Having a good relationship with your real estate agent can make the difference between a smooth transaction and a mess. If you’re had a positive experience with an agent you’ve worked with in the past, it’s natural to want to use that agent for your next home purchase or sale.

If you’re making a cross-town move or a move to a neighboring community, your former agent may be a good choice if the agent specializes in the area where you’ll be selling and the one in which you want to buy.

Sometimes, agents who do multiple transactions with clients offer a break on the commission to ensure your repeat business. However, the possibility of a modest savings shouldn’t blind you to the pitfalls of working with an agent who is unfamiliar with the territory.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Your agent needs to have extensive knowledge of local pricing to accurately advise you about the current market value of your home. If you list at too high a price, your home won’t sell.

If the price is too low and the out-of-area agent doesn’t provide comprehensive marketing, particularly to local agents, you could leave money on the table. Likewise, as a buyer you could offer too much or too little if your agent isn’t up on prices in the area.

Neighborhoods next door to one another can have very different pricing structures. As multiple listing services (MLSs) coalesce into larger entities, out-of-area agents have access to listing information for communities far afield from where they specialize.

There is more to accurate pricing than simply analyzing data from the MLS, especially in areas that have a lot of variability in the housing stock. For example, a three-bedroom, two-bath home in the Glenview area of Oakland, Calif., might sell for $600,000 to $700,000. A similar-sized house in Crocker Highlands, the adjacent neighborhood, would be likely to sell for $700,000 to $900,000.

In older, established neighborhoods like the two mentioned above, there is great variety in architectural style as well as house size, condition, yard size, quality of life, privacy and noise. Some homes have been remodeled recently and tastefully; many have not.

All of these variables affect value. Experienced local agents understand the nuances that affect home prices. Out-of-area agents often don’t.

Offers written by out-of-area agents frequently reflect lack of knowledge about local custom, such as whether the buyer or seller pays fees like title insurance and transfer taxes. Recently, an agent from Los Angeles wrote an offer on a listing in Oakland. The agent had represented the buyers before.

The price looked good until the offer was analyzed. It provided for the seller to pay about $10,000 in closing costs that are normally paid for by the buyers in Oakland.

Where buyers are at a real disadvantage working with an out-of-area agent is in areas where the inventory of good homes for sale is low and multiple offers are common. This is the case in many niche markets today. Unless you make an offer that’s much higher than the others, your offer could be rejected for a number of reasons.

Agents who are from out of the area are also usually out of the local real estate network. Agents feel more comfortable working with local agents. They know who gets the deals closed and who doesn’t. An out-of-area agent is an unknown, adding further uncertainty in an uncertain time.

THE CLOSING: The best bet is to ask your out-of-area agent to find an agent for you who has expertise in the new area, and who has a work ethic and style you’ll appreciate.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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