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Real Estate Agent 101: All Of Your Questions Answered

Real Estate Showing House

Navigating a fast changing real estate market like Birmingham, AL requires the objectivity, experience, and knowhow of a professional. Whether you’re buying or selling a home in the city, you can greatly benefit from the services of a Realtor.

We explore below what a Realtor does and the benefits of hiring one in your real estate transaction.

An overview of the Birmingham real estate market

The real estate market in Birmingham is highly dynamic. From 2020 to 2022, the market has seen tremendous growth, with home prices rising by around 25% from August, 2020 to July, 2022.

In early 2023, however, economic factors, particularly the significant increase in interest rates, affected most real estate markets in the country including Birmingham. This led to market corrections as home prices gradually went down from their all time highs to more affordable levels.

From a seller’s market, Birmingham is now considered a balanced market where the supply of homes more or less equals the demand. In June, 2023 however, the average price of homes sold in the city far exceeded the average listing price, indicating that the demand for real estate in Birmingham remains strong.

In such a fast paced market, predicting trends and making the right decisions can be difficult. It’s easy to make mistakes that can lead to lost opportunities or additional costs, especially when you don’t have the right training and experience in real estate. This is why the services of a real estate agent are critical.

What is a real estate agent and what do they do?

In a nutshell, real estate agents are licensed professionals who represent buyers or sellers in a real estate transaction. They can also represent landlords, property owners, or tenants in the rental process.

Real estate agents can work independently or as part of a brokerage. In most states, including Alabama, they can act as dual agents, representing both the seller and buyer in one transaction.

How are agents paid?

Agents are typically paid through commissions, which are usually computed as a percentage of the home’s sale price. The standard real estate commission fee is 6% of the sale price, and if there’s a separate buying and selling agent, this amount is split between them.

In most transactions, sellers are responsible for paying agents’ commissions.

A Realtor invests considerable time and resources to completing a transaction on behalf of their clients. In doing so, they’re bound by law to observe their fiduciary duty or legal obligations to their client, which include the following:

  • Loyalty

    Real estate agents are expected to act in the best interests of their clients and prioritize those interests above their own. This means avoiding any conflicts of interest and always working in the client’s favor.

  • Disclosure

    Agents must disclose all relevant information they possess that could impact the client’s decision-making process. This includes disclosing any known facts about the property or about the transaction that may influence the client’s decisions.

  • Confidentiality

    Agents are required to maintain the confidentiality of their clients’ personal and financial information, unless they have obtained the client’s consent to disclose certain information or are legally obligated to do so.

  • Reasonable care and skill

    Realtors are expected to exercise reasonable care, skill, and diligence when representing their clients. This involves staying informed about market trends, property conditions, and other relevant factors that may affect the client’s interests.

  • Obedience

    Real estate agents must follow their clients’ lawful instructions and act according to their wishes, as long as those instructions do not conflict with any laws or regulations. They cannot make decisions regarding a sale without the consent of their client.

  • Accounting

    Agents have a responsibility to handle their clients’ funds and documents with care and accuracy. They should keep clear and accurate records of all financial transactions related to the client’s property or funds.

What is the difference between a Realtor and a real estate agent?

In your research about real estate, you may have come across the terms “real estate agent” and “realtor”, and often, you’ll notice that these two terms are used interchangeably. But there’s a subtle difference between the two.

As discussed, a real estate agent is a licensed professional who helps clients buy, sell, or rent properties. They are knowledgeable about the local real estate market and provide assistance throughout the transaction process.

On the other hand, a Realtor is a real estate agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a professional organization for real estate agents in the United States. Realtors adhere to a strict code of ethics and are committed to upholding high professional standards. They often have access to additional resources, tools, and educational opportunities provided by the NAR.

Being a member of the NAR, Realtors have the designation of REALTOR®, or simply Realtor (with a capital “R”) and are expected to conduct themselves ethically and professionally. They pledge to follow the NAR’s Code of Ethics, which includes duties such as acting in the best interest of their clients, providing honest and accurate information, and maintaining client confidentiality.

While both real estate agents and Realtors assist clients in buying or selling properties, being a Realtor signifies a commitment to a higher level of professionalism and ethical conduct.

What are the benefits of hiring a Realtor in buying a home?

