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How to find a real estate agent in a new city or country

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If you’re in the market to buy or sell a home, chances are high you’ll be on the hunt for a professional real estate agent to help make the process go as smooth as possible. The search for that trusted professional is typically pretty straightforward unless your house-hunt involves searching in a new city, province or even a different country. That’s when the process of finding that new home, vacation property or even real estate investment takes on a whole new level of stress — and stress is the last thing any buyer wants when faced with a relocation, the purchase of a family cottage or a property investment. That’s why we provided five ways to find a real estate agent in a new city.

There are ways around searching for a property in a new city or country; you could travel to the new city, province or country and spend time learning about the neighbourhoods or you could simply rent and hope to find a place when you know the new location better. Or you could get help from a professional real estate agent that knows and works in your destination city. Since most people will opt for the last option, we thought it best to provide some helpful tips.

5 ways to find an agent in your new city or country

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Because of your unfamiliarity with the area and all the other unique challenges of not buying locally, you really want to find a professional who gets your concerns and understands your needs. There are five distinct ways you can find an agent in an unfamiliar city or country.

#1. Use the Internet

You could find an agent who specializes in helping people relocate to that destination using the Internet — just type in “relocation + real estate agent + city” to get a preliminary list. Then call to talk to each agent.

#2. Use a relocation service

Opt to use a relocation service — a company that charges a fee to help you relocate to a new city. Quite often these services include finding short-term, temporary accommodation but not in the acquisition of a long-term property purchase.

#3. Use a referral service or directory

You could use the Certified Relocation Professional directory (although this directory is primarily for those relocating to a city within the continental U.S.).

#4. Use an affiliated brokerage office

Another option is to contact a relocation service that is operated by a brokerage. Many of the large national and international brands, such as Zolo, Re/Max and Century 21, will have offices that can help you find an affiliated brokerage or agent in another city.

#5. Ask an agent you trust

Finally, you could ask a trusted real estate agent in your home city to recommend an agent at your intended location.

Despite innovations in technology and the broad reach of social media, this option continues to be very popular. Referrals can benefit homebuyers seeking property in an unknown city or country because you are relying on your current Realtor to recommend someone of similar quality and standards. And yet, agent referrals get quite a bit of bad press. A few years back, an Inman survey reported that more than 41% of Realtors thought it was unacceptable to refer a client to another agent without knowing the quality of service the client would receive, although more than a third believed this practice was common. Worse, almost 60% of agents believe the client never finds out that a referral fee is paid. That’s serious!

Thing is, using an agent based on a referral can actually work in your favour. We’ll tell you why.

How to find an agent when buying property in Canada

In Canada, there aren’t many regulations when it comes to agent-referrals, but there are a few important ones. According to both the Real Estate Council of British Columbia (RECBC) and the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO), there is a standard for how to treat a referral, but that treatment differs based on your past and current relationship with the agents involved.

If you have previously bought or sold property using the real estate agent that is referring you, then your referring agent must disclose whether or not they will get a commission from this referral.

But if you end up asking a real estate agent for a referral but you’ve never bought or sold with the person you are asking, then that agent does not have to disclose whether or not they’ll get a referral fee, although they may choose to.

All this if-and-when business makes it sound like getting a referral fee is illegal or immoral or unethical. None of the above.

Use referral’s to get exceptional service

A referral fee is a great way to vet the qualifications of an agent you’ve never met. Why? Because in referral situations, the incentive for the referring real estate agent is to send you to a Realtor that will provide excellent and ethical customer service. If the agent you ask for a referral doesn’t refer you to an agent who is reputable, then a deal probably won’t be done and no one gets paid, or, worse, both agents get painted with a bad brush. “When a Realtor refers another Realtor, their pool of candidates is large, which means they’re choosing the best,” explains Ken Eddy, a Calgary-based real estate agent.

“The typical commision fee for referrals in Canada is 25%,” explains Eddy. It might sound crazy, but this rather large cut of the agent’s commission is a great financial incentive for both agents. The agent you trust in your home city will probably only refer you to hard-working, responsible agents in the new city or country you intend to purchase in. If not, they run the risk of not getting paid themselves. By putting their reputation on the line — a referral is a time-honoured way of vouching for a person’s integrity and ability — the agent expects the agent in the new city to act on his or her behalf. If you expect exceptional customer service for your agent, then his or her referral will probably offer the same level of service.

Eddy receives about 20 client referrals and provides around eight agent-referrals — every calendar year. As a referring agent, he makes sure the people he sends his clients to are reputable, professional and ethical agents who are in the business of listening and helping clients. Skip his own due diligence and Eddy’s referral business could dry up overnight (along with his referral fees).

There are ethical requirements to protect you

Commission fees paid to referring agents are perfectly legal. However, in almost all circumstances, the fees must be disclosed to you, the client, before any transactions are complete. It is standard for the agents to disclose this information and the agreement as soon as possible — but don’t be surprised if you don’t sign-off on the document until you are close to finding a property you’d like to purchase. That’s because many agents like to be sure that a transaction will occur before making their client fill out any paperwork.

