How to Find a Real Estate Agent

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Behind every great real estate investor is a solid real estate agent. In fact, having a great agent can make all the difference when it comes to buying or selling a home.

But how do you find a great real estate agent? After all, there are many real estate professionals out there. With so much on the line, you need to make the right choice.

Let’s look at what you can do to increase your chances of finding an agent who meets your needs perfectly, whether you’re a home buyer or seller.

What Is a Real Estate Agent?

A real estate agent is a trained and licensed individual who assists with various real estate processes. Many of these agents are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Real estate agents may specialize in buying, selling, or even renting properties. But many agents can help with more than one side of a real estate transaction.

If you’re a home buyer, look for a selling agent. And if you want to sell your home, you’ll need a listing agent. (Yeah, we know it’s confusing!)

What’s the difference between an agent and a broker?

The terms “real estate agent” and “real estate broker” are often used interchangeably. But there’s a difference.

A real estate broker is an agent who has completed extra training and licensing and owns their own brokerage firm. Some brokers work independently as agents, while others hire agents to work for them.

Every real estate agent must work on behalf of a real estate brokerage, whether they own the firm themselves or are hired by a broker. Most agents are contractors who depend on commissions rather than a salary.

Independent vs. franchised brokerages

There are two types of real estate brokerages: independent firms and franchises.

Independent agencies are typically easier to work with than large firms. That’s because they tend to give their agents more operational freedom. This can make it easier to negotiate down payments, stage properties, and find renters. 

At the same time, independent agencies and agents tend to be easier to access. This is because they’re the type who actually answer the phone. 

On the other hand, large franchised real estate brokerage firms tend to offer better technology for pricing, marketing, and finding homes, as well as better overall support systems. Your broker may have professionals dedicated to handling different actions of your transaction.

Franchised firms may also have preferred connections with mortgage lenders, making it easier for you to find a great loan. 

It’s impossible to say which type of brokerage is better than the other. Every agency is different, so it’s a good idea to research each one and compare notes. 

How to Find a Real Estate Agent 

  1. Decide what you want
  2. Ask your network
  3. Search on UpNest
  4. Check Realtor.com
  5. Browse Thumbtack
  6. Interview agents

1. Decide what you want in a local real estate agent 

First, think about the type of agent you want. 

After all, you’re going to work extensively with this person. Will you be comfortable working with a bulldog negotiator? Or do you prefer someone easier to get along with, even if they’re less skilled in the art of negotiation? (Hint: You should almost always go with the former option!)

Not all real estate agents are easy to work with. Often, home buyers and sellers clash with agents due to a lack of communication. Outline your goals before you get started, so you can find an agent who aligns with your vision.

It’s also important to consider that most real estate agents specialize in specific tasks. For example, some real estate agents specialize in helping clients find new homes, while others specialize in being great listing agents. So make sure your agent can confidently deliver the service you need.

2. Ask your network for referrals

Before testing the open market for a good real estate agent, talk to your friends, family members, and coworkers. See if anyone you know can recommend a trusted real estate agent in your area.

It’s always better to work with a trusted connection whom others can vouch for. Attempting to find a real estate agent on your own can be risky.

Of course, just because someone recommends an agent doesn’t necessarily mean you should feel obligated to work with them. It’s still important to vet each prospective agent.

3. Search on UpNest 

UpNest is a site that connects real estate agents with home buyers. First, the site asks a series of questions about your location, intentions, and how much you’re thinking about spending. Then UpNest finds agents who compete for your business. 

The site promises to help save on commissions and agent fees while making finding a qualified realtor in your area fast and easy.

4. Check Realtor.com

Realtor.com is another leading website you can use to find a realtor. The site lets you search for specific agents in a particular city, giving you a relatively easy way to connect. If you’re a home seller, use the site to find out how many homes the agent has successfully closed. You don’t want to be someone’s first sale!

Another site to consider is Zillow, which can connect you with properties, realtors, and open houses simultaneously.

5. Browse Thumbtack 

Thumbtack is a site that connects people with professionals in their area. One service it offers is a residential real estate agent search tool. It’s worth browsing Thumbtack for recommendations if you’re new to a particular market. 

6. Interview agents

I encourage homeowners to treat agent sourcing like hiring an employee. Ask questions, conduct interviews, and make a shortlist of people you’d feel comfortable working with. 

Here are some questions to ask each agent:

  • How long have you been buying, selling, or renting homes?
  • How many clients are you currently working with?
  • What’s your buying or selling strategy?
  • Do you have any sales metrics you can share?

Don’t be afraid to ask hard-hitting questions. Agents should be able to provide answers to these basic questions. And you should probably avoid anyone who doesn’t give straight answers.

Tips for Finding the Right Real Estate Agent

It’s important to be picky about the agent you work with. Here are some tips to help you find the agent who meets your specific needs.

