Building the Relationship with Your Real Estate Agent
While an agent's time is valuable, so is the time she spends with you, even if no sale is on the horizon.
What happens after the sale?
The final question of your interview gets back to the concept of developing a relationship so that your real estate advisor is with you long after you have moved in.
When my wife Susan -- the most patient and understanding woman in America -- and I bought our first home in Pennsylvania, it had a roomy, windowed attic that was perfect for a master bedroom suite. The previous owners had started the work; we just needed to finish the job.
Before hiring a contractor, however, we went back to the agent who helped us buy the house (the same agent we planned on using to sell it when the time came), and she advised against fixing up the room, warning that we would never get the money out. She provided a very compelling comparative analysis that saved us thousands of dollars, because we wound up selling during a down time in the market; the extra room would not have generated enough additional revenue to cover its own costs.
Find out if an agent is willing to consult with you periodically, to "come see what I've done to the place" and to advise you as to the value of adding a fill-in-the-blank (fireplace, new kitchen, addition, swimming pool, etc.). Her knowledge of the market can be a major asset to you, provided she is interested in you for more than your current transaction.
You are not talking about getting her tips for decorating or asking her to pick the color of your new shutters, so you won't see her often. It may be a once-a-year cup of coffee or lunch.
Most agents like doing this because they are always curious to see what happens to a house after the sale. It's good for you as a homeowner because it helps you set your priorities, particularly as you near a selling period. If you expect to stay in a house for only a few years but have the choice of which repairs to make next -- say replacement windows versus a replacement kitchen -- the agent would probably advise you to make the repairs that will make the most difference in selling price (the kitchen). If you plan to live in the house for 20 more years, the windows might be the better investment now, because they will save money on the heating bill.
Last, one reason to keep in touch with an agent is that it never hurts to have representation. You may not be in the market to sell your home, but few people would turn away an offer without at least reviewing it. If an agent knows your house and meets someone tomorrow who wants to move to your town and describes your house as his dream home, the agent may just pick up the phone and call with an unsolicited offer. If it's good enough, you might decide that it's a good time to move to something bigger or to downsize. At the very least, it never hurts to listen, and you will never have a shot at an unsolicited offer if a broker or agent is not familiar with your home.