Finding a real estate agent of your dreams… A checklist:

This is the last in our series of articles discussing your team of professionals that can assist you in designing, building, financing or selling your home. Here's some advice from some of the community's well-respected real estate professionals on selecting a realtor. We also conducted a small focus group with citizens that have recent experiences using realtors to buy or sell their homes or vacant land.

With hundreds of agents carrying licenses throughout the Grand Traverse Region, it can become a daunting task to find just the right one to meet your specific needs. If you don't already know an agent, talk to your friends, neighbors, or coworkers to see who they recommend. Get several opinions and interview each of them. Consider the following:

Experience. Is the realtor practicing real estate on a full-time basis? What's the average amount of listings they have at any one time? How many years experience and how many homes have they sold? This element is important to the consumers. They want a person with lots of experience; not a "snowbird" that practices part-time.

Brokerage. Select a realtor from a full-service brokerage with a well- established reputation in the community. Your brokerage should have a full host of services, including referral networks, a comprehensive web site, expanded office hours to include weekends, and they should offer ancillary services to facilitate the buying or selling process. Also determine whom you will actually be working with: the realtor or assistant. And who will assist you when this person is unavailable.

Licensing & Training Has your agent pursued education beyond the basics required to obtain a real estate sales person license? Does your agent have an associate broker license or has he/she completed the Graduate Realtor Institute or attended classes in real estate law. Are they a member of NAR? Also important to consumers is the new National Association of REALTORS® Green Designation. Noteworthy is the fact that at the time of this writing Andrea Galloup with Real Estate One in Traverse City is the first realtor in Michigan to receive this designation. To verify licensing requirements, visit www2.dleg.state.mi.us/colaLicVerify/. Also check out Traverse Area Association of Realtors at www.taar.com/ and Michigan Association of Realtors at www.mirealtors.com/content/ for a host of information.

Communication. How responsive will the agent be? Make sure your expectations are aligned with theirs. Establish how often you will get updates. Inquiries frequently come in at odd hours and over weekends. Agents need to respond promptly to inquiries or out-of-the-blue offers in a very timely fashion. Unanswered calls can equate to lost sales opportunities. When your agent is out of town, is there a competent professional in place who can quickly respond and fill in, when needed?

Tech Savvy. What kind of presence does your agent have on the Internet? Since over 80 percent of buyers now shop on the Internet before ever contacting an agent, listings need to be out there far and wide. Does your agent promptly respond to e-mail traffic, even on weekends?

Market Analysis & Plan. Review the market analysis thoroughly. Although establishing a price is a very emotional element, do try to be objective. Learn what comparable homes have listed and sold for and develop a pricing strategy accordingly. Complete and well-prepared listing information along with quality, well-staged photographs are essential for successful sales. Where appropriate, agents should include a quality virtual tour of your home. When done properly, these can be powerful marketing tools. Eye-catching, color property brochures give buyers a great way to keep your house or land fresh in their memory. Also inquire about using a "stager," who can help assess what improvements, minor or otherwise, can be made to your home to help it sell.

Media exposure. Even though the Internet has become the dominant venue for home shoppers, many also turn to print media to find listings. Ask where your listing will appear and how often.

Open houses. Regardless of what some agents tell you, open houses can be a great marketing tool. They help to get reluctant buyers through the door.

Relationships. The agent you choose is someone with whom you may be working with for months and sometimes years. Try to get to know the person well enough before you commit to a listing or a buyer broker contract. Compatibility and trust are key elements of your relationship.

Lastly, check out the Home Buyers and Sellers "How To" Expo on March 14 @ the Hagerty Center. Visit www.taar.com for details.

Many thanks to the following professionals for their sage advice and time in assisting with this article: Dave Hauser, Real Estate One, Dave@davehauser.net; Jennifer LaCharite, Remerica Real Estate, jthayer@chartermi.net; and Jim and Kent Noller, Real Estate One, jim@jnollerproperties.com.

Have a question or comment for "Ask the Builder?" You may email Mike Ferraro at mike@ferrarobuilders.com.

Mike Ferraro is president of Ferraro Builders and past president of the Home Builders Association of Grand Traverse Area. Ferraro Builders is a full-service design and build firm and Certified Green Builder and Energy Star Partner specializing in Custom, Luxury and Timber Frame Homes, and Remodeling.

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