When Shopping for Real Estate Professionals or Lenders, Get References!

When Shopping for Real Estate Professionals or Lenders, Get References!

The New York Attorney General publicized its recent sting operation. Conducted over the course of a year, the AG’s office caught 19 companies posting fake reviews to sites such as Yelp, Google Local and City Search. (See: Fake reviewers snared in NY Attorney General yogurt sting)

The AG’s office found that large and small businesses, including the family-owned bus company US Coachways, paid people outside of the U.S. to write bogus reviews, or they solicited people through Craigslist to write them.

Review sites can be helpful but . . .

You can learn quite a bit about a company’s products and services by reading review sites or the product reviews at retailer sites. Heck, I’ve not purchased things because of poor reviews.

But when it comes to hiring the experts involved with helping you buy or refinance your home (real estate agents, mortgage brokers or lenders, appraisers, home inspectors, etc.), it really pays to do your due diligence versus relying on review sites – for two reasons:

  • One, as the NY AG’s sting operation shows, you have no idea if the reviews you’re reading are from satisfied customers.
  • Two, buying or refinancing a home is a stressful process. You want to be sure you find the right people who know what they’re doing and who can solve any unexpected issue – calmly and efficiently.

For these reasons, you want to check out people carefully using the following three-step process.

Step One: Ask for referrals from people you know

Ask friends, family and co-workers for the names of people they’ve worked with in the past. If you’re active on LinkedIn, you can also ask your professional network for names of people.

To keep your information in one place, create a simple Excel spreadsheet where you can record people’s contact information such as business name, phone number and email. Also note any feedback you received about the person being referred.

How many names should you get? The standard answer is “three,” but you can ask for as many people as you like. I do recommend, however that you get more than two names so that you get a good mix of people.

One note: Don’t be swayed by your neighbor or family member gushing about an agent or other professional who is “the best!” and then foregoing your due diligence. It may turn out that this person isn’t right for you.

Step Two: Interview people

If you’d like to compare “apples to apples,” make a checklist of what you’re looking for with regard to your professional before you make any calls. If you’re looking for a home inspector, for example, your checklist might include:

  • How many years in business?
  • What are your credentials and can I see them?
  • Are you a member of a state or national association?
  • Can I see a sample report?
  • Do you have three references you can give me?
  • What is your Website URL?
  • What is your BBB rating?

Make a copy of your checklist and use it for each person you interview – this way, you’re sure to ask the same questions of each person. Having one checklist for each person also makes it easy to keep track of your notes.

Step 3: Check references

Once you’ve concluded your interviews, choose the top three people you believe look promising and check their references. Most people are very happy to tell you their experiences with an agent, lender or service provider, so don’t be afraid to call and ask.

Questions you might want to ask include:

  • Did this person do what they promised?
  • Did you run into any problems and how were they resolved?
  • Would you use this person again? Why or why not?

In addition to checking references, you can also call the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed.

Also check the person’s Website – many professionals and service providers will place their BBB rating on their sites. For example, Meridian has an A+ rating with the BBB. This rating cannot be “gamed” as the rating you see comes directly from the BBB.

Once you’ve checked references, you should feel pretty confident choosing your agent, home inspector or lender / broker – knowing you did your due diligence!