I've spent several hours over the past few days talking to past Pearce clients about their real estate buying or selling experiences. It was so useful, and so gratifying, that I've decided that I need to do it on a regular basis! I asked each of them to tell me what qualities s/he found most important in the agent used in a particular transaction, and which services offered were most appreciated. And here are the results:
1. Overwhelmingly, the number one factor that made agents great was communication. Clients were happiest when agents kept in touch regularly, yet this simple fact was not taken for granted, as many agents don't do that. People I contacted told me over and over again that it was really important to their selling or buying process that they be kept informed, and that their agents were excellent at living up to this need. It was mentioned so often that it should be the first thing buyers and sellers ask about in an interview. However, the fact that you ask about it and someone says that they will communicate often, does not guarantee that s/he will. Tip for clients: Make your expectations clear upfront. Tip for agents: Don't prejudge what a client will want to hear. Tell him/her everything.
2. The second point that arose again and again was that great agents control the process. They serve as backups for clients, who may be buying or selling from far away, who may never have bought or sold a property before, and who almost always have a lot going in, in addition to the transaction in question. Many people mentioned that their agents kept track of dates and deadlines, always reminding them not to drop the ball or let an important clause lapse. Great agents anticipate the next need, and regularly remind clients to stay ahead of the curve.
3. Great agents are knowledgeable about local customs. They can explain mill rates and closing practices. They can talk about differences from town to town. They serve as sources for questions and research help.
4. It was surprising how many people mentioned that their agents went above and beyond. We don't always know that clients recognize what is part of the job, and what qualifies as doing "extra". I heard of an agent getting the mail, checking the property often, taking care of repairs that needed to be done before the closing, and other tasks big and small. It was gratifying to know that clients do appreciate that such service is more than the basic representation.
5. Flexibility was a key trait mentioned. Buying and selling are activities often done outside of the regular working day, and clients were impressed that agents rolled with the punches. Also, great agents accepted that needs ebb and flow, and that sometimes searches would get back burnered, while at other times people were ready to move quickly.
What did they not tell me? I was a little surprised that they didn't mention help with pricing or offers, or advice on choosing among properties. That doesn't necessarily mean that clients don't look to agents for actual real estate advice, but it does seem to indicate that all the points above are what made the difference. That suggests that there could be less emphasis on how long an agent has been in business, and more on service. One seller used a questionnaire to choose an agent, and got pushback from those who didn't want to answer questions formally. From everything I heard, great agents have no reason not to make promises upfront, because they really deliver down the line! In fact, I should close by quoting one client: "She really became a friend". That's right, everybody. While you are buying or selling, you may talk to your agent more than anyone else in your life, for that period of time. Choose someone you like!