Whether you’re buying or selling your home, you want to have the right ally on your side. For starters, it’s one of the biggest financial transactions most people will undertake. Beyond that, though, there’s an emotional component to home buying and selling. Whether you’re parting with a place you’ve made a lot of memories or looking for the right spot to establish your best life, you’ll probably want support.
Enter: your real estate professional. This person needs to bring a blend of expertise in different areas to the table, and they need to be someone who will take the time to understand your unique needs and wants. So how do you find them?
This guide will teach you key questions to ask and metrics to measure, helping you hone in on the best agent for your specific situation. But first, let’s get squared away on some terminology.
First up, clear up questions about their title
As you’re looking for a real estate professional, you might hear the terms agent, broker, and Realtor® used interchangeably. They’re not the same thing, though. Here’s a quick glossary:
Real estate agent. This is someone who’s been licensed by your state to handle the home buying and selling process. Most states require agents, often also called sales associates, to take some pre-license education and pass an exam. In other words, by the time someone is a licensed real estate agent, they should have learned the ropes.
Real estate broker. Brokers have a higher level of licensure than agents, which usually means they’ve taken more education and passed a more extensive exam. Their broker license allows them independence. Real estate agents need to work under the supervision of a broker, while brokers can work for themselves. Some brokers still act as an agent, working directly with clients, while others solely manage a team of agents under them.
Realtors. To become a Realtor, a real estate agent or broker has to join the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). Joining that association basically comes down to joining a local real estate association, paying a membership fee, and adhering to the NAR’s Code of Ethics. All Realtors are agents/brokers, but not all agents/brokers are Realtors.
These aren’t the only terms to know. It’s also important to distinguish between buyer’s and seller’s agents, also called listing agents. As their name suggests, these are agents who specialize in either helping people buy a home or sell their existing one. Finding an agent or broker with the right expertise can make a big difference.
What Our In-House Research Shows
Maybe you read through the above and decided you really want to work with a Realtor or an experienced broker. But most people care more about things beyond the real estate professional’s title. So what, exactly, makes for a good real estate agent?
To find out, we conducted a study with Pollfish, a leading market research company. We asked 400 respondents about:
The most important criteria when evaluating real estate professionals;
Why they chose one agent over another; and
What they used to vet agents before choosing them.
Overall, we found that experienced home buyers researched these key criteria before deciding to work with an agent:
49.5% check years of experience
43.5% of respondents look to ratings and reviews
31% verify the agent’s or broker’s license with the state
42% check that the real estate pro serves their target neighborhood(s)
We also found that the group of respondents who found their real estate agent through a recommendation from a family member or friend (18.5%)- rarely did any further research.
On the whole, our survey respondents identified another key thing that makes a good agent: personality. They looked for someone who was friendly and felt available, and some even went so far as to look for agents who had a similar decorating taste.
Ultimately, the survey data points to the complexity of finding the right agent or broker for you. The ideal person needs to blend experience (particularly in the right neighborhoods), a positive reputation, and a personality that meshes with yours.
That means that your perfect real estate agent probably won’t be your neighbor’s. Fortunately, there’s a tool you can wield to help narrow down your options: question-asking.
4 Questions Everyone Should Ask
Before you choose an agent or broker, set up an interview with them. It can be casual, over the phone, or over coffee. But it gives you a chance to see if you communicate similarly and feel comfortable working with them. When you talk, ask:
#1: What hours are you available?
If you’re buying and you’re only going to be free to see listings on the weekends, you better find a buyer’s agent who works Saturday and Sunday. But if you’d rather handle contracts while you’re at your desk, you might want someone who keeps standard business hours.
Most agents and brokers keep a pretty flexible schedule so they can be available when their clients’ calendars allow. But getting a feel for your potential pro’s availability can help you avoid issues from the get-go.
#2: What do you think my biggest challenges will be?
A good agent or broker should know the market, and they should be able to understand how your wants and needs will play out in that landscape.
If you’re a home buyer and inventory is tight in your area, the agent should address that with you right away, for example. Or if you’re planning to sell and your ideal asking price is too high, a good agent should warn you that it will take longer to sell.
You want someone who will be frank with you about the hurdles you’ll face. That way, together, you can make a plan to get past them.
#3: Would any of your past clients be willing to talk to me about their experience with you?
You can probably google your agent’s experience fairly quickly. Most agents and brokers list their years in business in their bio. But just because they’ve been doing it for decades doesn’t mean they’re good at it.
If people they’ve worked with in the past give them a glowing review, you can rest a little easier. Remember, 43.5% of our survey respondents said written reviews were one of the main features they checked.
