Congratulations, you’re in the market to buy a house. Or perhaps you are ready to sell. Either way, it’s time to find a real estate agent to guide you through what can be a challenging – and sometimes stressful – process. So, if you’re currently renting an apartment in New York but now looking to buy a home, for example, you’ll want to find the right home, at the right price. Or, maybe you’re listing your home for sale in Anchorage, AK, you most likely want top dollar for your property. Wherever you’re buying or selling a home you’ll want someone to advocate on your behalf during the home buying or selling process, so randomly choosing a real estate agent to represent you may not result in your best outcome.
Steps to take before hiring a real estate agent
Things to consider before finding a real estate agent
Before you contact the nearest agent from a Google search, know how to choose a top real estate agent before you sign an agreement. Here are some things to consider before you get started.
- Understand the differences between real estate designations: 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.
- Understand the differences between buyer and seller agents: 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 real estate agents: 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.
- Get pre-approved: 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.
- Make a list of your home priorities: If you’re looking to buy a new home create a list of priorities such as locations, the types of house styles, and house features you will want to be included with your future property before discussing with your agent. If you have plans to sell your current home, create a list of priorities that will prepare you for getting your home in order before it is put on the market.
Why choosing the right real estate agent matters
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 real estate licensing test. Licensed real estate agents then sign on with a real estate brokerage.
- A real estate 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 real estate 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 having 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.
How to find a real estate agent
Discover ways to find an agent through word-of-mouth or online research
Begin your research by connecting with people in your network like family, friends, or even neighbors. You can also conduct a simple search online to discover new candidates.
- Your personal referrals: Get in touch with your family, friends, or neighbors who’ve recently bought or sold a home. Even though personal referrals are highly effective when deciding on an agent, don’t forget to research the agent’s online presence for a complete picture of how you may work together in the near future.
- Local or regional real estate website: Use a real estate website to pair yourself with your next buyer’s agent while conducting a home search. Easily find open houses to get connected with a local agent in person. Geographical databases will get you associated with a listing agent near you that has a solid local reputation and strong knowledge of your local market.
Questions to ask your real estate agent.
Here are some questions to ask your potential agents during the interview process to help you choose the best real estate agent to represent you. Learn how to properly interview your agents to get the best home buying or selling experience as possible.
- 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 provide team support to help meet customers needs, 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 is a part-time 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 prove to be a ranking factor if you’re deciding between multiple agents..
- 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.
- 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 you’re 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.
You’ve got all the questions – now how do you choose a real estate agent?
Tips for buyers
Here are some things to consider when looking for a real estate agent while buying a home.
- Competitive offers and negotiation: An experienced real estate agent will be able to affirm your budget and help you make competitive offers, and help negotiate deals with sellers to meet your needs.
- Understand market competition: A good real estate agent will educate you on the current market conditions for your area. For example, is it currently a buyer’s or seller’s market? How many offers does a typical house see? Are bidding wars frequent or are houses sitting on the market for weeks before being sold? A knowledgeable agent will help you explore available listings within your area while setting expectations on how to be competitive against other buyers when making an offer.
- Getting the right home in your price range: Your real estate agent will help you determine your price point range on how much house you can afford while focusing on your priorities in features and amenities of your future home.
Tips for sellers
Here are some things to consider when looking for a real estate agent while selling your home.
- Consider home improvement: A good real estate professional will inform you if you need to make any improvements to your house before entering a competitive market. Your agent will be able to provide recommended improvements while educating you with the most up-to-date market knowledge to attract buyers.
- Understanding your home’s worth: An experienced agent representing you will give you a realistic property valuation of what your home is worth compared to the rest in your area, while providing you an explanation as to why it is worth that current value.
- Review the local real estate market: Your local real estate agent will be able to provide you with a market analysis comparing your current listing to other local listings within your area and homes similar to yours that recently sold – also known as real estate comps.
Always start by asking your friends, family, and colleagues for agent referrals. If they’ve had a good experience with other real estate agents either buying or selling their home, add that agent to your list.
Next, take a look online for agents with good reviews. Yes, even with top real estate agents, online reviews matter. Choose a few with the best overall reviews to make your interview list.
Then, schedule interviews with potential agents. Be upfront about your budget, your concerns, and your preferred style of a working relationship. You’re 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 the right real estate agent, you can move forward with confidence in buying your dream house or selling your home and move along to the next adventure.