Tips for working with a realtor while searching for your perfect vacation cabin.

By Nancy Cain

This property is on the Chain of Lakes in central Wisconsin.  Photo by Mark R. Johnson

This property is on the Chain of Lakes in central Wisconsin. Photo by Mark R. Johnson

A real estate agent can be your greatest asset … or your biggest obstacle in finding the perfect vacation home. When you go to a physician with a sore throat, you expect to be helped. The same is true for most any other type of service provider like lawyers, therapists, consultants and the like.

But when you walk into a real estate agency as a buyer, the agent is not working for you – unless you specifically enter into a signed agreement for the agent to represent you. That’s a key point.

You may establish a chummy relationship with the agent after spending days, even weeks, driving around from one vacation property to the next. Under those conditions, it may seem like he or she is working for you, but that’s simply not the case. Any information you disclose, casually or not, can be used in negotiations to the seller’s advantage.

Remember, the moment you walk into a real estate office, send an e-mail to an agent or place a phone call, the negotiations have begun.

It’s important to understand the cast of characters. Specifics vary by state, but it goes basically like this. First there’s the real estate agent who’s passed a licensing test and will act as a marketer, match-maker and paperwork guru. But before agents can go and unlock their first key box, they’re required to register their license under the license of a real estate broker. Brokers have held an agent’s license for one or more years, taken more classes and have a supervisory role over the agent.

Before engaging the services of an agent, do your homework and get a clear idea of what you want. Start with the real estate ads in the back of this magazine – or cruise the Internet where over 3 million homes are listed. Look for properties in your area and price range that appeal to you. Note the name of the listing agencies, and go to their individual real estate brokerage sites to view all their listings. Very quickly, you’ll discover patterns or specialties. Read biographical information on the broker’s agents to get a feel for the firm’s culture. Go with the brokerage firm whose listings and agents seem to be most consistent with your needs.

Unfortunately, most people “pick” their real estate agent inadvertently when they call an agency about a listing. In that case, the agent is definitely not working for you. And while it is hard to move on once you have begun to work with an agent, don’t be afraid to do so if signing a broker agreement doesn’t feel right. Buying your dream cabin is serious business, after all.

Searching for an Agent

What to look for in an agent before you sign on the dotted line:

• An agent who listens will make the search process a lot easier if he or she hears you and matches properties to your requirements.

• An energetic problemsolver can help you find what you want … or else create it. It is rare for buyers and sellers to come together without a hitch.

• An agent with compatible values and personality will make the vacation house search, which may be a long process, a more bearable one. Ask yourself “Would I be willing to spend four hours stuck in an airplane with this person?”

• An agent who is organized will use your time as efficiently as possible. How long does it take for the agent to respond to your inquiries?

Nancy Cain is a former real estate agent who specialized in the sale of Vermont vacation homes.