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The wrong agent might cost you that cozy property on the sunny side of the street, or sell your existing property well under market value.
Your real estate agent is supposed to represent your best interests, so you must work with an experienced, trustworthy professional. By doing some research and following a few easy steps, you’ll be in a better position to find the right agent for you.
What Does a Real Estate Agent Do?
A real estate agent helps people rent, buy and sell homes.
In each transaction, a real estate agent is either a buyer’s agent, a seller’s agent or, sometimes, they represent both parties. Each role serves a different side of the transaction and represents the best interest of the buyer, seller or both.
For the selling agent (aka listing agent), this means helping the client price their home, getting the highest offer possible and closing in a short time.
A buyer’s agent helps the buyer find the right home, deters them from overbidding and negotiates fair contract terms.
Then there are dual agents (which isn’t legal in all states). Dual agents simultaneously represent the buyer and the seller during the transaction.
What are the licensing requirements for real estate agents?
Real estate transactions are large transactions that involve lots of laws and regulations. That’s why you need a license to become a real estate agent. The exact steps and fees for licensing can vary from state to state.
Across all states, would-be agents must complete a prelicensing course and test. They typically take 60 – 90 hours of courses to earn a real estate license. (However, online prelicensing classes can speed up that timeline.)
Real estate agents must keep up with continuing education classes to maintain their licenses.
What’s the difference between real estate agents and brokers?
Brokers and real estate agents aren’t identical.
Earning the title of broker comes with extra education and extra experience. To become a broker, a real estate agent must complete their state’s courses, pass the real estate broker licensing exam and reach a certain level of experience. Usually, a real estate agent must have 3 years’ worth of work experience before they can pursue a brokerage license.
Brokers learn about real estate legal issues, including property management, construction, real estate investments and how to operate a brokerage.
What makes REALTORS® different from other real estate agents?
All REALTORS® are real estate agents, but not all real estate agents are REALTORS®. Only agents who are members of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) are REALTORS®.
Membership benefits include:
- Access to REALTORS® Property Resource®
- Access to business tools, educational opportunities and real estate market data through NAR
- Enrollment in discount programs that help REALTORS® with their business operations
Steps To Take Before Hiring a Real Estate Agent
Hiring an agent is a big decision. As with any big decision, it’s worth doing your homework so you can make an informed choice.
Consult a mortgage lender to find out how much house you can reasonably afford
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 you is what your budget is. You can only know the answer to that question after assessing your finances and getting prequalified or 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, outstanding debts, down payment, etc.).
BTW, you don’t have to borrow the total amount the lender is willing to approve you for. Let your budget be your guide. Determine what you can reasonably afford and manage – and don’t go over that number.
Once you know how much home you can afford, it’s time to tap into your network and search for real estate agent candidates.
Mine your network and the internet for potential real estate agents
Starting a relationship with a real estate agent can be challenging. You really won’t know how much of a professional they are and how they operate until you start working with them. 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 vital to reach out to your network to learn more about prospective agents. You likely know people who have used a real estate agent to rent, buy, sell or all of the above.
Leveraging the knowledge and experience of the people you know and using word of mouth are some of the best ways to get trusted and honest feedback about an agent.
But personal recommendations and reviews can only go so far. You should do additional research, looking into questions like:
- What kind of reviews does this agent have?
- What credentials and qualifications does this agent have?
- Will this agent represent my interests?
The right set of questions can help you determine if a real estate agent is a good fit for your situation and goals.
What Questions Should You Ask When Interviewing Real Estate Agents?
Consider interviewing at least three agents. The questions you ask during the interview process will depend on whether you’re buying or selling.
Questions a buyer should ask
Here are some key questions you should ask potential agents:
What are your credentials?
There are dozens of credentials an agent can get if they are a REALTOR®. While these credentials aren’t mandatory, they are often a sign that the agent is enthusiastic and invested in what they do. Some of the most popular credentials for 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 market specifically?
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 local market. The agent can offer insight into whether pricing is on par with regional trends. This will be incredibly helpful when you’re deciding how much to offer on a property.
What’s the market like right now?
Any real estate agent you’re talking to should be able to answer this question without any hesitation. If they can’t answer with examples of what they are 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 appropriate listings in my price range?
You’re asking this question because you want to make sure that your agent will do more than look up listings on online listing sites – something you could easily do. Many agents have access to databases that aren’t available to the public and allow them to see listings earlier.
How do you handle making competitive offers, counteroffers and negotiations?
When it comes to offers, counteroffers and negotiations, your agent is essentially speaking on your behalf. You want to understand their approach to these situations so you can ensure that it aligns with your style. For example, some people might prefer a more aggressive agent, while others want someone who uses a softer, diplomatic touch.
What is your availability and how often do you communicate?
You can’t control when your dream house 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 for viewings.
Questions a seller should ask
What do you think my home is worth and why?
You likely have an idea of what your home is worth and what you want to sell it for. Asking your agent 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 home improvements do you recommend?
No home is perfect. When it comes to selling, most homeowners are willing to do some minor upgrades that help boost their sale price without investing too much time or money. A great agent can suggest quick fixes that will appeal to buyers without breaking the bank.
How will you market my home listing?
This is a critical question. 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?
Quiz the agent with this question to make sure they did their homework before the interview. 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.
What’s an appropriate asking price?
How much your home is worth and a reasonable asking price are not the same thing. Your home may be worth a certain amount, but a hot market could mean you can try to sell it for more. An agent can explain what they think is the right price for a fast sale based on market conditions.
How do you handle low offers, counteroffers and negotiations?
You want to make sure you agree with your agent’s style of handling low offers, counteroffers and negotiations.
What is your availability and how often do you communicate?
When you’re selling your home, you want to make sure 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, make sure you’ve read the contract terms – and understand them.
Pro tip: Pay attention to your agent’s fee and the steps outlined to terminate the contract for both buyers and sellers.
We’ve offered you lots of steps and lots to consider, but, honestly, 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 picking a real estate professional can pay off in time and money. Make sure you look for an agent you can trust to speak and negotiate on your behalf, as well as an experienced agent who can patiently guide you through the entire real estate transaction.
Arello. ”FAST FACTS ABOUT OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING AND THE REAL ESTATE PROFESSION.” Retrieved December 2021 from https://www.arello.org/assets/license-recognition/Licensing%20Research%20-%20Fast%20Facts.pdf
National Association of REALTORS®. ”Quick Real Estate Statistics.” Retrieved December 2021 from https://www.nar.realtor/research-and-statistics/quick-real-estate-statistics
National Association of REALTORS®. ”Designations and Certifications.” Retrieved December 2021 from https://www.nar.realtor/education/designations-and-certifications