker. This is common in the larger real estate franchises in the Santa Rosa area. Independent brokers have typically started their own real estate brokerage company. I find that the smaller brokerages are able to provide more personal, client-specific service than the larger offices, AND it is MUCH easier to avoid Dual Agency with the smaller brokerage. I am of course in no way impartial in this opinion.
There are many, many different professional “designations” which a real estate agent can earn. Sometimes a real estate agent’s business card looks like a hodge-podge of abbreviations. One question worth asking is; “Do the real estate designations mean anything? Well, in my opinion, the answer is; “Yes, but only sort of”.
I agree with many other real estate professionals who feel that too often the required proficiency of the subject matter included in some designations is so minimal as to make the actual designation meaningless. That nasty little bit of truth aside, I do agree that the very fact that the real estate agent went to the effort to earn the designation is a good thing, in and of itself. Honestly, the California Department of Real Estate requirements for a real estate license are not terribly demanding. I am not saying that a monkey can pass the real estate test, but there sure are a lot of banana peels floating around the DRE test site. Anyway, the fact that a Santa Rosa or Windsor real estate agent has invested the time and effort to increase their knowledge about real estate is a good thing. It is an indication that they have worked to improve their skill set.
The point is; I have met or worked with a few "licensed real estate agents" that didn't have the first clue about real estate. If they don't understand the fundamental essence of the business, adding little designations on top of this ignorance isn’t going to make them a great real estate agent. So, in my opinion, the designations are nice, but they do NOT relieve you of the responsibility of thoroughly checking out the real estate agent . You should ask a potential agent what makes them great. If the only answer they have is “I have some designations”, then dig deeper.
Another difference between real estate agents is their professional and civic activities. Agents that display the REALTOR© logo are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and have agreed to be bound by a written code of ethics that is higher than the minimum requirement. In addition to the NAR, there are also state and local associations such as the California Association of Realtors (CAR) and the Santa Rosa Chapter of Realtors. There are of course many other professional and civic organizations that a real estate agent could be active in. All these memberships and activities indicate the agent is involved in their profession and community, both of which positively influence their performance as your agent.
Buyer- agents in Santa Rosa and the surrounding area can work for large companies or small companies, and there always seems to be a pride battle between the two. The larger firms’ stress that they have the ability to buy big advertising spreads in the local papers and other publications, the smaller companies stress their expertise and individual attention to the client.
To some degree, both are true. The question really is; which has the greater benefit to a person buying a home? My own completely biased opinion is that the large advertising budgets really don’t do much for the buyer. Statistics show that very few (less than 5%) of people who purchase a home, found that home in the print media. Most new properties hit the Santa Rosa market through the regional MLS and savvy real estate agents check several times per day for new properties that meet their clients’ needs. With printed copy, by the time a property has finally gone to print (one to three weeks), if the property was really HOT, it is gone by the time a buyer sees the ad. The National Association of Realtors statistics show that 80% of people begin their real estate transaction on the internet. Not in the printed media.
The biggest issue (in my opinion) with the larger real estate companies is the increased chance you will be stuck in a Dual Agency situation. This is strictly a law of numbers and the more agents a company has, the higher chance that the property you like is listed with that company. This is Dual Agency and you should read my article “Dangers of Dual Agency” Click Here for More Info to understand why this is a bad, bad thing.
I also think there is a much greater chance of getting an inexperienced real estate agent from a large company. All real estate agents have to start their career somewhere, but the smaller firms tend to have fewer, more experienced real estate agents just to survive. Some of the larger real estate companies rely, to some extent, on having a large number of real estate agents cycle through their organization. The theory is that if they hire enough people, some of them will be good agents. This of course means that some of them are not good agents.
It is a numbers game. If they have 1,000 real estate agents and each agent only brings one client per year, the company will still have 1,000 transactions to pay the rent. The smaller company, on the other hand, could not survive with only one client per agent per year. The smaller companies must work extra hard to hire talented agents and make sure they keep every client happy to maximize the chance of a referral or repeat business. At the smaller companies, you are not client number 958, you are probably client number 15. The small firms really tend to be very client-focused and in many cases your real estate agent will be the owner of the company.
Ask the real estate agent what type of buyer agreement they will ask you to sign before they represent you. If they require an “Exclusive Buyer's Agreement", make sure you understand what this agreement means and that it is appropriate for the kind of service you are looking for. For more information on this, read my article on “Real Estate Broker Agreements” Click Here for More Info.
In the Santa Rosa area, I have not found a direct correlation between how long a person has been in the real estate business, and their ability to be a great real estate agent. Certainly the longer a person has been working in real estate, the more experience they should have which could be used to your advantage in a real estate transaction. Unfortunately, I often find this experience is offset by an unwillingness to embrace change, or a lack of enthusiasm towards the real estate profession. Real estate is CONSTATNLY changing. New laws, new technologies and younger clients are pushing these changes.