Yes, you’re letting the agent or broker cherry-pick the past clients, so they’re probably going to have you talk to someone who thinks highly of them. But if they can’t think of at least a few people who would be willing to say good things, that’s a definite red flag.
#4: How many clients do you have right now?
There’s a fine line here. You want a broker or agent who will be available to you, so fewer clients might seem ideal. That said, a lot of clients speaks to their capability.
Ultimately, there’s no perfect number here. But if the agent isn’t sure how many clients they have, that’s not a good sign. You want someone who has a good handle on their current book of business. And if they’re smart, they’ll assure you that they have plenty of time to serve you alongside their existing clients.
3 Questions Buyers Should Ask Before Hiring An Agent
Buyer’s agents have experience helping people find their dream homes. But not all buyer’s agents are created equal, so it can be helpful to ask:
#1: Who is your traditional client?
If you’re looking for a fixer-upper in an up-and-coming neighborhood, you’re probably not going to be best served by an agent who specializes in turnkey homes in an established part of town. The opposite is true, too. If you’re looking for something move-in ready, you don’t necessarily want to be working with an agent who wants to show you properties “with potential.”
Asking an agent or broker to profile their most common client — and, more specifically, what they look for in a house — can help you identify if that agent/broker has capabilities in the areas that matter most to you. That’s probably why 33% of our survey respondents said they checked an agent’s previous listings.
#2: In which neighborhoods do you most frequently work?
There’s a saying in real estate that you might have heard: when it comes to a property, the three things that matter most are location, location, and location. And that’s why you want to find a buyer’s agent who works in your desired neighborhood(s).
Someone who knows the area can help you navigate it, telling you about pros and cons you might not have otherwise known. A really plugged-in agent might even hear about pocket listings, or for-sale homes that aren’t yet publicly listed, which can be a huge help in today’s competitive housing market.
#3: Can you walk me through the home buying process?
Buying a home requires a lot from you, financially, emotionally, and otherwise. Add confusion into the mix, and you’re left with a major headache. By asking a potential buyer’s agent to explain the homebuying process, you learn two key things.
First, you’ll be able to tell if they feel comfortable with the process themselves. If they fumble through, they might not have the experience you want.
Secondly, you learn a lot about their communication style. If they make the process sound complicated and difficult, working with them might be just that. If they can explain things in layman’s terms, you have a good indicator that they’ll be able to communicate clearly with you.
3 Questions To Help You Find The Right Seller’s Agent
Just like a buyer’s agent, listing agents will tell you a lot about themselves and their abilities when asked specific questions. We recommend the following:
#1: What do you like about my house?
Remember how we said that some of our survey respondents picked their agent based on their decorating taste? This probably has something to do with it. If the listing agent seems like they like your house, you’re going to feel better about leaving it in their hands.
Plus, if the agent can’t sell you on your own house, how are they going to sell potential buyers on it?
#2: What was the last house you sold?
Previous listings were the most commonly checked feature for our survey respondents for good reason. If the seller’s agent has sold homes like yours, you can rest fairly easily that they’ll be able to get the job done here.
After the agent tells you the address of the last property they sold, look it up. If it sold months and months ago, that’s probably not a good sign, particularly if you’re under any kind of time crunch to get the sale done.
#3: How can I help my house sell?
While you want your listing agent to see the good in your house, you also don’t want them looking through rose-colored glasses.
A good agent will see things that could stop your house from selling, whether that’s a front yard that needs a refresh or a loud wallpaper in a specific room. They should be able to help you stage your house to appeal to the widest possible range of buyers so you can land the best offers possible.
Help Finding The Best Agent Or Broker For You
Finding the perfect buyer’s or listing agent isn’t easy. If you’re worried about their ethical conduct, you might want to check if they’re a member of the NAR. And if you want someone with a lot of experience, you might want to seek out a broker.
Beyond that, meeting with your potential real estate professional tells you a lot about them and their abilities. Take the time to vet at least a few agents or brokers before you make your pick. The person you choose will be by your side through one of the biggest life shifts — financially and otherwise — that you’ll go through.
We’re here to help. At Expertise.com, we check a real estate pro’s availability, qualifications, reputation, experience, and professionalism before we add them to our site’s hand-picked selection. So if you’re looking for a shortlist of quality agents and brokers near you, start here.
Kacie Goff is a real estate and personal finance writer and researcher. Over the last five years, she’s covered real estate market fluctuations, escrow, mortgage lending, and more for Bankrate, real estate agent training companies, MYMOVE, The Simple Dollar, and other publications. She and her husband bought and remodeled their first home this year.