Still, if you’re unsure, don’t be afraid to ask. An ethical agent, who has your best interests in mind, won’t mind discussing how they get paid and why. Transparency is key in these situations.

How to find an agent when buying property in the U.S.

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Whether you’re a Canadian buyer wanting to purchase property in another country, or a foreign buyer looking to buy property in Canada, the process of working with a referral-agent across the border is different than using a referral-agent within your own country. The best way to find a trusted referral-agent is by asking the right people.

Although you can indeed hunt for one yourself, the two million active real estate agents in the United States might make that decision a touch more challenging. A better option is to ask an agent in your hometown for a referral. If you’ve worked with that agent in the past, you’ll know and trust how this person works and you can assume that whoever he or she refers you to, will offer similar quality and service.

Rick Metcalfe, a Phoenix, Arizona based real estate agent, has sold hundreds of vacation homes and investment properties to Canadians. As a Canadian himself, he built his network in Canada before relocating to the United States. He now receives many referrals from Canadian Realtors. “Buying is easy,” said Metcalfe, who compared the homebuying process to that of buying in another province. But getting good, quality representation is the key.

It is also standard practice and within the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Code of Ethics for Realtors in the United States not to accept any referral compensation without a clients consent. If real estate agents refer you to another party that they share a vested interest with, they must let you know as soon as they make the recommendation.

How to find an agent when buying property worldwide

How to find a real estate agent in a new city or country

The top countries that Canadians tend to buy destination properties in are the United States, Europe and South America. For this reason, using a referral agent can help you be better prepared to handle any differences there may occur when it comes to the homebuying process in these countries and continents.

For instance, it is essential to understand that you are not protected by Canadian laws if you buy property outside of Canada. An agent you were referred to that lives and works in a foreign country can put you on the right path to understanding those laws, the closing processes and whether there are any unique tax structures or extra costs to consider.

As it turns, Canadian real estate is attractive to overseas buyers as well. Canadian Real Estate Magazine pegged Banff in Alberta, Niagara-On-The-Lake in Ontario, Whistler in British Columbia and Cape Breton in Nova Scotia as the top picks for real estate investors interested in Canadian vacation homes. As a result, many Canadian Realtors work with agents in other countries to create a vetted referral list. Dylan Nihte, a Vancouver-based Zolo growth manager and Realtor, is one of those agents. He has an international referral list to ensure that buyers are able to find everything they need, both for people buying worldwide and also for those looking to buy in Canada.

“If needed, I vet a Realtor in any country they choose to go through,” said Nihte, who often provides these connections for clients and colleagues.

For those still considering whether or not to buy in a foreign country, consider these three important factors:

  1. Buying real estate does not give foreign owners the privilege to stay longer in that country than the typical length of time permitted. To stay longer, you must apply for a VISA or speak with an immigration lawyer;
  2. If you are buying property in a country that does not speak your first language, it is crucial to hire a professional who can get you all legal documents in each language, the language of the country where you are buying the property and your own, native tongue;
  3. Financing in another country may require a higher down payment or it may prompt lenders to complete a more thorough review of your financial situation. Be prepared for a much longer wait period on property purchases that require financing.

How agent referral fees are different than finder fees

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An important thing to note that referral fees are not the same as finder fees.

Referral fees come from a professional in one industry suggesting another professional from that same industry. Both parties have similar education and background, which means that the Realtor has the incentive to do their due diligence before referring to another Realtor. In virtually every North American jurisdiction, real estate agents must follow a code of ethics and protect their client’s interests above all else.

On the other hand, finder fees are paid by an individual who works in one industry but suggests that you use a professional that works in another industry. Each party has different education and background, which means that it is difficult for one professional to assess the quality of another professional. For example, if a mortgage broker were to refer a client to a home inspector, the mortgage broker cannot confirm that this recommendation protects their client’s interest above all else due to their lack of knowledge about the home inspection process. However, regardless of the quality of service provided, the mortgage broker could receive a commission. Because finders fees don’t require those suggesting the recommendation to do their due diligence (although some certainly d0), there isn’t as much incentive to verify the credentials and ability of the person who gets the referral and pays the finder fee.

Buying property in your own city can be a tough job in itself, which means that buying in an unknown city or country requires a lot more research and patience. Working with an agent that is referred to you and finding a real estate agent in a new city can help make the process less stressful. It ensures that you are relying on the expertise and professionalism of the agent who referred you and that both agents will feel accountable.

Regardless of how you find a real estate agent in a new city or country, it’s best to consider all your options, speak with your trusted network, and find an industry professional who will make the home buying experience feel like you’re not even leaving your hometown.

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Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is an award-winning personal finance blogger and founder of She writes about being a mom, overcoming personal debts, and how to get away with affording your ridiculously expensive latte habit. A new homeowner, Alyssa brings her real-life knowledge of the Canadian real estate market and smart money matters to this growing brand.