Newer, often younger real estate agents in the Santa Rosa area, lack the years of experience to help them solve the inevitable problems which occur in every real estate transaction. Sure they know what a “pod-cast” is and how to web-enable your phone for listings, but sometimes they don’t know do-dah about buying real estate. That said, there are times when this inexperience is offset by a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, fresh ideas, energy for hard work, and sometimes great success, simply because they didn't know they “should” fail. Youth has it’s advantages.
Personally, I think that years of experience probably has a slight edge over energy and enthusiasm, but what I know is TRUE is that the most accurate predictor of talent is the research that YOU do to find a real estate agent, combined with your own "common sense" interpretation of the information that you discover.
Age, years of experience, and even how many homes an agent has sold are poor predictors of talent. When interviewing potential real estate agents, look beyond the statistics and try to get a sense of who the person really is and how that fits with your own personality style and needs.
Ask for referrals from people you know that have actually USED the agent they are referring and then check the referral out. Ask why the person is referring the real estate agent. If their referral is because they “like” them or because the real estate agent is their cousin, be cautious. What you are really looking for are people that have bought or sold a home in the Santa Rosa area using a particular real estate agent and liked the job they did for them. This means a lot. Great real estate agents truly care about creating long-term relationships with clients and will work really hard to keep them happy.
I have met real estate agents that barely know how to pull-up a listing in the MLS. They can’t post a property photo without help and don’t even know what Microsoft Excel is all about. For the vast majority of real estate agents, the computer is where all the market data and number crunching is analyzed. The truth is, real estate agents with strong computer skills can help you identify better properties with more potential for appreciation, and help you get them for less money than most agents without computer skills.
Ask a potential real estate agent if they download data from the MLS, use Excel analytics, RELAY, and digital form management. The Santa Rosa MLS is a huge repository of important market data, but (my personal opinion) it stinks for property analysis. I want to see data trends at the neighborhood level, graphs for activity and relative percentages, I want great property analysis. The Bay Area MLS won’t do this for you, it will only give you the raw information and you have to be really good on a computer to do a great property analysis.
The real estate agent should gladly hand-out their cell phone number, email address, and some way to get a hold of them at any time, any day. This is not to suggest that you're real estate agent should be willing to wake up at three in the morning just because you have a question about a home for sale in Windsor. With the exception of those times when most people SHOULD be asleep, you're real estate agent should be available, or get back to you within a few hours if you have to leave a message. If you leave a message and your real estate agent does not get back to you the same day, they better have a very good reason. “I was too busy spending my commission” does not qualify.
Successful real estate agents in the Santa Rosa Ca and Windsor area know that their life is a public life and that there is nothing more important in this business than communication. But communication is not just them answering your phone. Just as important is how often they contact YOU to provide updates on the progress of the transaction, or get feedback on work they are doing for you. Finally, the real estate agent must show that they can LISTEN. If they do not listen to your ideas, comments and needs, how will they be able to identify a home that will work for you?
Some real estate agents in the Santa Rosa Ca, or Windsor area will engage in a practice called “Dual Agency”. I believe that dual agency dramatically lowers the service that a real estate agent can provide to their clients and I strongly recommend that you select an agent that does not use this practice. For more information on this topic, read my article, “Dual Agency”. Click Here for More Info.
Identify at least two real estate agents whom you would consider working with. Be sure that at least one of these real estate agent possibilities is not a friend or relative. This is not to say that your friend or relative isn't capable, but rather that stretching a friendship to include advice on a financial pursuit, can often have disastrous consequences on the friendship. Buying a home in the Santa Rosa or Windsor area is going to be a huge investment for you and you want the best resources available for your use. Anyway, now that I have made your Cousin Vinnie upset, pick your top two favorites (including Vinnie if you want) and contact them to schedule an interview. I highly recommend that this interview be face-to-face, NOT over the telephone. You can learn so much more about a person by speaking with them first-hand than you can learn over the telephone.
As long as I am making your relatives mad at me, let me say one more thing. Do not even consider using a “part-time” real estate agent. You want a full-time real estate agent that lives and breaths real estate. Honestly, even with 26 years of experience in the real estate business, I still learn new things every single day. A part-time agent simply is not exposed to the constantly changing real estate market frequently enough to really know the best deals, and how to get them.
It is very important that the real estate agent’s personality and viewpoints about real estate are comfortable for you, the client. In all probability, you will be spending a fair amount of time with this person driving all creation, looking for the perfect home for sale. If this is an unpleasant experience for you, or if you keep thinking that your real estate agent "just doesn’t get it", the amount of time you spend with them will seem endless. What you are looking for, is someone you can trust and whose personality and viewpoints on real estate are in sync with your own. Have a conversation with the real estate agent about their business, professional experience, and client goals.