Buy or sell with the same agent?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

Agents are independent contractors and have significant latitude in how they do business. IRS rules lay out a set of “tests” to qualify for independent-contractor status. Real estate companies that contract with agents are conscious about the tests as non-compliance could mean heavy fines for the company. For example, the company can encourage, but not require, an independent contractor agent to attend meetings or training. Many agents do not attend.

Realtors go to great lengths learning to be successful. The industry is a hotbed of trainers and coaches, who make videos, and conduct seminars, and study courses to help. Their suggestions and tactics can be very different, and local market characteristics also affect strategies. Not all agents use these trainers; some instead will watch other successful agents and mimic their activities. Some accept training from the company they are affiliated with, while others feel they need little training. The result of this fragmented industry training is that  agents operate very differently.

Here are some considerations:

  1. Some agents are generalists, and they are good at it. They are comfortable with all types of property in all price ranges, and they can handle both the listing and the selling side of a transaction. There are also agents that practice as generalists but are not so good at it. Only the sharp, well-organized agent with the energy and knowledge to work efficiently with multiple tasks in progress gets good grades on both the buyer and seller sides.
  2. The client is selling in “area A” and is buying in “area B”, which is outside the area the listing agent works. Some agents can quickly learn about local facts and will invest time to make sure they have all the information about the new area. Some agents may agree to buy in “area B” but will not be able to locate helpful information or take the necessary time to gather it up.
  3. Many agents prefer listings over buyers, and vice versa.  Ask about their transaction records. If they had 40 transactions over the past two years and 90% of them are listings, they may not be the best choice to use to buy a home. If you’re looking to list,  and the agent you’re interviewing is skewed towards mostly buyers, you may have better luck with a more listing oriented agent.
  4. Other agents restrict the price ranges and neighborhoods they work. Many do very well with an average sale price of less than $150,000, others will dismiss a deal if it’s less than $300,000.
  5. Agents also screen for other factors. For example: client objectivity, client motivation,  credit scores, property type, area, pets, time frame, personality and more. As the market improves, agents must make choices because they have too many prospects. Some agents will openly share their preferences, even stating their restrictions on their websites and stick to them fairly closely. Others prefer to test the client first.
  6. Some agents suggest they are “experts at everything, in every price range, in a huge and diverse area” – you may want to beware of this claim, it’s impossible to be top notch at everything.
  7. Adult communities, or standard but gated communities  have highly specialized rules, regulations, preferences, and locational factors that are crucial in determining the actual value of homes, so a local specialist is critical in those types of communities, whether you’re listing or buying.

The bottom line is agent selection will likely make a huge difference in both the quality of your experience, and the financial outcome. It takes effort to interview and ask agents tough questions about their track record, preferences, and experience, but considering the importance of buying or selling the largest asset most of us ever own, due diligence matters.