It's April Fool's Day but this article is no joke. In our "information age' we think we can get all the information we need on line. While it's great to have those resources available, there's nothing like digging a little deeper and asking more questions. By all means, research on line but don't take things at face value. Much of the information we get on line is very subjective. When it comes to buying and selling homes, keep in mind the source of the information. Are they trying to "sell" you an idea in order to get you to buy something (their services or products, for instance)? The real estate industry is chalk-full of ideas but not all ideas are in your best interest.

In the case of real estate, buying or selling a home is a much more complicated process than most people are aware. There are many legal and tax implications to consider. For instance, it seems like a good idea to save a little money selling your own home. "How hard can it be?" some will ask. But unless you are trained in real estate and familiar with the laws associated with it, you may be putting yourself in a precarious position and have potential legal consequences for your lack of knowledge which could cost you much more than the amount you could save not using a professional.

Often Buyers believe they can save a little money using the listing agent rather than having an agent of their own. The truth is, the listing agent works for the Seller, not the Buyer. And, while the law requires all agents to be honest in their dealings, they only owe fiduciary duty to to their client, the seller. Meaning they are looking out for the Seller's best interest, not the Buyer's. And, typically, if any money is being saved, it's almost always being saved by the Seller, not the Buyer. A buyer should always have representation by a professional agent working on their behalf. In most cases, it will not cost the buyer anything as, typically the Seller pays the commission to both agents as a cost of selling their home.

Keep in mind, too, that not all "professionals" provide the same level of service and expertise. It is recommended that Buyers and Sellers interview up to three different agents to make sure they are getting the expertise they need in the transaction. Since your house is one of the biggest investments you'll ever make, no one should judge you for being more than a little choosy about whom you hire to help sell or buy it. Find an agent whose philosophy and methods align with your preferences. Asking the right questions will help you gain insight into the agent's capabilities and personality. Of course, he or she should offer stellar references and be thoroughly familiar with your neighborhood. Below you will find essential information you should gather when interviewing the agents to help you make the best choice.

For a Seller, a CMA (Certified Market Analysis) is critical and can give you a lot of important information. For example, what types of homes and home features seem to be the most popular for buyers in the area? What are homes with similar features to your own selling for? How long are homes like yours staying on the market before they sell? Arming yourself with this information is a great way to help develop a realistic view of your home's value and sales potential. It will also help you monitor whether you agent's advice is in line with the current market trends.

Is the agent working with a team? These days real estate teams are pretty common. Whether it's a pair of agents who share the work, a single agent with a support staff behind her or a group of several agents all under one business name, you'll want to know with whom you'll be working.

There are both positives and negatives to working with real estate teams. One drawback to a team is that you might not always be working with the individual you hired. If you call to ask a question, the agent you're familiar with might not be available or the one who speaks with you. On the other hand, a team could mean that you'll get more attention and personalized service, especially if there are people taking care of the behind-the-scenes work for your agent (allowing him or her the luxury of more face time with you).

But one of the biggest advantages that a real estate agent offers both buyers and sellers is or their access to resources for marketing or finding your home. Ask each agent you interview to spell out his marketing plan for getting your house sold. It's critical that your home is posted on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) immediately after signing with you. The MLS is a system of databases which lists homes for sale and gives your house broad exposure to homebuyers and helps the buyers narrow down what they are looking for, too.

An agent should market your house in other ways too. Print advertising includes ads in newspapers and magazines, or brochures and flyers like the ones you see in waiting rooms and at the entrances to restaurants. However, one of the most common venues for selling homes is the Internet. According to the National Association of Realtors, the Internet is used to find a home 88 percent of the time. Web sites like Craig's List, Realtor.com and others are very popular sites for people looking for homes. Often agents have their own websites, too. Is the agent connected to those multiple sites to give you the best exposure? Are they networked with other agents who may have clients looking for your type of home? This is critical if you expect to get the most exposure possible. And because most people find homes on the internet that is most often the first impression people have of the home. Does the agent provide professional photography and staging services? 

During the interview, you'll want to talk money. Most agents don't charge a flat fee but take a percentage of the home's final sale price. This percentage varies with each agent, but the commission typically hovers around 6 percent of the selling price. This fee can be a hefty sum. So, if you're the seller, you may want to ask if it's negotiable. You might also get a discount by using a single agent for both buying a new home and selling. If the agents you interview agree to negotiate the fee, check to see whether that decision would sacrifice the level of service.

In most relationships, communication is key. Your partnership with your real estate agent is no different. You need to know, up front, how he will keep you in the loop. This means finding out several factors like what kinds of news he'll update you on, the frequency of updates and how the agent will communicate them. Will your listing agent let you know about every interested buyer, no matter how serious?

If you're a buyer, there are a number of details to handle, even after a seller has accepted your offer. This includes home inspection, re-inspection, mortgage paperwork, title search, title insurance, repairs and other items. Will you get a weekly update, or just on an as-needed basis? Will it be with a phone call, an email or both? You may have your own preferences, and the agent may or may not accommodate them. Ask for details about how accessible the agent will be for you, since you'll have questions and concerns throughout the selling or buying process. Find out what business hours he keeps and -- at the risk of sounding like a stalker -- if you can call him outside of those hours on his cell or home phone. Whether he answers e-mails in a timely fashion will also become important down the line. Hopefully, he'll have positive responses to these questions, but it's always smart to verify them when you check his references.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, asking a real estate agent to evaluate the flaws of your home is a great way to learn other important information during the interview. For one, if the agent tells you what sounds like legitimate drawbacks, then you know he has a seasoned, keen eye. Not only that, but you'll be able to see that the agent is honest and isn't just going to sweet-talk you into signing a contract. On the other hand, if he doesn't point out what you already know are flaws, this could be an indication that he may have only a half-hearted dedication to selling your home. What's more, regardless of what it tells you about the agent, you can use this information in the selling process. Knowing your home's disadvantages will give you an opportunity to fix them and a more realistic expectation of the home's market value.

Overall, it's a good idea to hire a real estate agent you believe will seek out your best interests. Even gut feelings can tell you something. You don't want to entrust such an important transaction to someone who doesn't make you feel comfortable.

At Steel Team Properties, we do not take the trust our clients place in us for granted. We know that trust is earned. If we can help you or someone you know with real estate questions or needs, please do not hesitate to contact us. One of our highly skilled professionals will respond to your questions in a timely manner and provide the information you need to help you move forward. And that is no Joke!