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The wrong agent might cost you that cozy property on the sunny side of the street or sell your property well under market value. The right real estate agent will represent your best interests, so you should work with an experienced, trustworthy professional.
Are you looking for a real estate agent who’s right for you? Read on to learn how to do that.
What Does a Real Estate Agent Do?
Before you start your search for the right real estate agent, you should understand what they do.
A real estate agent is a licensed professional who helps people rent, buy and sell homes. Agents make money from commissions at the close of real estate transactions. An agent’s commission is usually a percentage of a home’s sale price.
In each transaction, a real estate agent is the buyer’s agent, the seller’s agent, or sometimes, an agent represents both parties. Each role serves a different side of the transaction and represents the buyer’s interest, the seller’s interest or both.
- Buyer’s agent: A buyer’s agent helps a buyer find a home, deters them from overbidding and negotiates a fair purchase offer.
- Seller’s agent: Also known as the selling agent or listing agent, they help clients price their home, get the highest offer possible and close as soon as possible.
- Dual agent: Dual agents represent the buyer and the seller in the same real estate transaction.
Real estate agent vs. REALTOR®
All REALTORS® are real estate agents, but not all real estate agents are REALTORS®. Agents who are members of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) are REALTORS®.
Real estate agent vs. Real estate broker
Real estate brokers are agents who have passed a brokerage exam and received a broker’s license, making them qualified to oversee real estate agents, work for themselves or open a brokerage. A real estate agent usually needs 3 years of work experience before getting a brokerage license.
Real estate agent vs. Realtist®
A Realtist® is an agent who is a member of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers®. NAREB® focuses on helping home buyers of color find homes and advocates for the end of discriminatory legal and social barriers to homeownership.
Steps To Take Before Hiring a Real Estate Agent
Whether you’re buying or selling, hiring an agent is a big decision. As with any big decision, you should do your homework to make an informed choice.
If you’re buying
Before you can tackle finding a real estate agent, you’ll need to know how much house you can afford to buy.
One of the first questions an agent will ask is what’s your budget. You’ll only know the answer to the question after you assess your finances and get preapproved by a lender.
Your lender will tell you how much they’re willing to lend based on various factors (think: your income, credit score, debts, down payment, etc.).
You should prepare a list of must-haves for your new home. Your list will help your real estate agent prepare a list of potential homes based on your needs and your budget. Consider the architectural home styles you like, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms you want, the location and more.
If you’re selling
Your priority should be to find an agent who will help you get top dollar for your home. Start your search early so you’re prepared once you put your house on the market. An early start will also give you and your agent time to identify any updates or repairs you may need to make before you list your home.
You should also focus on decluttering your home and preparing it for staging. Your agent can take pictures to get your property ready for listing once the home is staged.
How To Find a Real Estate Agent
Once you’re confident you’re ready for the next steps, it’s time to start the search for a real estate agent.
Here’s what you need to do to find the right agent for you and your home buying or selling journey:
Use your network
You probably know people who have used a real estate agent to rent, buy or sell a property or all of the above. Take advantage of your network. Reach out to family members, friends, co-workers or neighbors for recommendations.
Leveraging the knowledge and experience of the people you know and word of mouth are some of the best ways to get trusted and honest feedback about an agent.
Research agents in your area
Sometimes personal recommendations and reviews don’t pan out the way you expect – and that’s okay. You can also search for an agent online or on social media. The National Association of REALTORS® and the National Association of Real Estate Brokers® both offer agent directories.
Check out agent credentials and qualifications and read through any reviews.
Attend an open house
If there are open houses in your desired neighborhoods, attending a few can be a savvy way to find real estate agents who know the area. You can meet agents in person and see how well you connect with them and their work style.
What To Look For in a Real Estate Agent
Starting a relationship with a real estate agent can be challenging. You won’t know how much of a professional they are and how they operate until you start working with them. And that should be a cause for concern because you’re trusting them with one of the biggest purchases (or sales) of your life.
That’s why it’s important to know what to look for when you’re searching for an agent. Consider these factors during your search:
- Knowledge: Find an agent who’s worked in the area where you want to purchase or sell your home. They should know what types of homes are in the area and any recent price trends.
- Experience: You can work with an agent with several years of experience or a newer agent – it’s up to you. A more experienced agent may be more knowledgeable, but they may not be able to offer as much of their time. A newer agent may be hungrier and willing to shower you with more attention.
- Skills: When you’re looking around an agent’s website or home listing sites, notice how well the listings are presented. Do their descriptions paint the home in the best light? Do they provide options such as virtual tours or walkthroughs?
- Availability: Whether you’re buying or selling, things can move quickly depending on the market. Working with a reliable agent who’s always available to take your calls may help you avoid missing out on any opportunities.
Questions To Ask a Real Estate Agent as a Buyer
Consider interviewing at least three agents. Here are some key questions you should ask potential agents when you’re buying a home:
What are your credentials?
