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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, June 20, 2003

Rapport critical when hiring real estate agent

 •  Banking, real estate battle for territory
 •  Apartment demand sinks as home market booms

By Mary Umberger
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Eight hundred thousand real estate agents.

That, give or take a few, is how many are in the field today, according to the National Association of Realtors. How is a consumer to choose the one to work with?

The usual industry saw is to ask your friends for recommendations, which may be very good advice, according to a bunch of seasoned home buyers and sellers who responded to the real estate section's open call for readers to let us know what works, and what doesn't, in hiring agents. But they're adamant that there are plenty of other considerations.

Our group of consumers generally agreed that, beyond sales records and specialized training, the one thing that mattered most was rapport.

"The ability to communicate" may be a business cliché, they said, but it's the bottom line. Without it, clients and agents alike end up frustrated and have to work harder than necessary to get the deal done.

"They have to get a feel for what you want, for what you do for a living. All of that comes into play," says Gwen Hudson. Hudson estimates that she and her husband have owned 20 properties.

"If I tell you I'm looking for a house in this range, and these are the amenities I want, and this is the area that I want, then work with me there," says Hudson. "Don't try to show me the house I can't afford and then get frustrated with me because I can't afford it. I have run into that."

To help buyers, "agents have to have a grasp of what you can afford" and respect it, says Jim Klick of Crest Hill, Ill.

"Generally, your friends share similar values and standards," says Sid Chapon, a condo owner in Chicago who says that he would trust friends to be honest about an agent's strengths and weaknesses. He says that if he were looking for an agent tomorrow, he'd ask a lot more questions than he did in past purchases.

"I used to live in Tulsa, Okla.," he explains. "I was a first-time buyer, right after college. I was inexperienced."

And he says that even though he bought a property, in hindsight he believes his agent failed him.

"I didn't know what I needed to do. She didn't provide me with any coaching or counseling. She didn't tell me what to look out for."

Chapon says he looked at a total of one unit and made an offer at full asking price, "which, of course, was accepted. She never showed me anything else to look at. Part of that was my responsibility, of course, but I think a real estate agent ought to show you what else you can get for your money. I was young and stupid. At the end of the day, what I bought was a property that had major issues in terms of construction, and the condo association was financially not in good condition."

At the other end of the spectrum, we heard from Pam and Jim Jannece, whose first buying experience — like Chapon, they were right out of school, with not much money — is remembered kindly.

"Our real estate agent spent just about every weekend for a year looking for a house for us," Pam recalls. "She was just determined. She was patient, and we never felt like she was trying to push us."

But the agent went above and beyond the call when the Janneces sat down at the closing table to buy the house. As sometimes happens at closings, a dispute arose, and the sellers weren't budging.

The Janneces, who were strained to afford the house as it was, said they just couldn't come up with the additional money that would resolve the dispute.

"She got her boss at the real estate agency to make us a loan," Pam recalls of her agent. "It wasn't a lot, but it was enough to get us through the deal."