I put the last of my things in an old cardboard box with Staples on the side, saying my goodbyes to the company that helped me understand the industry that I’m now going into full-time. It’s a bit of a final moment, with a few tears and mixed feelings, my thoughts and emotions as jumbled as my supplies are in that box.

I’ve been working with real estate agents for the past year as a receptionist for a local firm, and I’ve learned so much about what it takes to be a successful agent – and to be a successful client.

I’ve seen smooth sailing and absolute disasters. Difficult transactions with good people and people who made transactions more difficult than they needed to be.

Despite the stereotype, most agents don’t set out to trick or use their clients. One, that’s bad business, and two, we’re people too. Shocking, isn’t it?

Sometimes things just end up lost in communication, even if each side’s jobs are clearly defined. It makes me think of a piece of paper that everyone works with and how it’s just as confused.

If you’ve worked with an agent before in North Carolina, you probably remember signing a document called Working with Real Estate Agents. It went over the different types of relationships you can have with an agent: buyer, seller, dual agency. These legal definitions, however, do little to describe the actual day-to-day relationships that agents have with their clients and coworkers.

Anyone who works with legal jargon can tell you, it will suck the soul right out of anything. It’s a bit like working with a real estate agent who doesn’t fit what you need, or if you don’t hold up your end of the deal. Most of us want to help! And believe it or not, we really want to do a good job for you. Both of us want a successful transaction, I promise.

From my year as an observer, and now as a new member, of the real estate industry, I have been able to put together a bit of a guide on working with real estate agents. So here’s what you need to know…

Do Your Research

It’s the most basic advice, I know, but doing a little legwork beforehand will save you so much in the long run (puns!). You definitely want to research the company, any potential agent, home prices in the area, and have an idea of what you can afford.

If you’re buying or renting, any agent can show you any listing, so you’re not limited to the company who has the home for sale or rent. If you’re selling, you’ll want an agent who’s involved, and won’t just call it a day when there’s a signpost in your yard.

Also, know if the agents have any specialties, designations, or have access to any special programs that can help you. If you’re using a VA loan, working with an agent who has little experience with military clients may not serve you. Or, if an agent specializes in investors, and you’re a first-time homebuyer, they may not know the unique challenges you face.

Take note of how each agent or company presents themselves. Yes, looks can be deceiving, but more often than not, first impressions really do matter. Is the office kept up? Does the agent have a professional photo? Do they have a professional and active presence online, or are they too active on Snapchat? Do they come across as if they care about their clients and their work? If their presentation is sloppy from the start, you can be pretty sure that the way they handle their business is also pretty sloppy.

Keep in mind, too, that there are a lot of code words that get used that may not mean what you think they mean. A “top producer” does sell or buy a large volume of homes, and they’ll have lots of experience: and lots of other clients. A new agent has their work checked by the broker-in-charge, so it may be slower, but it will still be correct. It’s all about compromise, which brings me to…

Knowing What You Want

When you’re doing your research, keep in mind what it is that you’re wanting out of this deal. We all want quick, painless, and at the best price, and that’s always the goal, but sometimes, life has other ideas.

Reflecting on your situation can help you see what it is that you need and want.

Are you a first-time buyer or seller? Then you’ll need an agent who can spend more time with you, and who can go over the paperwork and the process in detail. I promise, you’re going to have plenty of questions, and you’ll want an agent who will sit down with you and help you through it.

Are you an investor, or are you selling your third home? Then you might want a quick, efficient agent who can let you work more independently if you know the ropes.

What are your needs for your home and your family? Do you need to be in a certain school district, near certain amenities, or have a home a certain size? You’ll want to know what your needs, wants, and deal breakers are before meeting with an agent so that you can both save a lot of time upfront. And, you won’t have to drive out to a neighborhood far from work if you know a deal breaker is your commute.

Also, knowing what you qualify for when you buy and knowing what your payoff is when you sell is the most important key to having a good transaction. Everyone wants champagne on a beer budget, and sometimes, that’s exactly what you can get. But when you go in with enough to buy a beer, that’s usually what you’re going to drink. That’s just how the world is, which is…

Some Tough Stuff

Buying, selling, and even renting can really test your emotions. Even the best transactions have suspense, panic, pulling of the hair and the gnashing of teeth. You’ll run into buyers that low ball you by $20,000, sellers overpriced the same, and the other side unwilling to budge over the tiniest thing.

Every transaction has people involved, and bless them, people are messy and emotional creatures.

It helps if you already have your support in place. Have family, friends – a therapist – on dial to listen in and help you handle the stress you’ll definitely be feeling. If you can, let anyone who’s in your support network know about the transition you’ll be going through, and they may be able to make allowances, like letting you have a few days off of work, or decreasing your work load or commitment while you buy or sell.

Also, know thyself: know what it is that you’re willing to budge on. We can’t always have what we want in every case. So, know what it is that you’re willing to work through. Do you want a white picket fence but don’t actually need it? And did you find that perfect home that doesn’t have one? Well, you can always ask for it, but keep in mind, you may not get it. Does that mean you’ll have to pass on that house, or can you take it as is?

Lastly, and this may be the hardest, sometimes you have to take your ego out of the situation. If you ask for that picket fence, and the seller says they won’t put it in, it isn’t to spite you. They may not have the funds to do it, or they may already be making repairs elsewhere that you may not know about. Everyone is trying to raise their bottom line, but there are plenty of ways to have a win-win that works for everyone involved.

Taking a deep breath, understanding what you’re getting into, and being willing to take some perspective are the hardest but most necessary keys to prepare yourself for the life change that’s coming. A real estate transaction is just that: a life change. And things are going to be changing around it. Sometimes it’s overwhelming, thrilling, and terrifying, all at the same time. That’s working with real estate agents.

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