John M. Lee: How to Choose an Agent

With the downturn in the economy and the difficulty of getting a job, many people have turned to real estate for a career the past few years, causing the membership in the SF Board of Realtors to increase by 25 percent.

With more than 3,000 real estate agents selling properties in San Francisco, how do you go about choosing an agent to service your real estate needs? Do you choose a friend, neighbor or co-worker? Should you work with an agent at a large firm, small firm, a franchise or an independent?

While there are exceptions to every rule and every marketplace is different, here are some solid rules to apply when you want the best representation to protect your best interests.

Demand Experience
The real estate profession is plagued by a high turnover rate. Statistics show that 50 percent of real estate agents do not make it past their first year in the business ­ and another 50 percent of those who remain do not make it through their second year. This creates a workforce made up of newcomers.

Always look for an agent with at least a few years of experience. Anyone still in the business after two years has probably made the cut by learning the fundamentals of real estate ­ especially in today's ever-changing real estate market where a skilled negotiator can assure you the best possible price whether you are a buyer or a seller.

Another problem in the industry is a large number of part-time salespeople who have either retired from some other career; work in real estate seasonally (such as teachers working the summer in real estate); or are earning a second income by working evenings and weekends in real estate.

No matter how long they have been in the business, their lack of full-time commitment makes it difficult for them to keep up with the changes in the law, market conditions and current business practices in the profession.

Obtaining a real estate license is extremely easy. All someone has to do is to take one class and pass a multiple-choice exam and he or she can sell real estate. You cannot always rely on licensing to indicate competence because many agents' real estate education ends with their pre-licensing education. Look for someone who constantly attends seminars to learn current trends and selling techniques.

Conduct Interviews
Before you hire an agent to help you buy or sell a home, you should interview at least three agents. In order to do this, first get recommendations from friends, family and neighbors. Then, look on the web, in home magazines and local newspapers to see what kind of marketing the various agents and companies are doing in your area.

Make brief fact-finding calls to determine which of the agents on your list are best suited for your needs. Ask whatever questions you like or simply explain your goals and listen carefully to what they propose to do to help you attain your goals.

If you follow the suggestions above, you will find that there are excellent agents working for all types of firms.

John M. Lee is a real estate broker with Pacific Union. For questions about real estate, call him at (415) 447-6231.