When you're looking to buy or sell a home, the right real estate agent can make a huge difference.
Good real estate agents are well connected, understand the local market and can help you negotiate the best housing deal possible.
A bad agent, on the other hand, can cost you time and money--not to mention become a source of unneeded frustration.
So how do you know a good real estate agent from a bad one? Start by interviewing several agents and listening closely to what each says.
Here are five phrases that are indicative of a bad real estate agent.
1. "I'll just whip out my camera phone."
For sellers, an agent who talks about personally photographing your home is bad news. This foreshadows the single-worst thing an agent can do: take grainy or unprofessional photos of your home. It's a total turn-off for prospective buyers.
"Since 90 percent of all homebuyers start their search by looking at photos on the Internet, if you've got bad pictures, you're going to be dismissed with the click of a mouse," says Michelle Minch, owner of Moving Mountains Design, a home staging company in Los Angeles. "People just aren't going to waste their time."
A top-notch agent will hire, and pay for, a professional photographer to shoot your home, putting it in the best possible light. "Good agents know that professional photos are part of the marketing costs required to sell a home," says Minch.
2. "I'm not into the whole technology thing."
This is another run-for-the-door type of statement sellers don't want to hear from agents. If an agent eschews technology, it signals that he is out of touch with today's marketplace or lacking in the skills necessary to sell your home.
Nowadays, agents must use technology--everything from Internet marketing and savvy use of the MLS system to making your home's details and photos accessible via mobile technologies to would-be buyers cruising past your home.
Deborah Darrell, who owns a two-bedroom condo in Manhattan, points out a twist on the technology problem: some agents rely disproportionately on technology to sell a home.
After recently interviewing seven real estate agents when she wanted to list her property, Darrell found that many lacked creativity.
"If you ask agents about their marketing strategies, and all they can say is: 'Oh, it's going to be on the MLS' or talk about how many hits their website gets, that's a problem," she says.
3. "Sorry the house is so messy, but they're divorcing."
For buyers, if you meet an agent at an open house and she runs her mouth a bit too much, that's a huge red flag. You want an agent to be friendly--maybe even chatty--but not to badmouth a seller's home or to give up too much information that the seller wouldn't want disclosed.
If an agent says this kind of stuff about someone else's house or personal situation, she will be equally lacking in judgment when talking to others about you and your home.
4. "Open houses really don't matter much."
Selling a home is part art, part science. It requires a careful blend of technology, interpersonal skills and business savvy to market a home to the widest possible audience. Open houses are one part of the mix.
So if an agent never wants to host a single open house, that's a potentially ominous sign. The agent might be lazy, overworked or simply not adept in the art of open houses. Whatever the case, an agent who won't hold an open house when you want to is short changing you and should be avoided.
A corollary to this rule also applies: stay away from agents who only want to do open houses.
"Research indicates that less than 1 percent of people actually sell their homes at open houses," says Nancy Chu, a realtor with Keller Williams New Jersey Metro Group.
"Open houses are best done when a listing first comes on the market, to generate some buzz," Chu says. "But after that, it's not helpful to do open houses over and over again. It makes you look sort of desperate."
5. "You don't need to shop around for a mortgage. My firm has the best mortgage rates in town."
Some real estate companies also offer mortgages and mortgage insurance, and their mortgage rates may even be competitive. But if an agent urges you to seek mortgage insurance or a home loan exclusively at their firm, and to avoid even comparison-shopping for today's mortgage rates, that's highly questionable.
"The first thing I always tell my clients is shop around" for current mortgage rates, says Chu. "The large banks are great, but individual mortgage brokers can have access to loan products that others don't--and also have creative ideas on how to keep your costs down."
In conclusion, finding a good real estate agent can be challenging. But by carefully screening agents and being an astute listener, you'll avoid bad real estate agents that can cost you unnecessary time, headaches and money.
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Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach®, is a personal finance expert, television and radio personality, and the author of numerous books, including the New York Times bestseller “Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom.” A former Wall Street Journal reporter for CNBC, Lynnette has appeared on such national TV programs as The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Phil, The Today Show and Good Morning America. She can frequently be seen as a guest commentator on CNN, MSNBC, ABC and FOX Business Network. Follow Lynnette on Twitter @themoneycoach or visit her free financial advice blog at AskTheMoneyCoach.com.