There’s nothing worse than feeling like someone is taking advantage of you, especially if the situation could have easily been avoided. When it comes to looking for real estate in a new country, either to buy or rent, it can be easy to become prey to a dishonest and self-serving broker.
What you want is a reliable broker who will keep your best interests in mind as you search for your perfect home.
How does one go about finding a reliable broker, though? While there is no way to know for sure how an experience will be working with a given broker until after the fact, there are a number of preliminary steps you can take to find a reliable rental broker (and to steer clear of all the rest).
If you’re in the process of searching for a new home or plan to be anytime soon, you’ll want to keep reading.
1. Do your broker research
Given the astounding amount of information that is available online about brokers and real estate firms, there is no excuse not to do your research. Before you get on board to work with a rental broker, don’t forget to turn to Google.
Do a quick search of the individual broker as well as any firms he or she is associated with. With a little digging, you’ll likely be able to find online testimonials from former clients –one of the most valuable pieces of information to help you spot a reliable broker. If there is contact information available, it’s even worth reaching out to hear first hand about the experiences of former clients.
It’s also worth paying attention to how active or inactive the broker is online. Do they have a website or work-related social media account? Is their contact information up to date? Does their site have a high quality and professional headshot?
Online presence for a broker can say a lot about professionalism. Conversely, an out-of-date website, or one that is riddled with grammatical errors should be a huge red flag when it comes to choosing a rental broker.
2. Ask your broker the right questions
Asking questions of a broker is a pretty straightforward way to find out how reliable and ‘with it’ he or she is. Answers that are well spoken, direct, and based on numbers and solid facts are obviously preferred responses than ones that are vague, rambling, or biased.
One way to ask questions that will help you get a real sense for how reliable a broker is happens to be rather counterintuitive. Instead of asking questions that you want to know the answers to, ask questions that you already know the answers.
For example, asking a broker about the safety or desirable qualities of a neighborhood that you know well is a great way to find out if a broker is reliable. If his or her answers align with what you already know, or if he or she is willing to admit a lack of knowledge but do the research to find out for you, that is a broker you can trust.
If, on the other hand, a broker gives you a response that is uninformed or contradicts what you already know, there’s a good chance that broker won’t he honest when you have a question and you genuinely want to know the answer.
3. Assess local expertise of brokers
Local expertise is invaluable when it comes to shopping the rental market. A good broker must know different neighborhoods, new development plans, and average prices by area. After all, this kind of expertise is part of the job.
Look for agents that live and/or work in the areas of the city where you’re most interested in renting. While local brokers can have tons of knowledge that dates back decades, there are plenty of brokers who aren’t from Panama City, but have lived here and worked in the industry long enough to have their bearings.
Apart from knowing the city’s different areas, and what one is expected to pay in those areas, it’s also useful for a broker to be able to provide context about the pros and cons of different parts of the city. Local knowledge of schools, restaurants, traffic, safety, and demographics is essential to help you find the home of your dreams.
4. Check that your broker is listening
The only way a broker can really deliver what you’re looking for is by listening. Apart from being able to answer all of your questions, a qualified broker should also be just as inclined to ask you questions.
When they show you a property a good broker should take notes (either mentally or physically) about what you do and don’t like and use these notes to adjust which other properties to show you.
If you complain about a property not having enough natural light only to visit three more units that are cramped and dark, chances are your broker is giving you a run-around.
Oftentimes brokers will have specific units that they’re looking to move more quickly or that provide the highest commissions, which will incentivize them to show these apartments even if they don’t match what you have in mind. This ends up being a waste of your time and adds frustration to the house-hunting process. If you feel like your concerns and desires are being ignored, it may be time to find a new broker.
5. Tally your broker’s successes
This should be a simple enough question for a rental broker to answer –what deals have you closed recently? A qualified and reliable broker will be able to list the most recent apartments they’ve rented off the top of their head. They should be happy to share the details when it comes to their recent performance and the types of units and neighborhoods of their most-recent deals. Even ask for them to share a commercial reference or two from their various clients.
In answering this question you should be able to get a good sense of how your prospective broker paints the picture of the market. Does he or she seem to have a solid grasp of what the market is like, what trends are out there, and an idea of the direction the market is going to take. If you find your broker bumbling about the market and unable to provide concrete info about what he or she has closed recently, that’s never a good sign.
6. Time your broker’s responses
While much of your assessment of a prospective broker can be based on qualitative data (overall professionalism, knowledge of the industry, etc.) it’s always useful to collect as much quantitative data as well. One easy quantitative assessment that’s easy to conduct is how effective and efficient a broker is when it comes to email communication.
Much of the communication that happens in the real estate world these days happens via email or text message. It’s in your best interest to work with someone who is quick to respond and easy to reach. Send a number of prospective rental brokers an introduction email and ask for more information. Discard any who don’t respond within 48 hours (though the best brokers will respond within half a day).
Also, pay attention to the quality of their response. If you ask five questions in an email, make sure your potential broker answers all five, not just two or three. This will highlight very quickly how thorough a broker is and how much time and attention he or she is willing to spend on you as a client.
7. Find out who else your broker is serving
While it would be nice to think you are your broker’s sole client and they have nothing else to do but scour the market for your perfect apartment, this is never going to be the case. Brokers make a living by serving a number of clients at once. When shopping for a broker, you want to find a balance between one that is popular enough to suggest they’re good at their job, but not so popular that they don’t have any time for you.
It’s worth asking how many other clients a prospective broker is currently working with, and how comfortable they are with their workload. The last thing you want is for your search to get lost in a sea of other clients while your dream apartment gets snagged right out from under you. That said, if a broker is well organized and has strong communication skills, it’s very probable that he or she can balance a dozen clients without an issue.
There is no surefire way to steer clear of a dud broker, but if you follow these tips, are diligent in your research, and follow your gut, chances are you’ll be able to weed out the good from the deceitful and find a broker who will make your home search go as smoothly as possible.