How to find a real estate agent that you are comfortable with? It is supposed to be easy, right? You are only picking an agent. It’s not like you’re choosing a partner for life. They are just going to be your partner through a transaction; Aha! Here is the turning point. The subject of this transaction is exactly what makes finding the right agent challenging. You are not buying kitchenware that can be returned. And unless you’re an investor or someone who moves around much, selling and buying a house is a big deal for you.
Luckily, there is no shortage when it comes to real estate salespersons. So, you can easily go through this process with a comprehensive yet practical checklist we’ve prepared for you. But first, we need to clarify the terminology. After that, we’ll review the necessary preparations before starting your search. Then we’ll attend to ways to find an agent and finally go through the deciding factors when assessing an agent. By the time you’re done with this blog, you’ll know how to find an agent and have all the questions you need to ask to make the right choice.
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Who is Who in the Real Estate Market?
Every field has its lingo, and real estate is no exception. So, before starting your search, it’s best to know who you are looking for. The common term is a real estate agent; There are also listing agents, salespersons, brokers, associate brokers, realtors, etc. let’s check out each of these terms:
Real Estate Agent
That is an entry-level position for people who want to work as a licensee. In many states agent is called a Salesperson. Starting their career, agents must have a broker as their sponsor. So, they can’t work individually and must work under the supervision of an affiliated brokerage.
Agents can be additionally certified as Seller Representative Specialists (SRS) or Accredited Buyer’s Representatives (ABR). They can also have specialties –working with first-time home buyers.
Real Estate Broker
They undergo more training and have to pass additional exams with enough years of experience to get the title. They can do everything an agent does with more experience plus other responsibilities.
Brokers can work with established brokerages as Associate Brokers (performing the duties of agents along with some office tasks.) They can be employed as Managing Broker (being in charge of the brokerage’s operation and workflow, supervising agents and participating in their training.) Licensed brokers can also set up their team and brokerage and operate as Principal Brokers (a.k.a. Broker-owner or Representative brokers).
This term can generally refer to the profession unless it is with a capital R.
Realtors® are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). It is the largest trade association in the US, representing 1,580,971 members by the end of 2022. NAR enforces a specific Code of Ethics for its members. Any licensed agent or broker can become a member of this association.
So, if you intend to sell or buy, all the above can be a possible candidate for the job. In this blog, we’re using the term “agent” since it’s the most familiar term.
Now that we have a clear picture of who we’re dealing with let’s discuss where we can look for them.
Where to Look for Real Estate Agents?
To answer this question, let’s journey backward! That means we’ll check out the survey results of buyers’ and sellers’ behavior, seeing how they typically find their agents. According to NAR’s report, the following are the top standard methods among buyers and sellers for finding an agent:
|Referred by (or is) a friend, neighbor, or relative
|Referred by (or is) a friend, neighbor, or relative
|Used agent previously to buy or sell
|Used agent previously to buy or sell
|Inquired about specific property viewed online
|Personal contact by agent
|Website (without a specific reference)
|Referred by another agent
|Saw contact information on For Sale/Open House sign
|Website (without a specific reference)
|Referred by another agent
|Visited an open house and met the agent
A glance at these methods proves we all are looking for someone we can trust. Due to that, these are the reliable options to find an agent – some are favored by both buyers and sellers, and some work best for one of them:
|Where to look for real estate agents
|Online listings (sellers)
You either know someone who is an agent or someone who knows an agent. So, the first option is to start with people in your network and ask around in person and online. See if your neighbors, friends, relatives, or colleagues were satisfied with their agent in their recent transaction.
For any recommendations, check out their reasons. Just because an agent worked well with someone you know doesn’t mean they are the right fit. To get more details, you can ask the following questions:
- Why did you like this agent?
- Would you hire them for future transactions?
- How long did it take to buy or sell?
- How did you negotiate the commission?
- What were their services during the process?
- What were the challenges or downfalls?
