How to Find a Great Real Estate Agent

Jason Cohen is the founder and president of Jason Cohen Pittsburgh, an informal real estate group which provides constructive advice to professionals considering property investments. Given his near-constant interpersonal work with other professionals in the field, Jason is well-equipped to offer guidance on the process of finding a competent real estate agent. Here, Cohen offers his thoughts.


What separates a great real estate agent from an ineffective one? In a social-media landscape where every realtor’s promotions are glossy and attractive, it can be hard for regular buyers and

sellers to discern whether the agents they research are actually the capable, honest professionals they appear to be online. However, there are some steps that real estate hopefuls can take to ensure a successful professional relationship before officially signing on with an agent. The following tips are brought to you by Jason Cohen, the president and founder of the informal real estate advising group, Jason Cohen Pittsburgh – consider observing them prior to committing to a real estate professional!


Check Qualifications
Every buyer and seller needs to make sure that the agent they hire is equipped to manage their needs. It’s especially important to find a professional affiliated with the National Association of Realtors – you can determine this by checking to see if the agent notes their title with a capital “R.” Those in the NAR pledge to follow a code of ethics, and will be held accountable for any professional wrongdoing in the field. This code protects clients from potentially troublesome action on the part of the agent. Clients should also check to make sure that the agent specializes in handling cases like theirs. For instance, an individual looking to buy a house should search for a realtor with an ABR certification: These professionals are Accredited Buyer’s Representatives, and have completed additional courses for representing buyers in transactions.


Review Agent Records

Clients should also direct their research towards answering a few basic questions: How long has the agent been in business? Are their current listings similar to yours? Does the agent have any marks on their record? While the first two can be answered through an online search or direct conversation with the agent, the last question should be directed towards the applicable state regulatory body, which will have a record of any concerns or complaints.


Reach Out to Previous Clients

Don’t be afraid to ask a potential agent for a list of former clients! Reaching out to previous home buyers and/or sellers will help you better understand the agent’s skill set, capabilities, and professionalism. Make sure to ask for details; how long was the client’s home on the market? How much did it sell for? Was the agent friendly and helpful, or were they professionally challenging? All of these questions will help you come to a decision when choosing a professional to represent your real estate interests.


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Renting in Retirement

We talk a lot at Jason Cohen Pittsburgh about the benefits of renting for college students or recent grads. But that’s because Pittsburgh has a huge college presence and is a city that’s getting younger. We don’t talk a lot about the benefits of renting a home for retirees.

You usually think of retirement as a time when you’re slowing down, when life is about relaxing and enjoying what you’ve earned in your years of working. But, things are changing. People are living longer, and they are often working well into their golden years. The current economy may not allow for the leisurely retirement of yesteryears. With this climate in mind, renting a home instead of buying can have several benefits for retirees.

Buying a home can give a sense of security. It’s permanent and yours. However, it also comes with additional responsibilities that can offset that peace of mind.

If you’re weighing buying vs. renting in retirement, ask yourself the following questions:

Do you want to use retirement plan money to buy a home?

Unless you sold a previous home for a profit, you may have to withdraw retirement money to use as the downpayment. This cuts into your budget.

Do you want a permanent residence?

Some people retire in their hometown while others want to use their years off the job as a time to explore. Renting allows you the freedom of exploring different areas whereas buying requires more surety. Unless you are absolutely certain of where you want to retire, it may be best to rent first, at least until you’ve done a bit of exploring.

Do you really want a 30-year mortgage to start when you’re 65?

Let’s say you do get to retire at a traditional age — you’ll still have a mortgage until you’re 95.

Do you want to deal with banks and loans and all the other tedium that accompanies a mortgage?

You probably didn’t want to deal with this the first time around.

Above all, isn’t it time to enjoy retirement? That means, do you want a mortgage hanging over your head? Do you want to be responsible for unexpected expenses and unwanted repairs?

Basically, the question of owning vs. renting in retirement comes down to how much work you want to do at this time in your life. At Jason Cohen Pittsburgh, we try to take our residents’ minds off their apartments. That’s the major benefit of renting. It may cost a bit more per month, but that cost is consistent and the burden of maintenance is on us, not you. Ask yourself if that is something you value in retirement.

Be a Landlord or Hire a Property Management Company: What to Do with an Investment Property

So, you have an investment property. You’ve done the research. You calculated your return on investment. You’ve gone through all the fun of the loan process. You’ve met with banks and financed the real estate, or you paid in cash. You’ve done all the steps in which you’d wear a suit.

Now you have this house. Say it has several bedrooms. It’s in the city limits, in an in-demand neighborhood composed mostly of rental units — the part of town where people sacrifice spacious living quarters for proximity to shopping and nightlife.

At Jason Cohen Pittsburgh, we’d say that this investment property is probably best used as a multifamily rental. Sure, dividing the home into several units will cost more upfront, but you’ll earn more in monthly rent payments from multiple tenants than a single family. However, six kitchens can require more maintenance than one. The more stuff you put into your investment property, the more that can go wrong. Is this too much for you to handle? Can you afford to spend the time fielding calls from tenants when there’s a plumbing backup? Can you fix the pipes yourself? If not, do you know who to call to do so? Can you drop everything and get to the property in time to fix the issue and keep your tenants satisfied?

investment property

Every property owner has a different situation. Some, like Jason Cohen Pittsburgh, are full-time investors. To others, an investment property is a side income source. Ask yourself: Do you have the time, knowledge, and resources to be a landlord? Or should you outsource the day-to-day maintenance of your investment property to a management company?

