By Grant Edrington – Updated July 28th, 2023
So, you’re ready to buy a home! Now it’s time to find a real estate agent.
Hiring a pro to guide you through the process can help prevent headaches throughout every step toward purchasing a home. It’s invaluable to have someone in your corner who knows the market inside out and can ensure you get the best deal.
With so many agents vying for your attention through online ads, newspaper listings, and yard signs, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. To help you find a knowledgeable agent that understands you – and the market – we’ll cover several tips and points to consider when making your decision, including:
- What Does a Real Estate Agent Do?
- What to Do Before Searching For a Real Estate Agent
- How to Find Real Estate Agents
- Questions to Ask
- How to Pick the Best Real Estate Agent For You
What Does a Real Estate Agent Do?
A real estate agent has an important role in the realm of buying and selling properties. They are licensed professionals who help people navigate the complexities of the real estate market.
- A buyer’s agent is focused on helping people who want to buy a property. They help buyers find suitable homes, negotiate offers, and guide them through the closing process.
- A listing agent specializes in selling properties. Their main responsibility is to work with sellers, determine the market value of their home, market the property, and negotiate with potential buyers.
Both types of agents have a duty to act in the best interests of their clients, providing valuable guidance and expertise throughout the entire real estate transaction.1, 2
Real Estate Agent vs. Realtor
What’s the difference between a real estate agent and a realtor? The main difference is that a realtor is a real estate agent who belongs to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) professional organization. As a member of the NAR, they abide by a strict code of ethics and professional standards. Basically, all realtors are real estate agents, but not all agents are realtors. As of October 2022, there were over 1.6 million realtors in the NAR.
So, if you’re looking for an agent who’s committed to high standards and ethical practices, choosing a realtor might be the way to go.1
Real Estate Agent vs. Broker
The main difference between a real estate agent and a broker comes down to their qualifications and responsibilities. A real estate agent is licensed to help clients with buying, selling, or renting properties, but they work under the supervision of a broker.
On the other hand, a broker has additional training and education that allows them to work independently, manage their own brokerage firm, and employ agents. Brokers have a wider range of responsibilities, like overseeing transactions and ensuring compliance with legal requirements. While both agents and brokers play important roles, brokers generally have a higher level of expertise and independence.1
What to Do Before Searching For a Real Estate Agent
Before you start your search for a real estate agent, there are a few important steps you should take to set yourself up for success. Here’s what you need to do before looking for an agent:
If you’re buying:
Get Preapproved for a Mortgage
This step is crucial, as it helps you determine the price range of homes you can afford and proves you can secure a mortgage. Getting preapproved helps you better focus your search on houses within your budget, and is often what real estate agents look for before officially working with you.
Familiarize Yourself with the Mortgage Loan Process
Understanding the loan process is essential, especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer. Learn about factors like down payment, earnest money, annual property taxes, and insurance costs so you can appropriately plan your overall home budget and monthly budget.
Make a List of Your Housing Priorities
Identify the type of home you want (for instance, a single-family home or a row home), must-have features (such as central air conditioning or a driveway), and your preferred neighborhoods (like those close to work or school). Having clear priorities will help streamline your search and make it easier for your real estate agent to help you find the perfect home.
Explore Homes Independently
Don’t rush to contact an agent. First, get a firm idea about the type of home you want. If you find a home of interest online, take a drive and view it from the street. Cruise through the neighborhood and attend open houses if available to get a closer look. This way, you will rule out unsuitable homes in advance of contracting with a real estate agent.
If you’re selling:
Start Looking for an Agent Early
Give yourself ample time to find the right listing agent. This allows you to plan and budget for any necessary repairs or improvements that can increase your home’s value and attract buyers.
Prepare Your Home for Sale
Declutter and clean your house before listing it on the market. Take the opportunity to get rid of items you no longer need or use, creating a more appealing space for potential buyers.
By taking these steps before searching for a real estate agent, you’ll be better prepared, have a clear understanding of your needs, and be equipped to find an agent who can help you achieve your goals in the buying or selling process.1, 2, 3
How to Find Real Estate Agents
There are several ways to find a real estate agent. Here are some effective methods to consider:1, 2, 4
Ask Friends and Family
Reach out to your social circle and ask for recommendations. Friends and family members who have recently bought or sold properties can provide valuable insights and refer you to trusted agents they have worked with.
Use online resources like real estate websites, social media platforms, and local directories to find real estate agents in your area. Read reviews, check their websites, and view properties they’ve helped clients buy or sell to get a sense of their expertise and track record.
Use Your Lender’s Real Estate Agent Network
Many lenders have partnerships with real estate agents and offer referral programs. Reach out to your lender and inquire about their network of trusted agents. These agents have often established relationships with the lender and can offer specialized services.
Use a Referral Agent
Referral agents specialize in connecting clients with real estate agents who best match their needs. These agents assess your requirements and recommend suitable professionals from their network. They can save you time and effort by providing personalized recommendations based on your specific preferences.
Questions to Ask a Real Estate Agent
How can you learn if a real estate agent is right for you? Interview several candidates before deciding who you will work with. Here are some questions to help you with that process: 1, 2, 4
How long have you been a real estate agent?
