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If you think you can do better at buying a house without a real estate broker – and minus a broker’s fees – think again. It’s smarter to choose a good agent.

Every day prospective homebuyers head to Google and enter such search terms as "homes for sale in Pasadena, CA" or "real estate in Echo Park", searching for listings that could include their dream home. Is this time well-spent or time wasted?

There are individuals who believe they know how to shop for a home without a Realtor representing them. Since the advent of the Internet that has periodically been a discussion topic. But simply having access to the listings of what’s available – as well as the “for sale by owner” homes – doesn’t come close to covering the full process of smart real estate transactions.

For example, a skilled Realtor knows the red flags to look for on behalf of a buyer. These might include an asking price that doesn’t square with the value of a particularly property on the market. For example, consider the ascendant Northeast Los Angeles (NELA) area. The price of a home in Glassell Park might differ from a comparable property in Mt. Washington or Eagle Rock, for example. This may have to do with property tax structures, anticipated nearby construction, school systems – or just something as simple as nuisance neighbors.

That said, there are good and bad agents. Some signs to look for:

Good: Has a favorable record to which past clients/buyers will attest. This isn’t something that is earned overnight – a good agent develops all the skills necessary to effectively represent a buyer through hard work and experience.

Bad: The agent works part-time at the job. This is sometimes the case with seasonal workers (perhaps their full time job is in teaching, or as a downhill skiing instructor) or just someone testing the waters. But that means they aren’t closely following the market, networking to know more granular details of neighborhoods and school districts, etc. In NELA, does your agent know the difference between transportation options, or schools, or the property tax rates in Highland Park vs. Hermon vs. Garvanza?

Good: Has educational credentials and awards that speak to the agent’s professionalism and accomplishments. Again, this doesn’t come overnight. But the Realtor who is focused on excellence will strive for sales achievements, have various certifications and continue to expand their knowledge with ongoing coursework.

Bad: Realtors who fail to perform most often drop out of the business. Others might be in a developer’s family and therefore get listings (for those developments) but often do not pursue continuing educational experiences nor have objective knowledge about the market and municipalities.

Good: Has listings currently on their own site or otherwise in the Multiple Listing Service. If they are good at real estate, sellers will find them.

Bad: The agent is offering to charge a lower commission, below the traditional 5 to 8 percent range that is split between buyers and sellers. Not only is a lower rate a disincentive to all agents potentially in the deal, it speaks to a certain desperation and it offers little wiggle room in price negotiation (sometimes an agent will help a buyer get a contract by shaving off a point or two from the commission).

In any event, the most effective agent will likely be the one in most demand. But the flip side of that could be they don’t give each buyer full representation. Do not be afraid to state your own expectations strongly up front and hold your Realtor responsible for good service throughout.

Tracy King has endeavored to be among the premier real estate brokers in Northeast Los Angeles/NELA for more than two decades, achieving multiple awards for sales while earning her Certified Residential Specialist, Ecobroker, and Senior Real Estate Specialist certifications and graduating from the Realtor Institute.

tracy 150x175With over 30 years experience in helping clients buy and sell homes in Northeast Los Angeles, Tracy King has a depth of real estate knowledge that makes her the go-to for both the first-time home buyer and the seasoned real estate investor. When she's not holding open houses or negotiating offers, Tracy enjoys wine tasting, cooking, or planning her next trip to Paris. If you are looking to buy or sell a home in Northeast Los Angeles, contact the Tracy King Team at 626.827.9795 or