Selecting a real estate agent to represent you in a home purchase or sale can be one of the most important decisions you make. There are obvious considerations, such as choosing a reputable agent with experience in the area where you want to buy or sell. Here are a few not-so-obvious points to keep in mind.

One of the biggest complaints made about real estate agents is that they don’t communicate often enough. Make sure before you commit to working with an agent that you know how often you can expect updates. If you prefer communicating by e-mail, find an agent who will accommodate you. If you find that your agent is not communicating often enough, let your agent know what you need.

Before cementing your relationship, find out who will be working with you. Some buyers and sellers are disappointed when they discover that they won’t be working with the agent they selected. Instead, they might be working with an assistant. Many top agents use assistants to help them do their jobs. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just make sure that you know what to expect ahead of time. If you don’t want to be handed over to an assistant, let your agent know.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: You probably wouldn’t think to ask an agent about errors and omissions (E&O) insurance. However, if you don’t, you could later wish you had. Recently, a home in Albany, Calif., sold to a buyer whose agent was an independent broker working as a sole practitioner. The buyer and seller ended up in a dispute. As often happens in disputes between buyers and sellers, the real estate agents were drawn into the negotiations. Just as the buyer and seller resolved their dispute, the buyer’s agent let it be known that she expected her legal fees to be covered in the settlement. As a sole practitioner, she didn’t have E&O insurance to cover her attorney’s fees. The listing agent, who worked for a larger real estate company, had E&O insurance coverage. Unfortunately, the uninsured agent held up the settlement.

When you commit to working with an agent, it’s reasonable to expect that your agent will attend to your real estate needs. Imagine how outraged one home seller was when she called her agent soon after listing her home for sale to discover that the agent was out of the country on a three-week vacation. The agent was afraid that if she told the seller about the vacation, she wouldn’t get the listing.

Not only did the agent conceal her vacation plans, she left the seller without a contact name and phone number. Everyone is entitled to time off. But, a real estate agent has a fiduciary duty to her client. This means–among other things–making sure that her client’s business is adequately covered while she’s away.

Some agents try to cover their business long-distance, which is rarely effective. If your agent is going to be away for more than several days, he or she should arrange for a substitute agent to fill in. One seller who knew his agent was taking a vacation insisted on knowing how the substitute agent would be compensated. This was to ensure that the substitute agent would have a vested interest in taking good care of his business.

THE CLOSING: Find out in advance if your agent is planning a lengthy vacation in the near future. If so, you can ask to meet the agent who will be filling in before your agent leaves town.

Dian Hymer is author of “House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers,” and “Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide,” Chronicle Books.


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