Real estate agents can take different courses to receive various certifications and designations. These credentials aren’t mandatory, but they’re usually a sign that an agent is enthusiastic and invested in their work. Some of the most popular credentials for agents who are members of the National Association of REALTORS® include:
- Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®)
- Seller Representative Specialist (SRS)
- Seniors Real Estate Specialist® (SRES®)
What experience do you have in real estate and our local market?
Buying a home is a big purchase. You want someone who is experienced and can guide you through every step. Level up and get someone who knows a lot about your specific market. The agent can offer insight into whether pricing is on par with regional trends. This kind of info will be extremely useful when you’re deciding how much to offer on a property.
What’s the market like right now?
Any real estate agent should be able to answer this question with no delay. If they can’t answer with examples of what they’re seeing with other clients, they may not have the deep well of knowledge you’ll need to draw from during the home buying process.
What kinds of challenges are likely to arise?
Buying a home can get complicated. Your real estate agent is there to help you through it all: the simple, the challenging and the complex. A good agent is transparent about potential challenges from the start. And they’ll explain how they plan on helping you navigate them.
How will you find listings in my price range?
You’re asking this question because you want to know that your agent will do more than look up listings on online listing sites – something you could easily do. Many agents have access to multiple listing service (MLS) databases that aren’t available to the public and allow them to see listings earlier.
How do you handle competitive offers, counteroffers and negotiations?
When it comes to offers, counteroffers and negotiations, your agent is essentially speaking on your behalf. You need to know their approach to these situations to feel confident that their approach aligns with your style. For example, some people may prefer a more aggressive agent, while others may want someone who uses a softer, diplomatic touch.
What is your communication style?
You can’t control when your dream home is listed. But when it’s finally listed, you’ll probably want to see it as soon as possible. You’ll want an agent with lots of availability who can accommodate your schedule and efficiently communicate updates on the home.
Questions To Ask a Real Estate Agent as a Seller
Here are some key questions you should ask potential agents when you’re selling a home:
What do you think my home is worth and why?
You likely have an idea of what your home is worth and how much you want to sell it for. Asking your agent for their opinion can help you gauge whether they have a good grasp on local market prices. If you disagree with their quote, ask them how they arrived at their price. They may point out factors you hadn’t considered.
What’s an appropriate asking price?
How much your home is worth and a reasonable asking price aren’t always the same things. Your home may be worth a certain amount, but if the market’s hot, you may want to try and sell it for more. An agent can explain what they think is the right price for a fast sale based on market conditions.
What home improvements do you recommend?
No home is perfect. When it comes to selling, most homeowners are willing to do some minor upgrades to help boost their sale price without investing too much time or money. A great agent can suggest quick fixes that appeal to buyers without breaking the bank.
How will you market my home listing?
This question is critical. Your agent’s marketing strategy can be the difference between a quick sale and a long, drawn-out sale. Ask them if they’ll pay for professional photos, where they’ll list and advertise your home and more.
What are comparable listings in my area?
See if they did their homework on comps in your area before you sat down and talked. Even if they don’t have listings in the area, they should have done some research so they’re prepared to suggest a price for your home.
How do you handle low offers, counteroffers and negotiations?
Make sure you’re comfortable with your agent’s style of handling low offers, counteroffers and negotiations.
What is your availability?
When you’re selling your home, you want to know you’ve got your agent’s full attention. Make sure they’re available evenings and weekends to host open houses.
Read, Understand and Discuss the Agent Contract
Before you sign on with an agent, take a magnifying glass to the contract terms and make sure you understand them.
Take note of the contract’s terms, including how long it will last and what steps you’ll need to take if you need to terminate it.
One of the most important things you can do is trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, honor that feeling. Sign on the dotted line when you feel comfortable and confident in an agent’s ability.
Why Finding the Right Real Estate Agent Matters
Your real estate agent is there to help you navigate one of life’s major milestones. Buying or selling a home can get complicated and costly. Doing some research before hiring a real estate agent can pay off in time and money.
Look for an experienced agent you can trust to speak and negotiate on your behalf and patiently guide you through the entire real estate transaction.
Take the first step toward buying a home.
Get approved. See what you qualify for. Start house hunting.
The Short Version
- A real estate agent is a licensed professional who helps people rent, buy and sell homes
- Agents represent either the buyer or seller in a property transaction. In states where dual agency is allowed, one agent can represent both the buyer and the seller
- Lots of people lean on referrals from family and friends to find a trustworthy, reliable agent
National Association of REALTORS®. “Quick Real Estate Statistics.” Retrieved January 2023 from https://www.nar.realtor/research-and-statistics/quick-real-estate-statistics
National Association of REALTORS®. “Highlights From the Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers.” Retrieved January 2023 from https://www.nar.realtor/research-and-statistics/research-reports/highlights-from-the-profile-of-home-buyers-and-sellers
National Association of REALTORS®. ”Designations and Certifications.” Retrieved December 2021 from https://www.nar.realtor/education/designations-and-certifications