How To Choose Your Real Estate Agent

By Jo Crisholm • Last Updated July 12 2022

Since we’ve established that location is going to be the chief concern when it comes to whittling down your options for your second residence, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that most realtors recommend choosing your broker based on where you’re planning to buy. 

Choose a local real estate agent

Local insight trumps familiarity.

Laura Stevens, an estate agent who covers the Muskoka region, explains how she’ll sometimes encounter buyers who go with the knee-jerk instinct of grabbing the same realtor who sold them their primary residence. 

“The Greater Toronto Area has something like 50,000 realtors”, she explains, “so that’s a lot of people competing for business.” She points out, however, that local realtors who cover rural waterfront and beachfront vacation spots, be it in southern Ontario or coastal Nova Scotia, are going to have a leg up on their city counterparts when it comes to navigating the ins and outs of cottage country.

Be aware: the lie of land

And that goes for you and a real estate agent from out of town. “They often know nothing about the different lakes or the septic systems or the quality of the water,” Stevens said, adding that more importantly, they often don’t know what questions to ask for their buyer.

As a listing agent for a person in cottage country, she feels this can lead to less-than-satisfactory arrangements. “I almost feel like I have to compromise doing the best for the seller to try and educate this other agent about what they should be asking me to protect their buyers for,” she explained.

"There's protecting the buyer from a legal perspective, but then there's also protecting the buyer in the sense of making sure that they're going to be happy with their purchase. That's my ultimate goal when I work with people is that they're going to love what they ultimately buy.” - Laura Stevens, Muskoka estate agent

Understand: It's a sellers market

There’s simply so much to consider when you’re buying a recreational waterfront property compared to a house in the city. And as Stevens explains, the competition is stiff. “There's never enough inventory. So it's a seller's market. It's been a seller's market for years, it just gets worse and better,” she said. 

The pandemic has only made this trend worse. Because of this, buyers will often need to come in with firm offers with little to no conditions. And local realtors can help protect you, the buyer, in these transactions. 

“If you've visited [a] property with a realtor that doesn't know what to look for, in terms of structural issues, or understanding what it's going to take to fix the things that can be fixed, then the buyer loses out,” Stevens said, adding that she’ll often encounter realtors who aren’t from the region who will unknowingly place too much focus on the actual building - as that’s typically, in city real estate, where most of the value lies - but for cottage real estate, she notes, “the value is all the stuff that you can't change.”

The bottom line?

Local realtors will ultimately be the ones who are able to walk you through these important considerations, most of which you’ve never had to deal with or even think about before. You’ll also want to choose your realtor based on their area of expertise, an area you’ll likely not be as familiar with as they are. So while it may at first blush seem more natural to call up the agent who sold you your first home in the city or town where you currently reside, in the long run, the rewards of doing that initial groundwork and finding a local agent where you’d like to cottage will far outweigh those first step conveniences.