When my husband and I first started looking for a real estate agent to buy our first home, we felt like children trying to navigate the adult world. Until you start dipping your toes into the homebuying process, it’s easy to underestimate how little you know. We quickly realized that our usual habit of choosing service providers based on Yelp reviews was woefully inadequate.
So we started asking around. A few of our friends had just purchased homes in the same city, and we eventually learned that several of them had used the same realtor. After some careful vetting and an in-person meeting, we decided to use him as well.
We learned a lot about the real estate process, and why finding the right agent is the first step to finding the right home. Here’s how you can do it too.
Where to find a real estate agent
If you’re moving to a new city or don’t have any friends who recently bought a home, you may have to do some legwork online.
We’ve partnered with HomeLight to help with that – they’re an incredible resource to help you find the real estate agents in your area. They use sales data and client reviews, and we’re happy with what our readers have been telling us about their services.
Contact your network to find a real estate agent
Going online to find a broker is one of the best ways to go. But if you prefer a more human touch, you’d be well served to simply ask around. Ask people you know who recently bought or sold a house for their opinion.
It’s best to stick with people who have bought and sold a house in the last six months, because real estate trends change quickly. You want to hear from someone who’s been through the process recently, not a long-time homeowner who bought a decade ago.
If you’re selling a home, ask for recommendations from people who have also sold their home recently. If you’re buying a house for the first time, ask other new homebuyers who they’d recommend. Once you have their recommendations, read any reviews and testimonials available online.
Interview your real estate agent ahead of time
Picking the right real estate agent is one of the most important home buying decisions you’ll make. Just like you wouldn’t pick a roofing company without meeting them first, feel free to interview several real estate agents before making a final decision.
If you’re selling, ask a real estate agent for their honest opinion. Do you need to lower your asking price? Do you need to make any significant repairs before putting the home on the market? Is it a seller’s market?
After compiling answers from a few listing agents, you should have a general consensus. If anyone seems overly optimistic or unrealistic, scratch them off your list. You want a real estate agent who’s going to be straightforward and honest with you, even when it’s hard to hear.
Understand the difference between real estate agent and real estate broker
A real estate agent is a licensed professional who has to take an exam in order to sell and buy homes on behalf of a client. Agents have the option of becoming a real estate broker by taking a brokers license exam and completing any education required by the state. Brokers will often have multiple agents working for them.
A realtor, on the other hand, is a member of the National Association of REALTORS(R), which is a specific group that has their own set of standards. These rules include disclosing any potential conflicts of interest, not interfering in a transaction and disclosing all fees and commissions ahead of time.
A realtor is always an agent or a broker, but an agent or broker is not necessarily a realtor. Ask any potential real estate agents if they’re also realtors.
What to look for in a real estate agent
The most important quality in a realtor is their responsiveness. In the hot market, most areas are experiencing right now, houses go quickly. Sometimes being the first to make an offer means the difference between snatching your dream house or being left out in the cold.
Ask your friends and acquaintances if their realtor was responsive. Did they answer their phone calls? Do they return emails promptly? It may sound a little needy, but anyone in this industry knows that responsive communication is part of the job.
Knowledgeable about your desired neighborhood
You should also look for a real estate agent who’s familiar with the neighborhood you’re buying or selling in. Someone who knows the neighborhood better is going to be more acquainted with its pros and cons—and how to use those qualities to your advantage.
A full-time agent
Make sure your realtor is a full-time agent, not someone doing it on the side as a hobby. Ask to see their credentials, including their real estate license, how long they’ve been in practice and how many transactions they complete in a month. Since the advent of HGTV, many people have become agents in an attempt to get rich quickly, not realizing it’s a legitimate profession that requires skill.
A realtor is essentially a salesman, but if you’re getting a sleazy or pushy vibe, it might be time to walk away. You should never feel like you’re being pressured to buy a house or accept an offer you’re not comfortable with. If you’re in the negotiating process and the realtor seems to be dismissive of your opinions, you may need to push back.
Don’t be afraid to fire a real estate agent
If you’ve already picked your realtor, but are having second thoughts—and you’re not under contract on a house—it’s okay to give them the boot.
A friend of mine picked a realtor who she thought would do a great job, but he ended up sending in her offer past the deadline. She missed out on what could have been her dream house because he was too late. She fired him and found a new realtor who was faster and ended up with a home she loved.
When you hire a realtor, you are their client and customer. They should be primarily concerned with your needs, not how much they’ll earn on commission or how quickly they can close the deal. If you’re feeling ignored at any point in the process, don’t be afraid to walk away.
Finding a real estate agent takes time, but picking your agent carefully will pay off in the end. Follow these tips above and you’ll be well on your way to finding an agent that will help you find your dream home, or sell the home you already have.