First of all, let’s just agree that understanding all the moving parts of real estate transactions whether you’re buying or selling, or both, is not something you learn in a short news article like this. Having said that, let’s get the following out of the way too – getting licensed to practice real estate in Alaska doesn’t make for a very difficult entry level threshold – virtually anybody can do it – and they do. This article is intending to give the community a working knowledge of how to pick just the right professional while acknowledging we’re not all created equal.

Now, let’s draw attention to why hiring the right professional makes such a big difference to you, the consumer of our professional services. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) points out that most buyers just call the numbers on the signage to find their representation for when they want to ask a few questions or to see a few homes. It further states that the vast majority of sellers hire the first person they were referred to or that answers their phone call – not necessarily knowing anything more about that person than that he or she is licensed. It’s been that way for years and way too many buyers and sellers feel under or misrepresented because of it. That’s all changing with the internet, social media reviews, and the myriad technological advances we have, but still none too soon.

The problem buyers with that strategy have is that all too often, the listing licensee on the signage has a whole football team’s worth of relatively inexperienced assistants making you a number on a conveyor belt and not feeling all warm and fuzzy inside as you expected. And more, they are all already representing the seller of the home you want to look at. It is the same with the person hosting the open houses – they represent the sellers and not the potential buyers. In Alaska we professionals are required to disclose in writing, in advance of showing a person homes, and before answering certain types of questions, who we represent, who we don’t represent, and who’s paying for our services at the time. None of this is bad or deceitful but it does highlight a few issues that buyers are just not aware of.

Sellers, on the other hand, are often times just as disadvantaged as buyers are in that they frequently believe that one listing licensee is as good as the next. And that could not be any further from the truth. Many sellers have lost the best person for selling their house because they instead bought into the idea that a listing licensee selling ten homes per month with a team of ten helpers is better for them than one selling ten homes per year with only the listing Realtor’s team of one on the job. That perspective is like claiming the quality of your goods and services through a big box store are better than those at a boutique store because of the much higher volume. Sellers are often blinded to a person’s inexperience because that licensee is on a high volume team and has successfully sold the seller on the benefits of a high volume team. All of us very experienced Realtors have lost a potential client or two due to an inexperienced person selling their “team’s” volume as their own, when in fact all they’ve done for the last three years has been opening doors to show houses and emailing contracts they poorly filled in as they were vaguely instructed to do. To us, that sounds a lot like an assembly line worker claiming they themselves have been building 1000 automobiles annually when in fact all they did was attach a tire to the front driver’s side of the vehicle.

So what’s a person to do? Well, in my experience, it’s just like one of my secret mentors when I was fresh out of college, Mr French, always used to say, “It’s like everything else.” The first thing you do is identify what you think you want to do – buy, sell, be a landlord or a combination of those. And then start asking a lot of questions. There’s no need to feel embarrassed for asking questions. The person helping you find answers to your many questions didn’t know what they know until they asked questions and studied up on the subject either.

You’ll need to do some reading and possible instigate a few email dialogues with real estate professionals. These days there’s plenty of local real estate blogs and local websites to glean tons of information from. Talk to people you know, find out what they liked best about who they worked with or what they heard about how someone built their reputation. Keep in mind that people normally refer and recommend professionals who treated them like they like to be treated. So, if you actually don’t care about the “personal touch” or “detailed explanations” in each phase of the real estate transaction, then you may prefer the higher strung, harder core, bottom line, numbers only, higher volume driven licensees. And like Jerry Seinfeld used to say a lot in his show “And there’s nothing wrong with that!” Plus, these days we’ve got Facebook, social media friends, church people, work colleagues and real life friends and family to compare licensees and personal experiences with.

Of course, you’ll want to look at a person’s credentials and their lifelong commitment to quality and continuing education. Be it better customer service, trends in well and septic systems, or how to better treat the older Baby Boomers – the more versatile, educated and experienced a person is in “Life” and in “real estate”, the better it is for you. You’re going to want to know how they determined the asking price of your home or that they did actually conduct a Comparative Market Analysis for the home you’re making an offer on to make sure it’s worth what you’re offering.

And yet, I’ve learned one of the best ideas on how to learn real estate is to simply “immerse” yourself into the real estate buying and selling “game”. That really means nothing more than attending lots of open houses before you commit to anything with anyone. In open houses you’ll learn what prices are being asked for different homes and neighborhoods, what upgrades are the best bang for your buck, what condition the various amenities and systems of the home are usually in. You’ll see big differences in well and septic homes as compared to those on city sewer and water. You’ll see first hand how a neighborhood feels without ever having to live there. There’s a lot, lot, lot of information you’ll learn just by participating in the real estate “show and tell” a little bit every week.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, whether you’re buying or selling you’ll need to be prepared. Someone who’s been to the bank and has secured what we refer to as a “90% Bank Letter” is far more attractive to a seller. Whereas, the buyer who doesn’t have that – all other things being equal – will not be viewed in the same positive light.

In closing, by simply drawing your attention to the professionals in the real estate industry and how they present their goods and services to the general public, you’ll start to generate a list in your mind those things that are most important to you in choosing a professional. And in the end, your decision will be far more informed and of service to you.