You know they're out there. There are signs all over town, once you start to look. So many different real estate agents to choose from; how do you find the person that is going to help you find the right space for your business?
One way to start is to make note of the names on those signs, especially in the area you're interested in locating your business. Then start asking family, friends, and colleagues in your field. Listen to how they talk about the real estate agents they've used; usually these sorts of references are the most honest. But what works for some does not work for others, and there are some specific things to look for in your real estate agent to help you decide which one is the right fit for you. Two important traits to look at are professionalism and experience.
It is easy to tell if your agent is professional or not - how does he make you feel? Does he return phone calls promptly? Does he answer your questions honestly, even if he doesn't know all the answers? Are you able to deal with him directly or are you regularly pawned off onto an assistant or admin? Does he remember your name and the nature of your business?
A good agent will make you feel like you are his only customer, even when you know you aren't. You want an agent who is busy; that shows that he is working hard for his clients. But you don't want someone who is so busy that he cannot remember the details of what you are looking for, or calls you Dwayne when your name is Bruce. You want someone who gives you his undivided attention when you are with him, someone who turns off his phone during meetings. Think of this: if your agent takes days to return your calls, yet answers calls during appointments with you, something is very wrong.
A good agent also has good colleagues, and good working relationships with them. If you ask your agent a question he can't answer, he should be professional enough to go to a colleague and get the answer you require. No one, no matter how experienced, knows everything about every market, and having the wisdom to ask someone else shows that your agent is a professional who knows that the most important thing is to take care of the client, not to show how smart he is.
You want to find someone who is a full time commercial real estate agent, not a part time agent, or a "resimmercial" agent who does some commercial and some residential business. There is certainly a place for that kind of professional in the market, especially in smaller towns, but as a business owner it is to your advantage to work with someone who focuses on what you need, which is selling, buying or leasing commercial real estate.
It is also important to have a real estate agent who is working for you, the potential buyer or lessee, and not the seller. If an agent is primarily trying to lease or sell a property, he might not be overly concerned with the needs of your business, and might push you toward a property that isn't the right fit for your intended use. He might even neglect to show you certain properties simply because he is more interested in representing a selling client.
Another gauge of professionalism can be an agent's web presence. If your agent has none, that is a sign that he is just not paying attention to the modern reality of the business world. A website doesn't need to be fancy to be useful, or to show that the agent is smart. It must have up-to-date information and be easy to use. If you are looking at an agent's website in late spring and the latest blog entry is entitled "Happy Holidays" then you know your agent is not very detail-oriented. Also look at the agent's listings on LoopNet.com or LACDB.com - along with the details on each property there should also be a good collection of professional-quality photographs and images. With the technology available today, there is absolutely no excuse for low quality photographs or even worse, no photographs at all.
As important as professionalism is though, a commercial real estate agent must have good experience to be able to find you that perfect property. A good agent spends very little time behind the desk, and instead spends time out in the field, keeping himself familiar with his territory so that he can best serve his customers. If your agent always sets up meetings in his office and seems unwilling to visit lots of properties with you that is not a good sign. You want someone who knows that to find a suitable location you must visit many different sites to be able to fully judge all the factors involved in making such a crucial decision.
When you do visit your agent's office, pay attention to where it is located, and what condition it's in. Is it in a dynamic, vital area with lots of other businesses? Does it inspire confidence in your agent's judgment? Is the building in decent shape? Are there other agents there with their clients?
Pay attention also to how your agent answers your questions. Do his answers show that he has a lot of experience? Does he invent hypothetical situations or does he tell stories from his past? Someone who uses examples from his own experience is someone who has made many successful deals in different situations. Every business has specific needs; an agent with a lot of experience will be able to help you fulfill yours, rather than offering you stop-gap measures or half solutions.
Another way to gauge experience is to ask for help in seeking other professionals such as contractors, loan officers, or landscapers. A seasoned professional will have these people in his Rolodex and be able to give you valuable suggestions to help you with other aspects of your business.
Above all, never be afraid to ask for references from an agent. A good agent knows that a happy client is the best advertisement, and will never hesitate to give you a list of references. Call these people and ask them the questions about your agent that will give you the information you need. If you have confidence in your commercial real estate agent, and know he will be doing his best for you, then you can focus on your needs and do the best for your business.