How to choose a real estate agent

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Buying or selling your home is a significant undertaking. Here’s how to choose the right real estate agent to help you navigate the process. (iStock)

Selling or purchasing a home is one of the most significant financial decisions you’ll ever make. That’s why many people find it helpful to get guidance from a licensed real estate agent. In 2020, 88% of buyers purchased their homes and 89% of sellers sold their homes with the help of a real estate agent or broker, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors

Real estate agents bring a lot of benefits to the table. An experienced listing agent is your pricing expert for homes in your neighborhood who can list your home at a fair market value. A good real estate agent also negotiates on your behalf and handles the paperwork for you.

Whether you’re buying or selling your home, here’s how to choose a real estate agent who’s right for you. 

What should I look for in a real estate agent?

The right real estate agent is someone with expertise who you can trust to help you navigate your real estate transaction with integrity. Here are a few essential qualities your agent should possess.

  • Licensed — The first step in finding a reputable agent is to contact your state’s department of real estate to verify if your agent is licensed. Be sure to check if they’ve received any complaints or been subject to any disciplinary actions.
  • Full-time — If your agent is selling houses part-time, how do you think they’ll fare when it’s time to negotiate with a full-time agent who’s in the trenches every day? If they’re at their day job or otherwise unavailable, it may be more challenging for them to handle the inevitable issues that arise.
  • Outstanding communicator — Things move quickly in a real estate deal, and many tasks must be handled promptly. To that end, you’ll be in constant contact with your real estate agent, which makes it imperative to have an agent who is a proactive communicator and returns correspondence efficiently.
  • Proficient with technology — Nine out of 10 homebuyers turn to the internet as a primary source of information, according to the National Association of Realtors, or NAR. A good agent should be internet-savvy and able to get your home in front of potential buyers online. A buyer’s agent should be able to scour the listings every day to make sure you’re immediately aware when your dream home hits the market.

Visit Credible to connect with real estate agents in your market.

How can I find a real estate agent?

A quick way to find licensed real estate agents is to search the national database, which is operated by NAR. You can also find local agents by checking out state and local Realtor boards.

Go to open houses to check out the local housing market

Perhaps the most obvious place to find a real estate agent is to drive around your neighborhood and look for "for sale" lawn signs advertising open houses and sold homes. 

Talk to an agent in person at an open house

Open houses can also be a networking opportunity to meet real estate agents. By attending a few open houses, you’ll have the chance to speak with the agents who are selling those homes. You might meet an agent you like and who checks all the boxes you’re looking for. 

Get referrals from your network

Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find recommendations. Ask your relatives or closest friends who they would — or wouldn’t — recommend and why. Referrals aren’t 100% fail-proof, but they can be a great way to choose a real estate agent.

Compare real estate agents online

One of the fastest ways to review listing or buyer’s agents in your area is to search "your city + real estate agent" online. Your search will not only return a list of agents in your area, but many of them will have several reviews and ratings attached to their names for you to compare.

Zillow’s Agent Finder tool is another good resource for finding and comparing agents that shows you the agent’s license number, specialties, and star rating.

Finally, most real estate agents today maintain an online presence, ranging from a simple Facebook business page to an extensive website with resources for buyers and sellers. As you zero in on agents you like, check out their website or social channels to get a feel for how they present themselves professionally.

To find a real estate agent in your market, you can search Credible's database of more than 90,000 agents.

What to consider when choosing a real estate agent

Once you’ve found a few agents you might want to work with, here are some criteria to consider as you make your choice.

Identify relevant certifications

Make sure your real estate agent lists their job title as a Realtor with a capital "R," or you may see a block "R" logo next to their name. The difference between a Realtor and a real estate agent is that a Realtor is a member of the National Association of Realtors and bound by the organization’s code of ethics.

Many Realtors have additional certifications, which means they’ve undergone additional coursework and training in a particular specialty. Though each state has different requirements for Realtors, here are a few standard designations you might find: 

  • Accredited Buyer's Representative (ABR): This designation is for agents who focus on representing home buyers.
  • Seller Representative Specialist (SRS): This certification seeks to raise professional standards in the real estate industry and is considered the premier designation for seller’s agents.
  • ​​Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES): An SRES designation shows that the agent has additional training to better assist buyers over the age of 50.

Ask your real estate agent the right questions

It’s important to interview at least a few agents so you can compare them and identify the right professional for you. Here are some questions to ask. 

  • How many years of real estate experience do you have? You want to make sure you’re not your agent’s first client, and that they have sufficient experience to handle negotiations competently and complete your transaction smoothly.
  • How many clients do you currently have? In an active real estate market, an agent with no clients could be a red flag. On the other hand, your agent may not have sufficient time for you if they have too many clients.
  • Do you specialize in working with buyers or sellers? Many real estate agents wear both hats and represent buyers and sellers with equal effectiveness. But if your agent primarily works with sellers, and you’re a buyer, there’s a chance the agent may assign another agent on their team to work with you.
  • How will you market my home? A professional listing agent should deliver a presentation for you detailing how they’ll price and market your home for the best chance of securing a buyer to purchase your home for the best price.
  • Do you have a few references I can contact? Any agent worth their salt will expect this question and have the contact information handy for at least a couple of references.

Explain your preferred method of communication

If you prefer calling or emailing but your Realtor prefers texting, it might not be the best fit. Remember, you’re going to be in frequent contact with your agent — often several times a day. If communication is more difficult than it should be, it could be a recipe for frustration.

If you’re selling, clarify your motivation 

If you’re looking for a Realtor to sell your home, it’s essential to tell them why you’re selling. Are you downsizing, upgrading, and/or relocating? 

When you’re clear about your timeline, goals, and motivations, your agent will have the necessary direction to meet your objectives. For example, if you need to meet a specific threshold concerning the sales price, your agent needs to know that upfront. 

The bottom line on real estate

Real estate professionals can help you find the home of your dreams, but you’ll need a suitable mortgage lender to fund it. Credible makes it easy to get prequalified rates from reputable lenders in minutes and discloses lender fees so that you can make an informed decision and choose the best agent for you.

Credible also offers a real estate agent matching tool in addition to its mortgage options.