Time: Do you have time in your schedule to be called away from your other obligations to maintain your investment property? Is your rental property close to your home or work? Do you have several rental units? If you have other obligations, it may be a good idea to hire a property management company. Too much can go wrong at an investment property and it may be difficult to anticipate.

Of course, it’s a good idea to troubleshoot by fixing the potential problems with an investment property before putting the rental units on the market. You’ve already thoroughly researched and minimized risk when investing in the property.

Even if you’ve done as much preventative maintenance as possible and your investment property is pristine — the pipes and ducts are clear, the appliances are brand new, the windows are sturdy — there is always the human factor. Your tenants are people and, as the saying goes, even “the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” Things will break. Do you have time to fix them?

Knowledge: Is your primary career and skill set related to your investment? Are you a master plumber or electrician? Or are you just a dude with an investment property? Think about the quality of repairs that you’d be able to make. When it comes to investment properties, minimizing guesswork is a great way to minimize risk. You don’t want to be asking yourself where to put the blue wire when fixing an electrical issue. A landlord is never expected to be a master at everything involved in the home, so it is important to have a network of people who are. If you have standing relationships with general handymen or expert maintenance professionals, you could easily field phone calls from tenants and outsource the hands-dirtying work to these contractors. If you have not forged these relationships, it may be a better idea to hire a property management company that has.

Resources: Whichever direction you choose to go in with your investment property, make sure that you’ve budgeted accordingly. Give yourself an hourly rate. Estimate how much time you’d have to spend dealing with tenants, collecting rent, and making repairs. Is it more cost-effective to outsource those duties to an external vendor even if you have to give them 10% of the monthly rental fees? How much would this investment property cut into the time you’ve already budgeted for other things? And would the quality of your repairs lead to subsequent repairs? Would you simply feel more comfortable having others perform these tasks?

Know your capabilities. Be aware of your limitations in terms of time, money, and expertise when deciding how to manage your investment property. At Jason Cohen Pittsburgh, we urge you to approach management with the same cautious rationale that you used when researching the investment property in the first place.

Then decide if you want to do it yourself or hire a property management company.

Jason Cohen Pittsburgh Pumps $1.5 Million Back into Pittsburgh Economy

Jason Cohen, Chief Consultant at Jason Cohen Pittsburgh, has completed the reinvestment of proceeds, obtained from a sale on March 28, 2013 in the South Oakland area of Pittsburgh, back into the Pittsburgh economy, with the closing of an 18-unit apartment building on Friday, August 30, 2013 in Regent Square. At a time when the Pittsburgh real estate market is finally being noticed by the masses, having experienced its first population increase in over three years, this reinvestment only adds fuel to Pittsburgh’s fire. By utilizing the services of a 1031 exchange qualified intermediary and by choosing to reinvest the proceeds from the sale back into like-kind property (selling multi-family property then buying multi-family property with those funds), Mr. Cohen was able to maximize the amount that he could reinvest back into the local economy.

When asked about his experience with this process, Mr. Cohen said, “We made a promise to Pittsburgh several months ago, that selling the property in South Oakland was not a sign we were divesting, but rather just the opposite; that we would put that money right back into the Pittsburgh real estate market.” That he did. With today’s closing, Jason Cohen’s reinvestment into Pittsburgh ends up being more than double the amount of the proceeds from the original sale outlined in a press release on April 22, 2013, featured in the Wall Street Journal.

This reinvestment, totaling $1.5 million, afforded Jason Cohen Pittsburgh the opportunity to take part in the acquisition of five more local properties. The acquisitions occurred in some of the most premiere neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. One purchase was a 7-unit property in Shadyside and a 4-unit property in Squirrel Hill, another was a 3-unit property in the South Side, and the last was two properties totaling 18-units in Regent Square. While this is Jason Cohen Pittsburgh’s first delve into the Regent Square area, this purchase already positions Mr. Cohen as one of the largest multi-family owners in Regent Square.

Regent Square is an up and coming area of Pittsburgh and runs through four municipalities: the City of Pittsburgh, Edgewood, Swissvale, and Wilkinsburg. It has a unique shopping district and is comprised mostly of family and independently owned businesses. While predominantly smaller multi-family properties exist in this neighborhood (six units and below), Jason Cohen was able to combine two of the larger properties in the highly sought after Braddock Avenue section of Regent Square.

Shadyside and Squirrel Hill are also ideal locations for living. Shadyside is home to many upscale stores, boutiques and businesses located along three corridors: Walnut Street, Ellsworth Avenue and South Highland Avenue. The majority of Squirrel Hill’s business areas are located along Forbes and Murray Avenues. In addition to these, there are a number of longtime, non-profit organizations in the area and many annual events are hosted in Squirrel Hill by various community organizations. The South Side of Pittsburgh is also a model place to reside offering plenty to explore along bustling East Carson Street, and plenty of green spaces to enjoy (South Side Park, South Side Riverfront Park, Armstrong Playground, Ormsby Recreation Center).

Jason Cohen Pittsburgh is one of the largest and most rapidly growing small to mid-size multifamily investors in specific Pittsburgh markets, with the first commercial property being acquired in 2004. The company is a consulting forum for Jason Cohen and others to unite and package together specific real estate strategies tailored to the unique financial situation and goals of each client. Jason Cohen Pittsburgh represents, and has provided, real estate consulting services to everyone from private citizens to seasoned investors and real estate professionals. Cohen’s group is set apart by the customized process designed exclusively for each client to succeed in their real estate activities.

Jason Cohen Pittsburgh is a consulting forum for Jason Cohen and others to unite and package together specific real estate strategies tailored to the unique financial situation and goals of each client. Please contact us at or (412) 812-1578.