Excited Expectant Couple

If you’re buying a home in Birmingham, a Realtor can help you find the right home and close the sale faster than if you were to do it on your own. It is the agent’s job to dedicate as much time as needed to attending to your needs, from finding the property that meets your criteria to negotiating with the client and facilitating the closing process.

These are the things a real estate agent does to help you find and own the home of your dreams.

  • Understanding your needs

    A trustworthy Realtor will listen carefully to your requirements, preferences, and budgetary constraints to gain a clear understanding of what you are looking for in a home.

  • Providing market information

    The right Realtor has thorough knowledge of the local real estate market. They will provide you with relevant information such as current listings, recent sales data, neighborhood trends, and market conditions to help you make informed decisions.

  • Property search and showings

    Your Realtor will assist you in finding suitable properties that match your criteria. They conduct searches, screen listings, and schedule property showings. They should be knowledgeable about the features and amenities of each property and answer any questions you may have.

    One of the top benefits of hiring a Realtor is access to their network, which typically includes other real estate agents in the area. Your agent will use this network to learn about properties for sale that are not advertised on public listing sites, increasing your pool of potential properties.

  • Negotiating offers

    Realtors play a crucial role in negotiating offers on behalf of their clients. They will help you prepare competitive offers, present them to the sellers or their agents, and engage in back-and-forth negotiations to achieve the best possible terms for you.

  • Managing documentation

    Your Realtor will guide you through the documentation process, including purchase agreements, disclosures, inspection reports, and mortgage paperwork. They will ensure that all necessary documents are completed accurately and in a timely manner.

  • Coordinating inspections and due diligence

    Your agent will assist you in arranging property inspections, surveys, and other due diligence activities. They will help you understand the significance of inspection reports and negotiate repairs or credits based on inspection findings.

  • Facilitating communication

    Realtors act as intermediaries between buyers and sellers, as well as other professionals involved in the transaction, such as lenders, attorneys, and inspectors. Your agent will keep all parties informed, relay messages, and address concerns to ensure smooth communication throughout the process.

  • Closing the transaction

    Your real estate agent will guide you through the closing process, coordinating with all relevant parties, such as title companies and attorneys. They will review closing documents, explain their content, and ensure that all necessary signatures and funds are in place for a successful closing.

What are the benefits of hiring a Realtor in selling your home?

Real Estate Agent Doing a Virtual Showing

In any kind of market, a Realtor plays a crucial role in making sure you sell your property fast and at the highest price. With their expertise, your agent can price and market your home effectively, and oversee the entire process to relieve you of the stress that comes with home selling.

Here’s what a Realtor does to ensure a successful home sale:

  • Property pricing and market analysis

    Your Realtor will assist you in determining an appropriate listing price for your property. They conduct a comparative market analysis (CMA) to evaluate recent sales data of similar properties in the area to help you understand the market value of your home and set a competitive price.

  • Marketing and advertising

    Realtors develop and implement comprehensive marketing strategies to promote the property to potential buyers. This may involve creating professional listing descriptions, taking high-quality photographs or videos, advertising on multiple platforms (online and offline), conducting open houses, and utilizing their professional networks to reach a wide audience.

    Your Realtor is also responsible for listing your property on the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) as well as other relevant platforms to give it maximum exposure. They ensure that the listing information is accurate, compelling, and includes all relevant details about the property.

  • Property preparation and staging

    Before putting your home on the market, your Realtor will do a walkthrough of the property with you to identify and suggest home improvements, repairs, or staging techniques that can enhance the appeal of the property and attract more buyers. They can recommend a professional home stager or work with you if you want to take the DIY route.

  • Showings and open houses

    Your agent will coordinate and schedule property showings for potential buyers and their agents. They may also recommend open houses to allow interested individuals to view the property and answer any questions they may have.

  • Negotiating offers

    Realtors represent sellers during the negotiation process. They review and evaluate purchase offers, advise you on potential counteroffers, and negotiate favorable terms and conditions on your behalf.

  • Assisting with contract and documentation

    Your Realtor will help you understand the legal and contractual aspects of the transaction. They will guide you through the paperwork, including sales contracts, disclosure forms, and other relevant documents, ensuring they are completed accurately and in compliance with local regulations.

