How to choose a real estate agent

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
By Andrea Sophocleous
Brad and Lara pose with their real estate agent
Brad and Lara pose with their real estate agent

Selecting an agent is an important decision in the house-selling process, so we spoke to the experts to get their advice on how you can find the perfect agent and what you can expect them to deliver.

As real estate dynamo John McGrath tells it in his book, The Ultimate Guide to Real Estate, people don't give their best friends the keys to their house, but they give them to their real estate agent. If you're selling your home, working with an agent you trust is the most important piece of the puzzle — and if you're buying, a reliable agent can ease the stress of finding the home of your dreams.

"At its most extreme, a good agent is the difference between a memorable experience that sets you up for life, and a nightmare that creates no end of stress — financial or otherwise," says Lou Rendina, managing director of Rendina Real Estate in Melbourne.

In his book, McGrath goes as far as putting a price on the difference between a good and bad agent. He writes: "The difference between an unskilled agent and a very good agent could easily amount to a 25 to 30 percent difference on the sale price [and] could easily amount to an extra $40,000 or more in your pocket."

Like a lot of things, the most effective way to find the best agent for your needs is to do your homework. "Word of mouth is often the best place to start," advises Rendina. "Ask friends and family for their recommendations. Everyone has an experience of real estate agents, so listen, ask questions and trust your instincts."

Most agents suggest you draw up a shortlist of three agents and watching them in action at auctions and inspections to see how they will treat potential buyers of your home. Then interview them for a closer assessment of their skills and to determine whether you have good rapport with them.

"You need to be comfortable with your agent — you are a team," explains Alex Schiavo, director of Kay & Burton Albert Park, the agent charged with selling the property renovated by Dale and Sophie on The Block. "If you have an agent that you like and understands you, that's the start of a good relationship."

For your money, you should expect the full spectrum of agent services: advising you on presentation and assisting with tradespeople and stylists if required, determining the best method of selling the property, devising the right marketing mix and ensuring the photographs used present the property in the best possible light. "Having superior images is more important than anything else, including ad copy." says Schiavo.

When it comes to buying, most house hunters regard agents with suspicion — but you can use their expertise to your advantage to find the home of your dreams. Spend time getting to know the most active agents in your area and they will call you first when the right property for you comes onto the market.

Schiavo says a good agent makes the experience of buying a home less daunting. "Buyers are busy going to open houses and can't always make it during inspection times. We should bend over backwards and make it easy for them with private inspections where possible," he says.

What to look for in an agent if you're selling

  • They are always available and return your calls promptly.
  • They know your neighbourhood intimately and have made other successful sales in the area.
  • They understand your needs and what's best for the property.
  • The can supply you with recent vendor references.

What to look for in an agent if you're buying

  • They return your calls promptly.
  • They take the time to understand your needs and what you are looking for.
  • They are happy to supply you with information on recent comparable sales in the area.
  • They answer your questions honestly.


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