Choosing a local real estate agent abroad can be a tough task. However, by using an experienced, licensed agent and being mindful of fees, you can set yourself up for the best possible experience. Learn 10 helpful tips in this full article by Pathfinder International.
When you’re buying a property overseas, you’ll often end up using a local real estate agent. But you need to choose a good one—and avoid dealing with an inexperienced or unscrupulous one. Here are my top tips on finding a decent real estate agent abroad. It’s not foolproof, but it should weed out most of the cowboys.
#1. Firstly, use more than one agent. Outside North America, you won’t find many countries with an MLS (Multiple Listing Service). You’ll usually need more than one real estate agent to help you find your dream property, as each agent has their own listings. And you should ask the same questions of each agent—market information such as rental yield, permit requirements, or average price per square foot. Compare answers. If you get the same ballpark figures each time, that’s a good sign. Wide variations—in rental yield, for example—means you need to investigate further.
#2. Use an agent with training & experience. Most overseas real estate agents don’t have formal training, qualifications or affiliations you can check. But you should still look for an agent with a good track record…one who’s been in the business for a while. Ask how long your agent has worked as an agent, and if he is full or part time. And then ask about track record. Try to find out how many properties have they sold…how many happy buyers they have…and whether those buyers will vouch for them with a written recommendation.
#3. Use an agent who is licensed. In many countries, agents aren’t licensed, because there is no licensing system. The local butcher, or new expat can decide on a whim to start selling real estate. In some countries, there is a licensing system, but it’s not enforced. In countries such as Panama and Brazil, where they do have licensing, ask your broker for his license number. But don’t take that license as a guarantee: Licensed agents can still screw up…cost you money…and not have your best interests at heart. But at least you have a governing body to complain to.
#4. Keep in mind who the agent is working for. The concept of a sales agent working solely for the buyer for a fee is not the norm outside the US. Even if your agent tells you he is working for you as a buyer’s agent, he may still work for the seller and accept a fee. Remember, the fee is what the agent is working for…and whoever is paying the fee is who the agent is working for.
This brings us to commission/ fees…
#5. Know who is paying the commission—and how much it is. Always ask if it is included in the property purchase price or if it’s an additional charge on top. And find out who pays the real estate agent. In some countries, the seller pays. In others, both parties—the buyer and the seller—pay a fee. Make sure you’re not paying a fee that’s outside the norm, or being charged a commission that the seller should be paying.
#6. Don’t trust brand names. It’s easy to assume that a real estate chain you’re familiar with back home is the best option. But these brands are usually franchises—purchased with an eye to making a profit, and staffed by hired local agents. Don’t assume they’ll be any better than any other local real estate agent.
#7. Find an agent who specializes. When I asked one real estate agent to help me find a large oceanfront or beachfront parcel of land, with the potential of a six-figure commission, he immediately declined. His specialty lay elsewhere, he said, in productive farmland. He knew his market, he knew his stuff, and he wasn’t going to stray from it, even for a fat fee. That’s rare. Most agents would have jumped at the chance of the fee.
It’s better for you if your agent specializes in one specific area, or property type. He has a better chance of finding you the right property at the right price. And he can give you more accurate information on sales and pricing in that market—and that experience and judgment can help you make your buying decision.
#8. Find an agent with local ties. This helps. A n agent who has lived in the same area for years—who is married to a local, or running a generations-old family business, is more likely to give you good service. They have a reputation to keep. Not so the rootless agent that will move on at the first sign of trouble.
#9. Use a bilingual agent. If your agent speaks both English and the local language, he’ll have access to a wider range of properties, from locals. That usually means lower prices on re-sales. If your agent in Brazil doesn’t speak Portuguese, he may not even have access to new pre-construction deals from major developers, for example, as many of them don’t speak English.
#10. Be precise. This is a tip for you, not the agent. It helps your agent do the best job for you. Tell your agent exactly what you want…property size, location, what you plan on using it for, features you must have (single story, garden, close to a school or hospital). And be clear on your budget. That way, your agent is more likely to show you suitable properties. If you are clear and precise…and the agent is still getting it wrong…then walk away, and find another agent.
A good real estate agent is crucial. It can mean buying your dream home, rather than settling for a mediocre one…getting a great price rather than paying over true market value…and having a smooth property purchase rather than a stressful and complicated one. Spend some time vetting your agent before you commit to them—it’s worth it in the long run.
This article was republished with permission from Pathfinder International. You can also view this article at Pathfinder International, a site discussing international real estate opportunities.