Buying and selling homes are two of the most significant investment transactions in which most people engage. With a marginal difference in price (even just 1%) potentially translating into thousands of dollars, no wonder home buyers and sellers in the New Orleans area fret about finding one of the best real estate agents. And with so many agents in the business—literally thousands in Louisiana and hundreds in the New Orleans area alone—finding a top realtor can be a daunting task indeed. Fortunately, some guiding principles can make narrowing the field of candidates a bit easier.
Here are Athena’s top five tips on finding the realtor unicorn to sell or buy your home in the New Orleans area:
1. Understand how real estate agents operate. Real estate agents (technically called “Salespersons” under Louisiana law) are required by the rules of the governing authority in Louisiana, the Louisiana Real Estate Commission, to be affiliated with a real estate brokerage and under the supervision of a “broker.” For this reason, when you list your house for sale, the listing agreement is technically with the brokerage for whom the agent works.
But make no mistake: with most brokerages, agents operate with tremendous independence, rendering your listing contract with the brokerage a mere technicality. With rare exception, real estate agents are independent contractors and “run the show” in their dealings with clients. Of course, reputable brokerages like Athena Real Estate have their agents undergo rigorous training. Just don’t expect that an agent’s broker will be involved in your specific transaction. For that reason, it is all the more important that you choose a competent, well-trained real estate agent to represent you.
By the way, while most people use the terms interchangeably, there is a difference between a real estate “agent” and a “realtor.” Everyone with a Louisiana real estate license is an “agent,” but only those who are members of the National Association of Realtors are “realtors.” As becoming a realtor requires additional training and certification, make sure the agent you hire is also a realtor. (Reputable real estate companies like Athena require that all their agents maintain membership in the National Association of Realtors through a local chapter such as the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors.)
2. Education and experience matter. The barrier to entry to becoming a real estate agent in Louisiana is relatively low: you have to be 18 years old, have a high school degree or GED, take a 90-hour course (available online), and pass an exam. Compared to other professional certifications, this is an easy hurdle to jump, enticing droves of candidates to get their real estate licenses with the prospect of making substantial commissions. Unfortunately, with the floodgates open to all kinds of licensees, the quality of agents in Louisiana run the gambit—from highly-qualified, well-trained, and competent agents with professional degrees, to high-school dropouts who got their GED’s and passed the real estate exam only after failing it five times.
We don’t mean to say that a graduate degree is a pre-requisite to being a good real estate agent, and there are certainly agents out there without college degrees who have been very successful in the business. But, in our experience, education and experience do matter.
Thus, when you interview agents, ask how long they’ve been licensed. (And verify what they tell you by searching for their license information on the Louisiana Real Estate Commission’s licensee search page.) And ask about their educational background and work experience.
Because of the way real estate brokerages operate—with the brokerage taking a cut of every commission dollar an agent earns but paying the agent only when a deal closes—they have every incentive to take on any agent who walks through the door. For the brokerage, there is only financial up-side to taking on an agent who, despite being less-than-competent, might manage to squeeze in thousands of commission dollars a year. With the quality of agents on their roster so unpredictable, most real estate “brands” have little meaning to clients apart from the individual agents they hire.
But top real estate companies do things differently. At Athena, for instance, our doors are not open to any agent who has a license. To ensure quality representation of our clients, we interview and vet all candidates who want to join our team. And we bring on board only those who have the education and training necessary to be among the top real realtors in New Orleans. Above all, Athena agents must exhibit a high degree of professionalism and integrity.
3. Beware of an agent’s workload. Give a task to a busy person, and it’ll get done? Not necessarily.
Of course, one of the most significant factors to consider when choosing among the best New Orleans real estate agents is his or her experience and success in the industry. By and large, there is a reason why the “billboard” agents have been so successful in the industry: they have repeat clients because of a proven track record of success. But agents are human, and everyone has a breaking point where too heavy a workload causes the stretched-too-thin agent to lose focus on your deal—or pawn you off to an underling.
If you ask an agent whether he or she is too busy to focus on your deal, chances are you will be given a self-serving response: “of course not, you will be my top priority.” Agents not only sell houses but sell themselves, and acquiring your listing requires a strong pitch about how important you’ll be and how equipped the agent is to handle your listing.
The solution? Contact a referral service or reputable real estate brokerage who is in touch with each agent’s strengths and weaknesses, workloads, and personalities to ensure a good match with you and your deal. At Athena, we pride ourselves on strong central management and regularly give clients recommendations for agents who are best suited to a particular deal. Our clients then have the opportunity to interview candidates and select the best fit among the best agents New Orleans has to offer.
4. Understand team structures. On a related note, well-informed home buyers and sellers need to understand how real estate “teams” work. In Louisiana, realtors are allowed to form “teams” who work cooperatively together to service clients’ needs. Each team ordinarily has a leader who assigns work on deals to agents under his or her supervision.
Often, team leaders are the “face” of the team—on billboards, in social media, and generally in marketing to clients—but most of the work is done by other team members. Like someone hurt in a car accident who hires a “billboard” lawyer but is then pawned off to another attorney, clients who hire mega-agent Tammy Smith may be surprised when they don’t hear from her again until the closing (if there is one).
Don’t misunderstand: teams can be very effective. If well-organized and not overworked, a team structure can allow agents to be highly responsive to clients’ needs and effective in their representation. It’s just a double-edged sword; what can make a team structure great—defined roles among team members—can also allow the “leader” you hire to take ride-out your deal in the back seat.
Well-managed real estate companies like Athena mitigate against this “down-side” of team structures by supervising agents’ workloads and matching the right agents with the right clients. Unlike some individual agents—who fight for every listing no matter if it’s the right fit for the client—top New Orleans realty companies develop management structures that foster “win-win” relationships among the brokerage, agents, and their clients.
5. Insist on robust social media marketing. Like it or not, social media is here to stay. If you have any doubt about this, just check out this site on the pervasiveness of social media usage in our country. Even if you’re not a fan of social media, it’s beyond dispute that social media offers fertile ground for marketing real estate listings. In fact, the “reach” of social media advertising (number of views per marketing dollar spent) blows print advertising out of the water. And with the ability to target particular areas, demographics, and people likely to buy or sell a home, the pin-point accuracy of social media marketing is unparalleled.
In the real estate industry, however, there is a gaping generational gap among agents dividing them into two categories: those who are super proficient in social media marketing, or those who don’t (or may as well not) do it at all. If you hire an agent in the latter category, you are selling yourself—and your wallet—short.
Best to know these types of things up-front: when interviewing a candidate make sure they are apt in social media marketing, and ask to see examples. Better yet, use only agents with real estate companies like Athena who train and require their salespeople to be proficient in social media marketing.
With so many real estate agents “hanging their shingles” in the New Orleans area, it can be difficult to sort through the pack to find one of the best. But by considering the guiding principles outlined in this article, you can strike out the vast majority of agents who simply won’t pass muster.
At Athena, we ensure quality representation by screening candidates and working only with competent, qualified real estate agents. Among our agents are lawyers, MBA graduates, and other qualified professionals. And, taking nothing for granted, we require that our agents undergo training and keep a close eye on the transactions agents with our brokerage are handling.
To learn more about Athena or be matched with a candidate who best fits your transaction, give us a call and ask for one of the owners. We’ll work with you to find the best fit among our top agents.