Watch out for red flags
Staying alert to potential red flags — and paying attention to your gut instincts — will help you avoid problems down the line. Here are a few red flags you should specifically be on the lookout for.
Refusing to work with you until you have a pre-approval letter
A good agent should have deep connections in the mortgage world and be able to help you find the right lender. They should also be able to help you get a sense of the market while you do pre-approval paperwork with your bank.
If an agent won't talk with you about the market or take you to see some homes before you have a pre-approval letter, find someone else.
Pressuring you to sign extended contracts
Most agents will ask you to sign a contract that gives them exclusive rights to represent you. The idea behind this is fair enough: The agent doesn't want to do the work of helping you find a home only to have you have another agent make the offer — and get the commission. In addition, in many states, the agent is working for the seller when they show you a home — unless they've signed a buyer's agreement with you.
That said, those contracts don't have to be long-term. To start, it's wise to start with a shorter period of time —a weekend, a week, a month — at least to start. If an agent you have no experience with is pressuring to sign a 3-month, 6-month, or even year-long contract, it's wise to walk away.
Once you sign a contract, it can be hard to break, and you're often on the hook for a commission to the agent if you buy any home during the contract period — even if it's not one the agent showed to you. This can effectively shut you out of the housing market for the contract's duration if you sign with an agent who turns out to be a dud.
Not answering your questions
Your agent should be able to openly and clearly address any questions you have about a property, provided you've signed an agreement with them for them to represent you. That's why it's so critical that the initial contract you sign with them be for a limited time and/or a specific property. If you've signed the proper papers and the agent is still dancing around key questions, it's time to get out.
Unwilling to write up an offer for you
Your agent may not like the terms you're offering. They may think you should offer more money, or fewer contingencies, or a faster closing time. But ultimately, their job is to advise you — and then write up an offer that accurately reflects what you want to offer.
Chemistry and personal compatibility
While you may luck out on finding a home the first weekend you go house hunting, the average home buyer spends more than 4 months shopping1 for a home. After that, your agent will be shepherding you through the inspection, mortgage, and closing process, which typically takes one to two months. That's why chemistry and personal compatibility are a critical part of the equation when choosing a real estate agent. If you don't click with your agent, shop around until you find the one that's right for you.
Is the agent a source of good referrals?
Many properties you'll look at will need some work. Perhaps the roof is nearing the end of its useful life, or the outlets need to be grounded, or you'd love the house — if only it had a second bathroom. Who can you contact to get an estimate during the inspection period? First-time homeowners and newcomers to an area are unlikely to have deep connections in the home renovation and repair world.
A good realtor should be able to give you a short list of recommendations for any housing-related needs. If the realtor tells you to just "Google it," it's probably time to find a realtor who's a better fit for you.
Finding a lender
But good referrals go beyond pointing you to the right contractors. Especially f you're a first-time home-buyer, you'll likely need some guidance finding a lender who can work with your particular financial situation. A good realtor should be able to point you to lenders who can make loans to people with low down payments or less than stellar credit. Such loans include FHA loans, USDA loans (for people buying a town of under 15,000 people), and VA loans (for veterans).
Not every bank offers specialized, government-backed mortgages like FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans -- but approved banks like Synovus do. Drop by your local Synovus branch to learn more about whether you qualify for an FHA, USDA, or VA loan.