How to Choose a Buyer's Agent
For professional help in finding and purchasing your dream home, you want to look for a veteran Realtor--someone with ten years minimally in the industry. Your prospective agent should work full-time, which you can gauge by her sales record (twelve to fifteen transactions per year is respectable). Ideally you want someone intimately familiar with the area in which you are considering buying; the addresses of the last two dozen properties your prospective agent has sold will confirm that, or not.
Your Realtor needs to be energetic, fast-moving, dedicated, and persistent. It is critical that she be well-connected both within the business and outside of it if you are to learn of properties coming on the market before anyone else does and have an opportunity to land the one you want with little or no competition. Incidentally, never let an agent say to you, "Since we've got a verbal agreement, we can sign papers tomorrow." Only executed documents have legal standing in Pennsylvania, and I, for one, will run around all night to get them rather than risk losing a Buyer-client's dream home to another bidder! Time really is of the essence in real estate.
A flair for negotiation is a sine qua non of a successful Realtor. Be sure you hire someone who has it even if her commission rate is higher than a discount broker's. Enormous amounts of persuasiveness, patience, and even ingenuity may be required to part the Seller of your dream house from it at a price that, and under terms which, you consider acceptable. Don't be penny-wise and pound foolish: hire a pro who knows how to do it.
One of a Buyer's Agent's most valuable services is to provide specialists on whom her clients can confidently rely to sort through issues that may arise in the course of the home-buying process. I cannot emphasize strongly enough how costly fixing material problems with a property can be. Nor can I emphasize strongly enough how many such problems manage to elude the detection of all but the most adept of home inspectors, termite inspectors, structural engineers, and the like. Consider: a house may transfer ownership five times or more before I come along to sell it to a Buyer-client--only to discover, via the experts, that it's secretly got an under-engineered roof, or that it's not on public sewer after all (and the on-site system has failed), or that the normal-looking basement actually needs $20,000 worth of structural reinforcement, or that termite damage to joists which appears fixed really isn't, or that improper installation of an HVAC unit could cause a fire and burn the house down.
These sorts of issues are not trivial, and Buyers need to know about them before they settle if their Realtors are to arm-twist affected homeowners into assuming financial responsibility for them as part of the transaction. The alternative--discovering bad news after closing, when a Buyer's only options are to eat the cost of the problem or initiate a lawsuit against his Seller--is no way to go.
Finally, emotional compatibility between you and your Realtor is important. Don't, for example, work with someone who is not data-oriented if you yourself are: it's a prescription for terminal mutual frustration. In the best collaborations Buyers love their Realtor and their Realtor loves them. "I knew my faith in you would pay off," wrote Professor Eric T. Bradlow of the Wharton School after he and his wife settled on a gorgeous stone home I found for them. "You went so far beyond the call of duty on our behalf that I will be eternally grateful. Plus, I think we have actually become friends." I wouldn't have it any other way.