How we messed up finding a Realtor (so you don’t have to)

Buying a house was a long process for my family – it was 8 long years from first sitting down in front of, to moving day.

We started out great. Through the recession, my husband and I both had steady work, and felt like it was a good next step to stop renting and get ourselves into a “real home.”

I want to tell you that we started by reading articles and preparing our finances for the purchase ahead, but lets be real. We went right online and started looking at multi-million dollar properties and dreaming of the forever home instead of the starter house.

Eventually, we decided to get serious and see if we actually had the credit for it. We met with our local bank, and were politely informed that we weren’t even close. Our best bet was to go make some big ticket purchases, specifically some furniture or a car, and to get a secured credit card to build our credit.

To us, that felt like a huge setback. Instead of just following good advice, we started looking for a private rent-to-own agreement because we thought we needed to move RIGHT NOW and that the banks would never help us (while many friends around us got into sub-prime mortgages). 2 years later, we were out thousands of dollars, and had nothing to show for it. Which, now that I know better, is usually what happens with private rent-to-own agreements.

At that point, we moved into another rental home, unsure if we would ever be able to buy a house, like the rest of the Millenial generation. The cost was a hinderance – we needed to be investing in ourselves, instead we were investing in others’ mortgages. The worst was the insecurity of renting, often given 30 days to find a new home when the owner wanted to sell, our stuff in storage and crashing with friends while waiting for a new landlord to finish renovations.

After getting settled in to the last rental, we decided to try the whole “buy a house” idea again. We pulled credit reports, finished paying off the little stuff that had been holding us back, and started seeking out recommendations for Realtors and lenders. We spent a few months stashing away what little cash we could, being turned down for a loan online by national companies. We were absolutely lost on how to proceed. All we really needed was a starting point, and we couldn’t find one.

We were lucky – a trusted friend was in the process of getting his license, and was ready to take on clients when he completed. His first advice was a specific lender once our credit was in shape, who had actual helpful advice and information. The lender was also able to secure us an AMAZING loan, after so many failed attempts before. We were ecstatic. 🎉

Choosing a realtor was the real catalyst to get us moving, and we got extremely lucky. We did what 70% of people do nationally and went with the first realtor we thought of. Turns out, only 17% of people actually use their first realtor a second time. That means that most of the time, you can greatly improve your initial experience by just talking to multiple Realtors before signing with one.

So how do you find this list of realtors to interview, instead of messing it up like we did? Open houses work, it’s how a lot of realtors meet clients, but think twice about having that agent represent you and the sellers.  It’s easy to click a button and have your data submitted to the first agent that the algorithm spits out of the big real estate sites. It’s easy for your uncle’s real estate guy to call you after hearing you were ready to make a move. It’s also easy to walk in to a local branch office of a national brokerage and meet more agents than you ever wanted to know within minutes. Try not to commit right away to the great salespeople you’re meeting. Have patience when it’s all very exciting and everyone is trying their hardest to impress, and meet with multiple agents to find the right fit. It pays off like any other smart investment of time or money. 🤑 Literally.

However you meet them, here are some things to look for when evaluating Realtors:

This relationship should feel like it comes with open and honest communication at all times, where neither party is holding back. In the heat of negotiations, your Realtor needs to understand you, and you need to trust them. So at the beginning when the pressure is all on the agent side, its a great time to analyze your trust level. Is it all about them and their great sales record, or all about you and your needs?

How can you tell if a Realtor is knowledgeable? Well, you can’t always, but knowing that they have a designation can help. It’s also helpful to explore their knowledge of your target neighborhoods. If you are very specific on area, its helpful to have an agent that lives and works there.

Experience matters, but tenure doesn’t. An agent that grew up in the house down the street from the one you want to buy, has a background in contract law, and just got their license could be better than the “projecting the image of success” guy on all the billboards. Contract experience is valuable, and finding an agent who can leverage real estate forms for you is the goal. Tap your agent’s expertise – the learning curve is steep and expensive.

Don’t underestimate the importance of a good personal relationship. Not everybody gets along with everyone else, it’s not a bad thing to recognize the potential for clashes. Not everyone needs the same type of guidance. A first-time homebuyer has a separate set of needs from a commercial investor. Justin asked the right questions and talked through our thoughts rather than serving them up to us. We felt empowered after our meetings, not drained. That was important, because during the title meeting, when I had to make my hand work when signing off on a six figure loan, I had nothing but positives to draw from to get through that one little moment when it got tough.

Don’t just play agent roulette. If the Realtor you just met leaves you feeling like you need to wash your hands, its okay to walk away and hire someone else.


(In fact, consider reaching out and interviewing Justin, even if you aren’t in the Boise Metro area. He made this process incredibly smooth for us, and he has made himself our family’s Realtor. In fact, I loved it so much, I went to work for him.)

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