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How to's and money-saving tips from resident homeowner and mortgage professional, Cathy West

Finding the right real estate agent for your new home search.

What should you look for in a real estate agent when buying your first home?

Buying your first home can be an emotional, daunting process. Having the right real estate agent by your side can help make the process easier. It's important to have an idea of what you want most from an agent, but also to know your rights. For example, many agents will ask you to sign an exclusive contract to work with them and them alone, as explained on Realtor.com. There's no legal obligation to sign a contract that prevents you from exploring your options. However, if you do decide to work exclusively with one agent, it should only be after talking to a few different realtors and making sure you've chosen the best person for your needs. 

Before doing anything else, sit down with your partner or anyone else who may be purchasing your home with you, and write down the three most important traits you want in a real estate agent. Think of personality traits – do you want the agent to stand back while you explore homes, or do you want them to be hands on and point out all the features you might not notice? Also consider their style as a sales person. Do you want an agent who calls you regularly, or someone who lets you reach out to them? Don't forget negotiation styles. Do you want a stern negotiator, or do you prefer someone to be kind and gentle with the sellers? 

Knowing what type of home you'd like to buy can also help you pick the best real estate agent for your needs. If you're considering buying a short sale, foreclosure, or distressed property, having an agent who regularly works with these types of listings is going to put you at an advantage. An experienced realtor may have connections to relevant contractors, or be able to guide you through complicated processes during closing. These types of properties are typically not seamless sales, so it helps to have someone who knows those markets well. On the flip side, if you're looking at a new home in a brand new development, it's usually in your advantage to work directly with a realtor supplied by the development company. Those real estate agents work directly with the developer and may have inside information or access to deals that other agents do not. 

Once you know what type of agent you'd prefer to work with and what type of home you're considering, go ahead and set up a few showings with two to three agents. Seeing a house is a great way to take an agent for a test run. A competent realtor should show up on time, be able to give you relevant information about the house and be able to find out any details that may not be listed on the original sales ad. For example, if you'd like to know if the windows have been replaced in the last five years, a good agent should be able to get that information to you in a timely manner after visiting a house. If you ask a question and the agent shrugs it off, or promises to get you an answer and never does, it may be time to look for another option. 

Overall, you want to find the agent who makes you most comfortable. Buying a home can be overwhelming, but it's much easier with the right person at your side.

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