Our annual guide to the hottest 'hoods in town (look closely, there are some surprises in there). PLUS: The changing definition of "location, location, location," four things to do when looking for a Realtor, and why now is (perhaps) the best time to buy in a generation.
Popping the Questions
Think you can do it on your own? Perhaps you can. But if you're seeking a pro, here's what to look for in a Realtor.
The local housing market's cautious revival is stirring buyers and sellers from their fretful slumber of the past few years, hopefully armed with new wisdom they've gleaned from the crisis. Local real estate agents say they've already noticed a difference in their clients. "The overall mentality is a lot more realistic; people are finally realizing that they can no longer use their home as a checkbook," says Kentwood City Properties' Liz Richards. "Sellers are realizing that if they want to sell, they need to put more weight into their agents' opinions than they did before. During the boom, they thought a monkey could do our job." She says the housing downturn winnowed many part-time pretenders from the realty field and also convinced people of the value of having a true pro to help buy or sell a home. Even so, the quality of Realtors and lenders still varies widely, so it's crucial to know how to find a good one.
- Ask your friends There isn't a centralized resource for Realtor info the way there is for doctors or lawyers, so get recommendations from people who've either bought or sold a house.
- Interview agents Find out how long they have been in business and where they specialize. "You want someone who's done a lot of business in the area you're looking in, because you'll be in the same mindset," says Sandy Murphy-Colohan, a managing broker with Keller Williams. "And they should have plenty of experience, someone who won't be weeks into the process saying, 'Oops, I forgot something.' "
- Trust your instincts It's all about the vibe. "People have a pretty good barometer for authenticity and chemistry," Richards says, "whether they realize it or not."
- Listen Once you've settled on an agent, pay attention to what they say. This is especially important for sellers, who often let emotions dictate their perception of how much their homes are worth. "People have these understandable attachments to their homes, but the market doesn't lie; your place is only worth what people will pay for it," Richards says. "I've turned down many listings from people who weren't going to take my advice on price; it's just not worth my time and effort. I love coming in as a client's second or third agent, because I know they'll listen to me after having been humbled."