According to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Complaints Against Florida Real Estate Agents Spiked in 2011

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William True, broker of True Real Estate, announces tips to Finding the Best Real Estate Agent in any Market.

President of True Real Estate William C. True.

President of True Real Estate William C. True.

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According to Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), complaints against state licensed real estate agents are up 350% in Florida this year alone, creating an unprecedented backlog of cases. Over the last two years, reports of unlicensed real estate practitioners have nearly tripled. William True, broker of True Real Estate in Sarasota, believes complexities in a difficult market have caused much of the problem. "With distressed sales representing such a large percentage of all transactions, complaints are bound to rise. Especially with short sales, there is quite a bit of uncertainty. After months of waiting for approval, a seller may discover the lender is unwilling to release them from their liability. Conversely a buyer may come to find out the lender will only approve the short sale at a price much closer to market value than the original contract stated. That leaves room for a lot of unhappy buyers and sellers and often the finger is pointed at their agent."

But other concerns have arisen over the general competency of today's real estate agent. "The landscape of the real estate business has changed over the last five years, and unfortunately, many agents no longer have the tools needed to be proficient." True should know. With an extraordinary 16 professional designations, he is among the best educated REALTORS in the country. As to the increase in unlicensed activity, True blames, above other things, the economy. "Sometimes people do things they normally wouldn't do to put food on the table for their family. These have been incredibly difficult times for all segments of the housing workforce, including real estate agents, builders and mortgage brokers. Still, there is no excuse for fraudulent or unlicensed agents".

Here is an effective, ten step process to protect yourself from unlicensed activity and find the best real estate agent in any market:

1) Be sure to use a licensed real estate agent. Each state has its own laws and licensing requirements. You can check online with the appropriate governing body to verify any licensee.

2) Always use a REALTOR. All REALTORS are real estate agents or brokers; the opposite is not the case. Any agent who becomes a member of The National Association of REALTORS(NAR), and abides by their guidelines, is a REALTOR. The NAR has a code of ethics and a plethora of available educational opportunities for real estate professionals. The NAR also owns the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which is the main database REALTORS use to list properties and cooperate with other REALTORS to form a system of compensation. Access to the MLS is a virtual necessity for residential real estate brokers and agents.

3) Most are aware of the old adage location, location, location, and yes, all real estate is local. A REALTOR with intimate local knowledge will be able to disclose many things a home buyer would never dream of, especially for those new to an area. The idea is to find out before one purchases property that it's in a flight path, downwind from the garbage dump, or in a lackluster school district.

4) Choose a full time REALTOR. Many agents have other full time jobs and practice real estate on the side for extra income. Avoid Jack of all Trades.

5) Select a real estate agent with at least five years experience in the business. One who has been practicing for years is less likely to be involved in fraudulent or unlicensed activity. And of course, practice makes perfect.

6) Representation is often not considered by home buyers and sellers alike. Use an agent who represents you and not the other guy! For example, a buyer who calls the number on a yard sign is contacting the agent who works for the seller. While they are happy to provide non-confidential info and a tour of the property, they are basically an adversary.

7) Use a REALTOR with a college degree. In general, the entry barriers to the real estate profession are relatively low. Just as most people prefer to have a well-educated surgeon operate on them, most savvy buyers and sellers prefer an educated pro over someone who was delivering pizzas until they got their license last month.

8) Perhaps the best method to identify a top notch agent is by the number of professional designations and certifications they have earned. The importance of this is best described in this November 2011 cover story of Sarasota Realtor Magazine celebrating National Real Estate Designation month. Three or more designations and certifications are usually a good sign!

9) When buying a home, be sure to use an Exclusive Buyers Agent (EBA). The NAR has a subsidiary entirely devoted to Buyer Agency. The Real Estate Buyers Agent Council or REBAC offers the Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR) designation and their website is a one stop shopping source for finding the best buyer's agent in any desired market. Just remember: a buyer's agent does not mean they only work with buyers, like an exclusive buyers agent, which isfar more desirable. If an agent or their brokerage has any listings, they are not an EBA. In some smaller markets, it may be difficult to find an EBA.

10) When selling a home, select the agent who has the most listings in the area where the property is located. In other words, whoever has the most "For Sale" yard signs in front of homes is likely the best bet, provided they meet all the other criteria. The exception to this is whether the agent is too busy to do a good job.

As a fun example, imagine a buyer is interested in purchasing a vacation home in Sarasota, Florida, where the now world famous Lego Man just washed ashore on Siesta Key Beach. There are literally thousands of agents in the Sarasota real estate market vying for the business. So, when buying a home, start with finding an EBA by visiting the REBAC website, choose "Find a Buyer's Rep", select Florida, then Sarasota, check the box "Find ABR's only", and execute the search.

The results should show only licensed REALTORS who are ABR's, their other designations and contact information. By nature, an ABR will generally be a full-time, well-educated agent, familiar with the area. Choose the most qualified agents, interview three, and select the best.

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