We’ve all heard this saying, incorrectly said to originate from a Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times”. While we all want an “interesting life”, times are easier in uninteresting times, when our day to day behaves in a predicable manner. I think we can all agree nothing has been predictable in life, and especially the housing market, since early 2020.
Unprecedented mortgage pricing drops to stimulate the economy during COVID, followed by unprecedented pricing increases to combat inflation have put the housing market on a rollercoaster (not to mention causing some major banks to fail, but that’s another story). I’m no economist, so in no place to criticize the federal response to the pandemic and its impacts to our economy. All I can do is keep myself as up to date as possible so I’m able to guide my clients in making the best possible decisions for their financial future.
Mortgage pricing (rates) has not recovered as quickly as most of the economic experts were predicting back in the 4th quarter of last year. It appears it’s going to be a slow and steady road back to reasonable mortgage rates, with a few bumps along the way. These factors have some potential homebuyers priced out of the market, unable to qualify at current rates. The frustrating aspect for these buyers is that when rates were historically low, they had so much competition that they struggled to get an offer accepted. There was a small window of opportunity as the market shifted, and those that had a strong realtor and loan officer to guide them were able to take advantage of that and secured a home. Now more than ever, who you choose to be part of your homebuying team will make or break you.
Home inventory is still on the low side compared to demand, and part of what is feeding that are the homeowners who refinanced at those low 2020 to 2021 rates. No matter how much you may want a bigger or better home, or to change location, selling a home attached to a mortgage at 3% or lower when rates are currently sitting close to 7% provides a strong incentive to stay put for a while.
Rates are high (though far from historical highs), and inventory is low. That puts us in the unusual scenario of a market that can go either way depending on the property type, the location, and the timing – Is it a seller’s market because inventory is so low? Or is it a buyer’s market because rates have lowered demand? It depends. And this is why I’m telling you, who you choose to have on your homebuying team matters now more than ever.
When choosing a realtor, most people ask a friend or family member for a referral because they want someone they know they can trust. While trustworthiness is an important factor, all the ethics in the world won’t help you secure a new home if you hire an agent with inexperience, limited team support, or weak negotiating skills.
How many years a realtor has been licensed tells you very little about their experience. You may be surprised to find most realtors do very little business; many treating real estate as a “side hustle” that they jump into when they get one of those friend referrals previously mentioned. This may be fine during stable, linear market times, but now is an extremely challenging time in this industry, and if your realtor is not knee-deep in daily transactions, they likely will not have enough current experience to know how to make the quick and accurate decisions that will get you under contract on your new home.
How to find a solid realtor:
- As most people do, you may start by asking friends / family for a referral, just make sure to ask for someone they’ve worked with in a transaction, not just a friend or family member they know is a realtor. Be aware that doing this could result in hard feelings if you don’t go with their suggestion once you complete the additional research outlined below.
- Ask your mortgage loan officer! (But still do your own homework)
- I have realtor-partners I work with, and we refer business to each other. We built these mutually beneficial relationships over time by closing good transactions together that resulted in happy clients. However, there are individuals who have partnerships based on factors other than client experience, so while a referral from your loan officer is a great start, you shouldn’t take it at face value.
- Check the social media sites of local realtors: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, and YouTube
- Not all realtors make time for social media, and there is often a generational divide on social media presence, so do not discount someone for not having a social media presence.
- Those that do engage their audience via social media are presenting you with an opportunity to determine if the image they’re putting forth is one that speaks to you; one of professionalism.
- Do they include some more personal posts? It’s possible to show personality while maintaining professionalism, and you may find you enjoy working with a realtor that you have more in common with as a person. Personally, I enjoy getting to know the human behind the career, but that comes down to personal preference.
- Some realtors have a team dedicated to handling their social presence. You’ll know these accounts due to their straight-forward, strictly-business posts that lack individual personality. This scenario might indicate they are successful enough to pay for this service but tells you very little about the individual realtor.
- Check online reviews!
- Especially focus on the sites such as Zillow that only allow reviews from confirmed sales. Zillow will also show you the dates and number of recent closed transactions, giving you an idea of the realtor’s most recent experience.
- Google reviews aren’t verified reviews but are the most common. A good tip I learned from Amazon shopping is to search for and read any bad reviews vs just looking at the overall star rating. It’ll be quickly obvious if a bad review has any legitimacy.
- Do NOT trust the reviews on the realtor’s own website, for obvious reasons.
- Meet with at least two agents, preferably three, before making a decision:
- Do your homework BEFORE the meeting:
- Look up their license online to see how long they’ve been in business.
- Look up their stats on Zillow to see how many recent transactions they’ve closed, and what percentage were buyers vs sellers.
- Questions to ask as a buyer:
- How long have you been working as a realtor?
- Do you primarily work with buyers or sellers?
- How many active clients do you have?
- Are you part of a team?
- How and how often will you communicate with me?
- Do you have a specialty? (Neighborhoods, price points, demographics)
- Pay attention to what questions they ask YOU:
- Do they ask enough of the right questions to ascertain what property type you and your family are looking for? If not, you’re going to be wasting a lot of time looking at properties that aren’t a fit.
- Do they seem to show a genuine interest in you and your needs? Are they relaxed and taking time to get to know you and your family? Or does the interaction feel very “transactional”?
- Do your homework BEFORE the meeting:
- Finally, go with your gut!
- After all this, if you’re still undecided, go with your gut. You’re entrusting this person for guidance on maybe the largest purchase you’ll ever make so it’s important that you feel comfortable and confident with them as a member of your team. If it’s a good fit, they’ll be a resource for you in years to come.
If you still have questions, or are looking for advice, my team at TLC Group-Canopy Mortgage has access to Mobility Market Intelligence data that can put up more statistics than you could ever want or need on any professional in this industry. I’m available to help you vet any realtor strictly from the numbers side of the equation. The rest is up to you! Happy home shopping.