Shopping for a home? Know what to look for in a real estate agent

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Having a real estate professional on your side can make navigating the homebuying or selling process easier. (iStock)

Buying or selling a house is a big undertaking, whether you’re doing it for the first time or the 15th. You must manage numerous details during real estate transactions and making a mistake can cost you a lot. 

Having a real estate professional on your side can make navigating the homebuying or selling process a whole lot easier. Here’s what to look for in a real estate agent and some tips on how to work with one. 

What is a real estate agent?

A real estate agent is a licensed professional who can help you buy, sell or rent property, and navigate the process with you from start to finish. 

Real estate agents can work on behalf of buyers or sellers (as a listing agent). The seller pays a commission that both the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent split, so it doesn’t cost you anything as a buyer to work with a real estate agent. The commission rate is typically about 6% of the home’s value, but commission rates are negotiable. 

Each state has its own real estate licensing requirements but to become a real estate agent one must typically complete coursework and pass their state’s licensing exam. 

You can use Credible to search a nationwide network of more than 90,000 real estate agents.

Real estate agent vs. RealtorⓇ: What’s the difference?

Even though Realtor sounds similar to real estate agent, they’re slightly different professionals. While all Realtors are licensed real estate agents, not all real estate agents are Realtors. 

To be considered a Realtor, a real estate agent must be a member of the National Association of Realtors and agree to follow the NAR Code of Ethics. A professional doesn’t have to be a Realtor to help with real estate transactions, but many pursue this membership for the professional benefits they gain from it. Today, NAR has 1.4 million members so it’s not difficult to find a real estate agent that’s also a Realtor. 

Realtors can be involved in both residential and commercial real estate transactions as either salespeople, brokers, appraisers, counselors, property managers or another role.

What does a real estate agent do?

Real estate agents help their clients buy, sell and rent properties. This involves helping their clients navigate the entire process, such as finding a home for a buyer to make an offer on, advertising a home to find a buyer or helping their client negotiate an offer. 

As a buyer’s agent, a real estate agent might take on tasks such as:

  • Interviewing you to get an idea of what you want in a home
  • Researching towns and neighborhoods that meet your criteria
  • Researching listings of homes that meet your criteria and sharing those listings with you
  • Arranging for you to tour homes you’re interested in and accompanying you on the tour

As a listing agent, a real estate agent typically will:

  • Research comparable homes in your area to help you set a selling price
  • Advertise your home
  • Add your home’s listing to multiple listing services where buyers can see your home online
  • Host open houses to allow buyers to visit your home and learn more about it directly from your agent

Of course, real estate agents often do much more than these basic tasks. A good real estate agent becomes your partner in the home buying or selling process.

When you use Credible to search for a real estate agent, you can get a personalized recommendation.

What should I look for in a real estate agent?

Choosing the right real estate agent to work with who will have your best interests at heart is a personal decision, and you’ll need to decide what qualities are most important to you for a real estate agent to have. 

Here are some common things to look for in a real estate agent:

  • Knowledge of the real estate market — Working with an agent who knows your area well will make it easier to find the right home to buy or position your home in the best price range to sell to potential buyers.
  • Knowledge of the industry — A good real estate agent should be well versed in how the real estate industry works, best practices, your state’s legal requirements for home transactions and how to serve clients.
  • Experience — Having an experienced agent on your team could help you buy or sell a home faster. But don’t overlook creative, savvy newer agents with less experience.
  • How much business they’ve done — This can be a good indicator of how skilled they are.
  • Reputation — Asking friends, family and neighbors for referrals is a great place to start when looking for an agent. Hearing firsthand what someone’s experience working with an agent was like can help you get an idea of whether they’re reliable, easy to work with and effective.
  • Knowledge of the mortgage process — A real estate agent can help you navigate the mortgage process and better understand your options.
  • Marketing transparency — If you’re a seller, you’ll want to know what types of plans a real estate agent has for marketing your home for sale.
  • How easy it is to understand their contract — Make sure you understand all areas of the contract before signing, including what the agent’s commission rate will be and how long your exclusivity agreement will last.
  • Personal compatibility with you — You’ll be spending a lot of time with your real estate agent, so take your personality compatibility into account to make the experience more enjoyable and productive.

How can I find a real estate agent?

Now that you know what to look for in a real estate agent, it’s time to hire one. Many real estate agents are as adept at marketing themselves as they are at marketing homes, so you probably won’t have to look too hard to find an agent to work with. 

Here are a few common ways to find a real estate agent.

  • Go to an open house to meet agents that work in your neighborhood.
  • Ask for referrals from friends, relatives and neighbors.
  • Look online and read reviews.
  • Check out listings in the area you’re interested in and see who’s representing them.
  • Interview a minimum of three agents to make sure you find the right fit.

Credible offers another way to find a real estate agent. Its free search tool can help you connect with a real estate agent in your area.

Do I have to work with a real estate agent?

Although you can buy or sell a home without the help of a real estate agent, working with one will almost certainly make the process easier. 

Forgoing an agent means you’re solely responsible for marketing your home (if you’re a seller) or negotiating with a seller (if you’re a buyer). You’ll also need to manage processes like home inspections, appraisals, finding a title agency, finding a real estate attorney and more. This is a lot of work and responsibility to take on, especially if you’re doing so for the first time. 

If you’re a seller, the idea of saving on commission costs may be appealing, but it’s important to evaluate whether the savings will be worth the extra work. As a buyer, you don’t pay real estate agent commissions, so there are no cost-savings in skipping an agent. 

Think carefully before deciding to skip working with a real estate agent. Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, a real estate agent will advocate for you and your needs, so they can be a good person to have in your corner.