Availability is important 

The agent should be able to tell you how many homes they’re currently working on. And this is where balance is key. 

An agent who’s buying or selling too many homes at a time will have limited availability. At the same time, you should probably avoid someone who has nothing going on. 

Look for an agent who’s busy — but not too busy that they won’t have time to help you drive around and find homes or negotiate. It’s a delicate but crucial balance. 

Test their local knowledge

Ask the agent plenty of questions about the local market. Ask to go out to lunch and have the agent recommend the restaurant. Spend time driving around town and ask for details on businesses, schools, and neighborhoods. Try to get a sense of how in tune the agent is with the surrounding area. 

If possible, cross-reference their insights with locals to determine whether they’re honest or full of it. 

Local knowledge is particularly important for buyers trying to gauge the long-term value of a particular area. Someone who knows the neighborhood well should inform you about trends and developments in the community.

Find an agent who listens 

Ultimately, when it comes to buying a house, you’re in charge. Of course, your agent should guide you and help you. But you’re the one who’s going to have to deal with the property long after the agent’s work is done.

If you have a negative feeling about a property, don’t be afraid to ask to move onto the next one — even if the agent disagrees. A good agent should never force you into anything you don’t want.

On the flip side, when selling a house, it’s a good idea to sit back and let the agent do their thing. Interfering too much could create unnecessary conflict — and wind up costing you money.

Don’t go it alone

Some people don’t want to pay agent fees and instead try handling real estate transactions alone. Don’t do that. Even if you’re great at negotiating, it’s a good idea to work with a real estate agent who’s an expert in their field.

There are many aspects of real estate that are risky and complex. If you don’t have marketing expertise or know how to price your home properly, you could sell it for a price much lower than what an agent could help you realize.

And if you’re trying to buy a house by yourself and don’t have local knowledge or experience in negotiating a home sale, you could end up paying more than you should.

Therefore, hiring a trained expert to oversee the buying or selling process is generally much better.

Be honest 

As a home buyer, be upfront with your agent in terms of what you can comfortably afford. There’s no point in looking at houses priced beyond your budget because your financial details will eventually come out during the mortgage preapproval process.

If you’re honest about your budget from the start, your agent can help you find realistic options and avoid wasting time. And if you’re unsure what you can afford, your agent may be able to help you. And some agents may require that you be preapproved before they’ll even show you a house.

Think before signing a binding contract 

An agent will most likely ask you to sign a contract at a certain point, making them your exclusive partner for a particular period and in a specific region. 

Once you sign that paper, you’re legally obligated to work with that real estate agent for the duration of the agreement. So it’s a good idea to make sure you’re comfortable with the agent you partner with.

Keep in mind that it’s often possible to get out of these contracts. But you can’t legally engage a new realtor until you sever your existing agreement.

Before signing any contract, be sure you agree with all of the terms of service. Also, check if there’s a termination fee you’d have to pay if you want to cancel your agreement before its conclusion.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a real estate agent a realtor?

Although all realtors are real estate agents, not all real estate agents are realtors. A realtor is a licensed agent who’s also a member of the National Association of Realtors. By joining this organization, the agent agrees to the organization’s code of ethics and standards. 

It’s generally a good idea to work with a certified realtor to ensure the best experience possible. However, there are some cases in which talented agents choose to avoid certification. Always do your due diligence before selecting an agent.

What role do lenders play in the home-buying process?

Mortgage lenders are responsible for issuing loans to home buyers. Unless you’re going to buy a home with cash, you’ll need to secure a mortgage from a lender.

The first step of working with a lender typically involves getting preapproved for a mortgage. The lender will assess your complete financial information to decide how big a mortgage you are eligible for. 

Shop around and get multiple quotes from different lenders to determine who’s willing to give you the most money. The first loan that comes your way may not be the best.

How can I choose the right real estate agent?

Everyone is different, so there’s no right or wrong answer when selecting a buyer’s agent or seller’s agent. Spend some time thinking about exactly what you want in an agent. It’s also a good idea to find someone with full-time availability.

I encourage everyone to work with an agent in a real estate transaction, from first-time home buyers to seasoned sellers. Unless you’re an exceptionally experienced real estate investor, it’s worth paying the real estate commission to streamline the home search or home sale process.  

The best real estate agents have a proven track record of success, years of experience, and expert knowledge of the local real estate market. Do your due diligence and take your time; you don’t want to make the wrong decision here.

The Bottom Line

Selecting the right real estate agent is one of the most important parts of the buying, renting, and selling process. 

Take your time when finding an agent by doing an extensive online search and asking around. The more research you do, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

As a disclaimer, an agent can only do so much. They can’t fix a bad credit score or fetch top dollar for a rundown old house. But they can help you reach your goals.  

Here’s to partnering with a real estate agent who helps you make the smartest home-buying and selling decisions.

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