How To Pick An Agent: The No BS Guide

Elly Lee @GoodPlaceHQ

Just yesterday we have signed up the 130th agent through our GoodLeads program. That’s not a big number, but I’ve deliberately under-promote it for one simple reason: an agent has got to be pretty self-selective in order to apply to join. And of course, agents who are already in the program would normally STFU about it because let’s face it – this is a dog-eat-dog industry, and agents want to hoard all the good leads for themselves.

The truth is that there are enough leads to go around; we have now more than 10,000 subscribers to the GoodPlace Digest (a large majority of these should be home buyers as one would assume), and we serve some 35,000 to 40,000 visitors a month, and then some. While these numbers would seem encouraging for most startups (or get laughed at by, say, an industry mammoth like iProperty), I am somewhat hoping to throttle the growth a little (heresy, I know) because I still want to have some leftover time to spend with my three toddlers at home in the evening and over the weekends. And also to catch up with my reading, writing (yes, I write about other things too apart from property) and play my old trusty RG470. \m/

We have now processed some 700+ lead queries (count ’em!), and  having worked with so many agents for the past year or so, I can now spot patterns which could be used to distinguish the good agents from the, well, bad ones. Given the “cowboy” nature of the Malaysia property industry, it’s quite inevitable to have a good portion of agents who would hustle harder than the norm to chase the deal; for these agents the line between what’s ethical and what’s not are frequently crossed with reckless abandon.

And of course, I don’t claim that we are the best platform for connecting buyers with agents and sellers (surprise, surprise); in fact, indeed, GoodPlace is ill-suited for certain kinds of people with these very specific circumstances:-

  1. Buyers on a budget who can’t find what they want and hoped that I could perform miracles for them (sorry, I can’t do central Mont Kiara for $350,000)
  2. Agents who are ill-prepared to service my buyers and answer questions ranging from basic (“What’s the maintenance fee?”) to intermediate (“What’s the walkability of this condo?”) and advanced (“What’s the incoming supply into this area, and how will the sub sale prices move?”)
  3. Agencies, PR outfits and developers who want free advertising (“Khai Yin, your service is free, right!??”)

Indeed, agents who thrive within GoodPlace are those who can cope with the demands of our buyers (who are typically more meticulous and knowledgeable than the average Joseph). Our best performing agent is a testament to this; he managed to close deals worth more than $14,000,000 in six months from GoodPlace alone (read his incredible story here).

Agents Turning Rogue

Here’s a caveat, however:- while I do my best to screen the agents I accept into GoodLeads (I interview them face-to-face personally at the HackerHub as many as I can), I can’t possibly guarantee that they don’t turn rogue the time they get leads from me. Indeed, there were a couple who I had to kick out after I received complaints from my home buyers about their shenanigans (bait and switch scams, mostly).

I have compiled this list of seven filters that I use to qualify my agents and also to home buyers who have requested DealMatcher assistance to further filter the agents that we provide them. Feel free to use this list to guide your selection of agents whom you meet through GoodPlace or elsewhere:-

  1. Specialist in either an area (i.e. KLCC) or a niche (i.e. upmarket properties) or audience (i.e. buyer-tenants or serial investors). Poorer agents usually are the “tell me what you need and I’ll go get it for you” garden variety.
  2. Years of experience. This heuristic matters more than most would imagine. Given the ruthlessness of the Malaysia property industry, poor agents get weeded out very quickly (weeks or months, not years). Experience means longevity; agents with a long track record do things right. Usually.
  3. Full time. Beware of the part-time negotiator who doubles up as an insurance agent cum MLM peddler while maintaining a day job as an IT server salesman on weekdays and Low Yat Plaza hand phone seller on weekends.
  4. Transparency. I frequently ask agents about the transactions that they have made in the past six months. The better ones will proudly share their sales numbers, although you have got to get your BS detector up for obvious reasons.
  5. Custom solutions. A good agent will first “size up” the buyer (first time buyer vs seasoned investor), and for good reason. Having a one-size-fits-all approach is the mark of an amateur agent.
  6. Consulting. A good agent is more than merely a matchmaker between the buyer and the seller. S/he must be knowledgeable across all the aspects of the sale: from area expertise to mortgage programs.
  7. Referrals. A good agent will proudly provide a list of clients who would happily vouch for them.

On the other hand, we found the following factors to be largely irrelevant when it comes to selecting agents:-

  1. Agency brand. I have found zero correlation between agent performance and the agency’s brand.
  2. Agency size. See the above. In fact, I have wondered how the bigger outfits with thousands of negotiators maintain quality especially when the ratio of principal to negotiators is in the region of ~1:100 (or worse).
  3. Listings. I used to prefer work with agents who have first-hand access to listings without having to co-broke, but no longer since it’s impossible for individual agents to maintain a large database of inventory without, well, going bonkers. A good agent will go knock on doors and find what the client wants.

For further reading: here are some of the guides that we have published about further qualifying and dealing with agents which you will find useful:-

  1. How To Spot Dodgy Agents In Three Seconds Flat
  2. How To Deal With Agents – An Insider’s Guide
  3. Property Workout Plan (includes a PDF download which you can use to get an agent to fill out for you)

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About Khai Yin

When I am not writing for GoodPlace.my and helping my readers find properties though the DealMatcher service, I spend time doting on my three kids: Wenyi, Qinyi and Eian. My personal stuff, some published essays and contact details can be found at khaiyin.com

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