  • Coordinating inspections and repairs

    Your agent will coordinate and schedule property inspections and assist in interpreting the results. If repairs or negotiations are necessary based on inspection findings, the agent will work with the buyer’s agent to reach an agreement that satisfies both parties.

  • Facilitating communication

    A Realtor will act as the intermediary between you and the buyers, as well as other professionals involved in the transaction. They maintain open lines of communication, relay messages, and address concerns promptly, ensuring effective and efficient communication throughout the selling process.

  • Closing the transaction

    Along with the buyer’s agent, your agent will facilitate the closing process, working closely with title companies, attorneys, and other relevant parties. They will review closing documents, make sure you understand their content, and ensure that all necessary signatures and documentation are in order for a seamless closing.

How to find the right real estate agent

Realtor Interviewing Couple

Finding the right buying or listing agent is very important in the success of your transaction. But who’s the right real estate agent for you? While many Realtors in Birmingham are qualified to represent you, the right professional is one you feel most comfortable with and one you can fully trust.

That said, there are basic qualities to look for in a Realtor to give you the assurance that you are working with a trusted professional. These include:

  • Experience and expertise

    Assess the agent’s experience in the real estate industry, particularly in your local market. Look for an agent who has a proven track record of successful transactions and possesses knowledge about the neighborhoods and property types you are interested in.

  • Reputation and references

    Research the agent’s reputation and seek references from past clients. Reading online reviews or asking for referrals can provide insights into their professionalism, communication skills, and ability to meet clients’ expectations.

  • Market knowledge

    A good real estate agent should have a deep understanding of the local market conditions, including current trends, property values, inventory levels, and recent sales data. Their market knowledge will help you make informed decisions throughout the process.

  • Communication and availability

    Consider how effectively the agent communicates and their availability to assist you. Clear and timely communication is crucial for a smooth real estate transaction. Ensure the agent is responsive, attentive, and willing to keep you informed every step of the way.

  • Negotiation skills

    Assess the agent’s negotiation skills and their ability to advocate for your interests. A skilled negotiator can help you achieve the best possible terms and price for your property or purchase.

  • Marketing and advertising strategies

    Evaluate the agent’s marketing and advertising strategies. They should have a strong online presence, utilize various marketing channels, and have a plan to effectively promote your property or search for suitable listings.

  • Compatibility and trust

    Building a good rapport with your real estate agent is important since you will be working closely together. Trust your instincts and ensure you feel comfortable discussing your needs, concerns, and financial matters with them.

  • Professionalism and ethics

    Look for an agent who operates with professionalism, adheres to a strict code of ethics, and conducts themselves in a manner that aligns with your values and expectations.

  • Fees and terms

    Discuss the agent’s fees, commission structure, and any additional costs involved. Understand their terms and make sure they are transparent about all financial aspects of the transaction.

  • Specializations and resources

    Consider whether the agent has any specialization or access to resources that are relevant to your specific requirements. This could include expertise in luxury properties, investment properties, or specific neighborhoods.

Tips on finding the right Realtor

Here are some tips on how to find a Birmingham Realtor who’s a good fit for you.

  • Ask for referrals from friends and family who have recently completed a real estate transaction.
  • Search the internet for potential Realtors and pay attention to reviews and feedback on the way they work.
  • Shortlist potential Realtors and talk to each one on the list so you can get a feel of who you’re most comfortable with.
  • During your interview with a Realtor, don’t be afraid to ask questions, including what may seem like difficult ones.
  • Ask each candidate for a list of former clients that you can talk to, and take the time to talk to these clients to learn about their experience in working with the Realtor.

Ensure success in your real estate transaction with Sold by the Bell

Sold by the Bell is the #1 Team in Keller Williams Hoover for 2020 and the #1 Single Agent for 2019 – and it’s all because of our commitment to provide every client with dedicated service, as well as our drive to make sure they achieve their real estate goals. We strive to make every transaction fun and seamless for our clients while we work hard behind the scenes to guarantee a smooth closing.

Our founder and broker Meredith Bell is a proud local who is very active in the community and knows the Birmingham real estate market inside and out. If you’re looking for the right Realtor to represent you and look after your best interest at all times, the Sold by the Bell team are the professionals to call.

Get in touch with us today at 205.440.0860 or send us an email here.