You’ll want the buying or selling process to go smoothly, and an experienced agent can make all the difference.
How many transactions have you completed in the past two years?
It’s important to get a feel for an agent’s recent activity and their track record in helping buyers and sellers navigate the market.
What’s your average number of clients at one time?
Buying or selling a home will be a major undertaking for you, so it’s important to understand if your prospective real estate agent can provide sufficient attention and availability during the process.
What area(s) do you specialize in or have the most experience with?
You’ll want to work with an agent knowledgeable about the neighborhoods, areas, or types of housing you’re interested in.
Do you have a backup agent available if you’re unavailable or on vacation?
Clear communication about the agent’s availability and contingency plans ensures a smooth process.
How much will you be paid?
Discuss the agent’s commission structure upfront to avoid any surprises regarding compensation.
Asking these questions allows you to gauge an agent’s experience, availability, communication style, and resources, helping you make an informed decision when selecting a real estate agent to work with.
How to Pick the Best Real Estate Agent For You
When selecting a real estate agent, it’s important to choose the best professional for your needs. Here are key considerations when picking your real estate agent:
Real Estate Certifications
All real estate agents must be licensed by the state they work in, so you can ask to see proof of their license to ensure they have the necessary training. Additionally, look for agents who have relevant certifications or designations, such as NAR membership, as this demonstrates their commitment to upholding ethical and professional standards in the industry.1, 2
Experience and Knowledge of the Area
When selecting an agent, consider their industry experience and rate of successful transactions. Look for someone who is well-versed in your specific type of real estate transaction. It’s crucial to find an agent with extensive knowledge of the local market, including neighborhood trends, property values, and amenities. This expertise ensures you make informed decisions and find the perfect home or buyer.1, 4
Marketing and Communication Skills
Look for an agent who excels in marketing and has the ability to create compelling property listings. In addition, prioritize effective communication. A great agent will be responsive, keep you informed throughout the process, and understand your preferred communication style. Clear and open communication ensures a smooth and successful real estate experience.1,2
Commitment and Contracts
Clarify the agent’s commitment to your transaction by discussing their willingness to enter into a written agreement with defined terms. It’s important to ensure that your agent is working in your best interest. In some cases, agents from the same brokerage may represent both the buyer and the seller, which can raise concerns about conflicting interests. For buyers, it’s essential to address this concern by openly discussing with your agent their dedication to finding the right property that meets your needs at a fair price rather than focusing on earning a higher commission or rushing a transaction.1, 2
When considering working with a potential real estate agent, it’s a good idea to gather references and check out online reviews to get a better sense of their track record. Websites like Zillow or realtor.com can provide valuable insights. Look for positive reviews, but also pay attention to any patterns mentioned in negative or mediocre reviews. Keep an eye out for red flags like:
- Poor communication skills
- Lack of availability
- Disinterest once a deal is under contract
- Frequent disagreements with other agents
It’s also important to go beyond online reviews and ask the agent for a list of references. Reach out to those references and ask about their experiences, how smooth their transactions were, and if there were any areas they were disappointed in. Don’t be afraid to ask about any challenges or things they wish could have been different.1
Interested in Rent-to-Own? Divvy Can Match You With an Agent
If you’re interested in a rent-to-own program that can help get you on the path to homeownership, Divvy works with a large network of partner agents dedicated to helping you make a seamless transition from renting to owning. Divvy’s unique program aims to help individuals achieve their dream of homeownership by giving people the option to save for their homeownership goals while they rent, with a portion of their monthly payment being set aside for savings. In addition to our network of partner agents, we also have our own brokerage that operates in some of our metros.
FAQs About Finding a Realtor
If you’re considering working with a realtor on your homebuying journey, you likely have a lot of questions. Here are some of the most common questions we hear:1, 2, 4
How do I choose the right agent for me?
To choose the right agent for you, consider factors like their experience, knowledge of the local market, communication skills, and compatibility with your needs and preferences.
Should I interview a realtor?
Yes, it’s highly recommended to interview a realtor. This allows you to assess their qualifications, expertise, and whether they align with your goals and expectations.
Should I talk to multiple realtors?
Talking to multiple realtors before you choose one to represent you is a good idea. It gives you the opportunity to compare their services, fees, and personalities, ultimately helping you make a more informed decision.
When should I start talking to a realtor?
You can start talking to a realtor as soon as you’re considering buying or selling a property. Engaging with an agent early allows for better planning and preparation in the real estate process.
Can I buy a house without a real estate agent?
While it’s possible to buy a house without a real estate agent, it can be more challenging and less advisable. An agent brings expertise, negotiation skills, and access to listings, making the process smoother and more efficient. However, it’s a personal decision based on your comfort level and knowledge of the real estate market.
Grant is a member of the marketing team and focuses on connecting aspiring homeowners in our metros with Divvy. He's worked on marketing teams spanning all parts of the homeownership journey, including home loans, power tools and home improvement, siding and flooring, and now Divvy. Grant graduated from Villanova University and became a homeowner in 2021.