How to choose a great real estate agent for buying or selling a home

Congratulations, you’re in the market to buy a house. Or perhaps you are ready to sell. It’s time to choose a real estate agent to guide you through what can be a challenging – and sometimes stressful – process. So, if you’re looking at buying a home in the New York real estate market, you want to find the right home, at the right price. If you’re listing your home for sale in Dallas, TX, you’d like top dollar for your property, from a qualified buyer. Wherever you’re buying or selling a home you’ll want someone to advocate on your behalf during the homebuying or selling process, so randomly choosing a real estate agent to represent you may not result in your best outcome.

Before you contact the nearest agent from a Google search, know how to choose a real estate agent before you sign an agreement. Here are some things to consider before you get started.

  • Although there are many real estate agents active in the marketplace, not every real estate agent has earned the same certifications; designations like agent, broker, and Realtor® recognize different qualifications and different levels of specialized training.
  • Some agents choose to specialize as either a buyer’s or a seller’s agent to differentiate themselves. While the basic responsibilities are similar there are different loyalties that are important to note as each is trying to get the best deal for a seller or a buyer.
  • Interview at least three agents before selecting the agent you want to work with – to learn about their communication style and personality. You want to gain a sense of trust and compatibility, and that they understand and represent your best interests.
  • It’s also a good idea to get pre-approved on a home loan before you start. Or, at the very least, use a mortgage calculator to better understand the price range you can afford and mortgage payment you’re comfortable paying every month. This will give any prospective real estate agent you work with a great idea of where to start looking for your next home.

How to choose a real estate agent

What do different real estate designations mean to you? 

  • An agent is anyone who has completed the courses required by your state and passed a licensing test. Licensed real estate agents then sign on with a real estate brokerage.
  • A broker is a licensed agent who has earned additional certifications that allow her to recruit and manage a team of agents and open a brokerage company.
  • A Realtor® is an agent or broker certified through the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

Agents, brokers, and Realtors® are subject to continuing education requirements and often take specialty classes to further their qualifications. You’ll see an Accredited Buyer’s Representative® (ABR) or Seller Representative Specialist (SRS) among the standard designations. You can find the full list of specialty designations and what they mean on the National Association of Realtors® website

Understand the difference between a buyer’s agent and a seller’s agent.

You might think that if an agent shows you houses and seems to be working with you, they are working for you, which may or may not be the case. Understandably – and unfortunately – this is a grey area. You must know whose interests an agent is contractually obligated to represent.

  • A buyer’s agent’s primary role is to guide you through your home-buying transaction and be a professional resource for your questions or concerns about the transaction and even the property. After taking the time to get to know you and learn about your wants and needs in a home, they deploy their knowledge and experience about the housing market to help you find the right property. A good buyer’s agent does extra leg work to show you all available properties, and one you can trust they have your best interests in mind as you search for a home. 
  • A seller’s agent markets the home on behalf of the seller. Their job is to obtain a favorable contract at the best price for the seller. They can certainly reach out to potential buyers they know might have an interest in the property. But when they show a property, they represent the seller’s interests, per the standard written agreement between the seller and agent. 

Please be assured that real estate agents work very hard for their clients in both capacities. They must follow all of the laws, guidelines, and agreements that apply to them as an agent to keep their license and your success in buying or selling a home helps build their reputation to continue to help people achieve their housing dreams in the future. 

Couple interviewing a real estate agent: how to choose a real estate agent

Here are questions you should ask any agent you consider hiring to represent you to buy or sell a house. 

  • How long have you been working in the real estate business? You’re looking for a seasoned agent who has seen a number of housing transactions. If you find yourself impressed with a rookie agent’s commitment and energy, do the due diligence to be sure they will be working closely with their managing broker every step of the way.
  • How long have you lived in this area? Even if they are new to real estate but have lived in the area for a long time, their personal experience can go a long way toward helping you find the right home in the right location.
  • Are you part of a team, or do you work alone? Many standalone agents provide excellent service but don’t ignore the value of a team. After all, even real estate agents take vacations or have personal emergencies. Many brokerages form teams to provide seamless client support, which might improve your chance of buying the right property or selling a property faster. 
  • What is your work schedule? This is an important question if the person does not work full time as an agent. You will want to know their availability to tour houses with you or handle your property’s showings if you are selling. If they’re heading out of town anytime soon, make sure they have a back-up agent.
  • Have you ever had a complaint filed against you with any state department of real estate? You should know who you are dealing with and if others have reported problems working with them. A complaint doesn’t have to disqualify the agent from your list – after all, there are two sides to every story – but it may provide a ranking factor.
  • How many transactions do you close in an average year? You don’t need to work with a sales dynamo. But if a realtor completes a reasonable number of successful transactions most years, you’ll know they take their real estate business seriously and will do the same with your purchase or sale. 
  • Do you specialize as a buyer’s or seller’s agent? Some agents only want to work on the sell-side. Others continue to love helping clients in their hunt for a perfect home. If an agent specializes in working with buyers.
  • What markets do you target? If you live in a large metro area like Sacramento, CA with many smaller neighborhoods or markets, you’ll want to know if your prospective agent has enough knowledge to effectively search for properties in the area you want to live. The right agent should be willing to do enough research to help you in any neighborhood or market you choose. 
  • What’s the median price for the markets I want to search for or where I’m selling? You may not get an answer to this question immediately if they don’t have first-hand knowledge of your specific market. But if the agent is a true professional, they will follow up with a solid price breakdown to prove their initiative and willingness to serve. 

an agent getting interviewed: how to choose a great real estate agent

You’ve got all the questions – now how do you choose a real estate agent? 

Always start by asking your friends, family, and colleagues for agent referrals. If they’ve had a good experience with a particular agent either buying or selling their home, add that agent to your list.

Next, take a look online for agents with good reviews. Yes, even for real estate agents, reviews matter. Choose a few with the best overall reviews to make your list. 

Schedule interviews with your list. Be upfront about your budget, your concerns, and your preferred style of a working relationship. You are trying to find a top-notch agent who will work consistently and relentlessly on your behalf and is someone you will get along with during the process. Once you’ve settled on a real estate agent, you can move forward with confidence in buying your dream house or selling your home to move along to the next adventure. 

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