Finding and working with a real estate agent

Becoming a new homeowner is a big step.Here’s how to work with an agent to find the perfect new pad.

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Entering the housing market for the first time can be an intimidating prospect, but working with a good real estate agent and knowing the process ahead of time can make all the difference. Here’s a primer on what first-time homebuyers can and should expect.

Finding a real estate agent
In terms of finding a good real estate agent, chemistry is just as important as confidence and trust. In order to find the best fit, select about three agents by perusing real estate listings, looking at websites or asking friends for referrals. Then give them a call. “You can be very open and say you’re interviewing agents, and you’d like to meet for about five minutes,” says Rory McGlade, a Re/Max sales representative in Tottenham, Ont. Once you’re face-to-face, ask pertinent questions, listen to the answers carefully – a good agent should have a game plan – and go with your gut.

Starting the home hunt
Before visiting properties, the agent should determine what type of properties you’re looking for. “You need an agent that will take a little bit of control,” says McGlade. Beyond the obvious questions about type of property, price range and location, a good agent will try to address other issues like commuting distance to work, proximity to public transit, and distance to friends and family. “These are the things that an experienced agent hopefully will start asking you so that they have a realistic perspective of what you should be buying,” says McGlade.

The search
Consider your first trip out, which involves looking at six or seven properties, a learning process for both parties. “I tend to go back to the very basics and look at location, lot size, square footage, age, condition and features,” says McGlade. At this point, both you and the agent can determine what you really want, as opposed to what you thought you wanted. After that your agent can refine the search. “This is the stage when the agent is just picking properties that you really do want to see,” says McGlade.

Knowing the properties
Good agents will be able to narrow down the search based on location, lot size, square footage, etc., but don’t expect them to know details about the house such as whether or not the roof needs fixing, or whether the furnace needs replacing. “Especially in a big urban centre, it would be impossible to know the intimate details of properties that well,” says McGlade.

The offer and closing
Once you find the property you want, your agent will help you determine an offer – without going too high or too low – and will negotiate on your behalf. After closing, when your lawyer takes over the process, an agent can still be a source of valuable information. “A good agent will be thinking beyond the close,” says McGlade, “offering recommendations for everything from contractors to movers to daycare. You want to provide information to your clients for the stuff that they may not remember themselves,” he says.

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