How to Choose a Real Estate Agent
Buying a home is complicated. And if you’re starting the process, that sentence can feel like a huge understatement.
There’s a lot of legwork involved, from all the preliminary research and sea of paperwork to get through to crisscrossing town to look at potential properties to buy.
Then there’s the financial side of things. Buying a home is the largest transaction you’re likely to make in your life. You’ll need careful focus and deliberation to make sense of all the terms and obligations involved. At the same time, buying a home is an emotional experience, a rite of passage and will serve as a foundation of your lifestyle and community. You need to understand and pay attention to your feelings about the homes, neighborhoods, and community in which you are looking. It is critical to keep a balance between your ability to make rational decisions and choose the house that is going to bring you joy and and enrich your life.
Needless to say, it’s a lot to think about, manage, and do. That makes it all the more important to make sure you have the right people on your side when you start looking for a new home.
The right real estate agent can make or break your home buying experience. You need to work with someone who is knowledgeable, professional, and accessible — and you actually need to like the person, too.
Here’s what to look for in a real estate agent, along with what to ask and other factors to consider before you make your final choice.
Start Your Search with the Pros
Before you start interviewing individual agents, familiarize yourself with the standards in this industry. Each state licenses real estate agents, so you can look up an agent’s information to see if they have a past history of complaints filed against them.
You might want to search for an agent who is a certified Realtor, meaning they’re a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). And some agents will have additional certifications, like those awarded by the Council of Residential Specialists or NAR.
These extra designations aren’t necessary, but your agent should definitely be licensed.
You can also tap your own network to gather an initial pool of agents to choose from. Ask family members, friends, coworkers, and others in your social circles who recently bought a home and enjoyed the experience.
From here, you can narrow down your options to a few people you may want to work with. Then, you can choose among that group of professional, experienced agents.
The Qualities Your Ideal Real Estate Agent Should Possess
Let’s say you have about 5 or 6 different agents on your short list. How do you choose the right one? Look for these 3 critical qualities:
Experience: This doesn’t just mean experience in real estate or with selling homes, although that’s important, too. Ideally, you want to work with someone with at least 5 years in the industry.
Your agent also needs to be an expert in the specific neighborhoods and areas you are interested in buying. They need to know the particular ins and outs of the local markets.
On top of that, they should have experience and knowledge with buyers like you, in your price range, looking at the kind of properties that you’re interested in. They need to know what it’s like in your world, so they can lead you to the right homes at the right prices.
Influence: Your agent isn’t the only professional you need to work with when you look for and buy a home. You may need access to mortgage lenders, insurance agents, home inspectors, contractors, and more. A great real estate agent will maintain relationships with other individuals and businesses that can help their clients every step of the way.
Personality: Yes, this matters! How well you click and get along with your agent can have a major impact on your entire experience. You’ll be communicating with this person a lot. They’ll represent you in negotiations when you put in offers and help guide you through some difficult decisions.
What to Ask Before the Final Decision
The last step before making a final decision? Choose a handful of real estate agents to interview. Don’t hold back: home buying is a complicated and involved process. and Agents you interview have a significant incentive to earn your business.
You’re entitled to get your questions answered and to understand the full picture before entering any contracts or agreements. If an agent doesn’t satisfactorily answer your questions — or refuses to discuss something with you — keep looking.
You’ll want to ask questions specific to your situation and needs, but these general queries will help you get the interview started:
- What’s your experience like?
- Who do you normally work with?
- How do you get paid?
- How much will it cost me to sell my current home (if this applies to you)?
- How will we communicate? How often will you be in touch?
- What’s your process for helping your clients look for a property to buy?
- Can you provide references, or connect me with past clients of yours?
- What is your strategy for negotiating offers and counteroffers?
Make sure you understand what the entire process of working together looks like, from start to finish. Know what the agent will take responsibility for, and what you’ll need to handle on your own.
Watch Out for Red Flags and Go with Your Gut
Maybe you found an agent that checks most of the boxes — but there are a few things that leave you feeling uncertain. Look into these areas!
If an agent you talk to raises any of these red flags, you might want to continue your search before choosing someone to work with:
- They work in real estate part-time: This isn’t an automatic deal-breaker, but proceed with caution. You want your agent to be accessible, especially in a hot market. Someone who can’t commit to a full-time schedule may not be the best option.
- They are family or a close friend: While it makes sense to support those you love; you should find another way than tangling your existing relationship into the hard process of buying a home. There’s a lot of emotion — and even more money — involved, so it might be better to keep your personal life out of this major decision and investment.
- They don’t usually work with people like you, who want the kind of property you do: Again, you need an expert with experience in situations like yours that has the knowledge to help you make the best decisions at the best price.
At the end of the day, do a gut check before you choose a real estate agent. Someone might look great on paper, but your intuition says it’s a bad match.
Trust your instincts and continue looking if an agent leaves you with a bad vibe. There are enough agents out there who deserve your business, so don’t feel stuck with limited options.
Buying a home is a big deal. You have the right to be a little picky and keep searching until you find the perfect real estate agent for you.