It’s not quite a marriage, but the relationship homebuyers and sellers have with their real estate brokers and agents is immensely important—especially in a fast-moving, tight market the North Shore is currently experiencing.
Whether you’re putting your home on the market or seeking to upgrade to a new home that meets your family’s evolving demands, you need a seasoned professional who not only know how to price your home for sale (or what to offer if you’re buying) but also how to stage it, market it, and close the deal. However, much like any relationship, finding the right match isn’t always easy.
“The keys to any relationship are communication, trust, and honesty, and the same rings true for real estate,” says Kelly Rynes, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Chicago in Glenview. “You are going to be in the thick of it together, and while you may have a few tight spots along the way, experience and a high-level of service matter. If you partner with a strong, strategic agent you will succeed.”
Gloria Matlin, a broker with Compass in Winnetka, says it’s important to hire an agent that isn’t just dabbling in real estate or trying to pivot to real estate from a career in another field.
“Buyers should make sure their agent is fulltime, available, and looking at private listings,” Matlin says. “Sellers are hopefully not looking at who you work for but what the agent’s track record is and how you interact as a partner to get your home marketed and sold.”
Marketing a property goes beyond just having a sound advertising strategy, says Milena Birov, a broker with Heritage Luxury Homes and @ properties in Winnetka.
“Sellers should ask which advertising resources the realtor has available through the realtor’s company and what the realtor’s personal input will be into the listing,” Birov says. “But they should also ask how the realtor can make the house more attractive to prospective buyers, such as de-clogging and staging.”
Experience in both the real estate business and the North Shore market, especially an agent who understands market trends in the area, is also something potential buyers and sellers should pay close attention to.
“How many years a broker has been in the business, average market times, and if a broker is willing to walk you through the process are important,” says Noah Levy, a broker with Engel & Völkers in Winnetka. “A buyer should partner with a broker who is well-versed in their areas of interest and has good relationships with other brokers, as homes are often sold premarket.”
According to Patti Skerving, a broker with The Skirving Group and Compass in Winnetka, there may be some less obvious questions that buyers and sellers should think about asking potential agents that might help narrow their search.
Skirving says potential clients should inquire about whether an agent will be available 24/7, how strong their negotiating skills are (and what negotiating techniques they use), how many repeat clients they’ve represented, and how other agents describe them and what they admire.
“Brokers need to be problem solvers, helping their clients understand the issues and concerns that might arise and resolve them—all the while keeping clients’ best interests in mind,” Skirving says. “There has to be a trusting relationship between the client and the broker and that involves time, knowledge, constant communication, respect, and genuine care.”
Lori Baker and Alissa McNicholas, the mother daughter broker team with Baker McNicholas Group and Compass in Lake Forest, both say integrity is the basis for a strong bond between brokers and clients.
“The key to a successful relationship is communication, and being forthright and transparent from the very beginning,” McNicholas says. “Have the difficult conversations early, even if it might not be what clients want to hear.”
“You must feel comfortable with the agent you choose,” Baker says. “After all, you will be spending time together and you need to be able to be open with each other during the process.”
While the market may have heated up, Louise Eichelberger, a broker with @properties in Winnetka, says that’s not really a factor.
“It’s the same way you shop for an agent in any market. Look for a broker who is currently active and understands what’s happening in real time,” says Eichelberger. “Find someone who is familiar with the general market but also specific markets, who can give you good advice, and with whom you have a good rapport.”
Beth Wexler and Joey Gault of The Wexler Gault Group, both brokers with @properties in Highland Park, emphasize that knowledge about the local markets extends beyond just what you know.
It’s also about who you know. “Clients come to us because they trust our expertise and knowledge of the communities we sell in,” Wexler says. “We are a local resource for them beyond the scope of the home search.”
“We have an extensive referral network with all of the trades we work with,” adds Gault. “They come to us for everything from where to get a manicure to a doctor to a painter. Relationships are the foundation of our business and we strive to make lasting connections.”
Ted Pickus, a broker with @properties in Highland Park, believes the best way to build a solid relationship with clients is to attend all showings and gather feedback.
“I feel it is critical to attend all showings that are requested on my listings. If someone hires me to sell their house, I feel it is my responsibility to be there when potential buyers come through,” Pickus says. “Not just to educate them about the house but also the neighborhood and community the house is located in.”
Sellers should also inquire about marketing and how an agent plans to get information out about their listing. They should ask any potential agent for a detailed marketing plan and the types of marketing platforms the agent’s company might offer, whether it be a 3D video tour or campaigns on social media.
“A seller should focus on marketing and how a broker intends to market the home, both virtually and through print advertising,” says Carly Jones, a broker with Engel & Völkers in Chicago. “How will they advertise the neighborhood and amenities? A buyer should focus on networking and how the broker finds properties … not just on the MLS.”
While virtual marketing has become critical for sellers and their agents, Brad W. Andersen, Designated Managing Broker with GGL Realtors in Lake Forest, says it has revolutionized how buyers approach retaining an agent. But he issues a word of caution.
“Buyers are very educated and do an incredible amount of research on their own long before engaging a broker,” Andersen says. “They search on all the national websites but buyers searching on those sites need to know the intent is to secure buyers and sell those leads to subscribers. Brokers advertising on those sites may not be the most qualified candidates.”
While sellers in particular might feel a bit overwhelmed with all of the various factors and issues they need to think about when selecting an agent, Maxine Goldberg, a broker with Engels & Völkers in Chicago, says not to negate the role of gut instinct.
“Not to be overly cute, but it is like a first date; something clicks, or it doesn’t. If it does, you know and can tell a mutually rewarding relationship has started to grow, and that pertains to both buyers and sellers,” Goldberg says. “Sellers need to be comfortable that their advisor understands the personality of their home and can communicate those qualities in a genuine and positive manner with passion and belief, so that it translates to the buyer.”
In a boom market, tapping that old tried and true referral network of friends can come in handy, especially for buyers and sellers that are on a tight timeline and might not have a lot of time on their hands to research a large number of potential brokers.
“Searching for a broker in a tight market is essential. Check with friends and family to see what broker they would refer,” says Jody Dickstein, a broker with @properties in Glenview. “Look at how many years they’ve had as a broker and their sales. It’s important that a broker knows the market well and has loads of experience in that town.”
As the market on the North Shore shows no signs of slowing down just yet, those looking to buy or sell have more information and pricing indicators than they’ve had in a decade. Seasoned brokers will know how to analyze the data and help clients get the most for their house or buy a house at an equitable price. But it’s also more than just the data.
“Many times, clients will ask me if I know what is happening at a certain listing and because I’m visiting Tuesday and Sunday open houses and staying on top of the market. Many times, I have already been in the house in question and know the background on it,” says Laura Fitzpatrick, a broker with @properties in Wilmette.
But at the end of the day, Fitzpatrick and her colleagues agree on one nonnegotiable secret to any successful client-broker/ agent relationship—trust.
“A good relationship between clients and brokers is one based on trust, transparency, and constant communication,” she says. “Not all news will be good news, but with good communication and trust a client and their broker can navigate a purchase or sale together.”