If you have had a transaction before and are happy with the agent, that person can be your starting point. Even if you are moving to another area, a trusted agent can refer you to someone reliable.
Take a walk or drive around your area and see if any property is for sale or hosting an open house. Take the contact information from the signs and inquire about them from the selling owner.
Online listings (sellers.)
You can browse through local listings and see agents’ work in practice. You can follow up on their agency and check out the agent’s online activities.
Multiple established institutions, national and local, have a database of agents. Each may have specific criteria for endorsed agents. You can look up agents there according to their specialty or work area.
Almost all agents have an online page on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or a person or agency website. So, you can check for options in your area and vet them based on their online activities.
Prior preparations Before Hiring an Agent
Depending on the market and your circumstances, you may need to attend to some details beforehand. That can differ for buyers and sellers.
Preparations for buyers
- Mortgage pre-approval. You must be financially ready in a sellers’ market and when bidding wars are going on. Some agents won’t accept being your representative unless you have been pre-approved for a mortgage.
- Deciding on your budget. It would help if you ironed out what you can put as a down payment and your budget for closing costs. You can check out First-time Homebuyers Programs and Grants to see if they fit your situation.
- Clarifying your expectations. That applies to both the property and the agent you have in mind:
- The amenities you want in your future home.
- The facilities your need in your area.
- What you require from the agent (finding the right house, negotiating, explaining the process, pointing out features/flaws, etc.)
Preparations for sellers
- Fixing your timeframe. If you have to move by a deadline or buy at the same time, you must set your limits. This way, you can communicate your need to the agent later.
- Clarify your expectations. It is best to know your assumptions about the sale and the agent:
- A specific number you have in mind for the sale price.
- Service providers, you might need for preparations.
- What you expect from the agent (proper pricing, marketing, timeframe, inventory for fixing up, negotiating, etc.)
- Repairs, cleaning, decluttering. This part can also happen after you hire an agent. You can deal with those according to their assessment of your property.
How to Vet the Possible Real Estate Agents?
Sure, you must pick the best agent, but who is the best agent? Many factors weigh in when deciding on an agent. We have put them into 7 categories, calling them 7 Cs. To make your assessment easy, we have included questions for each factor. This checklist gives you the essentials and means to determine them.
We are not recommending a specific number of agents to interview before deciding. There is nothing magical about the number 3 or 5. It is dependent upon the options at hand and your preferences. As long as you keep an open mind and stay unbiased during the vetting process, you’ll make the fitting choice from the available candidates.
That is where you check if the agent is legit, and these are the deciding points:
All agents and brokers must undergo proper training and pass their exams to get their licenses. Each state has a separate licensure process rule, but you can’t work without it.
Besides brokers who can work solo, agents must work with a brokerage.
Agents can be certified as Accredited Buyer’s Representatives (ABR), Seller Representative Specialists (SRS), or Senior Real Estate Specialists (SRES.)
Some agents can become experts by focusing on a specific area or clients – first-time homebuyers or home sellers, military relocation, and bilingual.
To assess these credentials, you can ask the following questions:
- Are you a licensed agent or broker? In which states?
- Which brokerage are you working with?
- Are you certified for a specific clientele? Which?
- Tell me about your field of expertise. Do you have any specialty?
These are the direct questions. For a subtle inquiry, you can pose open-ended questions. Ask them to tell you about their years of working as an agent, the highlights and challenges, memorable moments, and their reasons for picking this path.
To evaluate the capability of agents in executing their tasks, these are the essential indicators:
Years of experience.
Having many years of experience isn’t necessarily a good sign. Of course, expertise comes with practice, but perhaps newly licensed agents would be more eager to prove themselves. However, it can be a factor along with others.
Some agents work all weekdays and even on weekends for possible showings; others may have other occupations and dedicate part of their time to this profession.
Average closing time.
That works best for sellers who want to see how long it takes for their agent to close a listing. It shows the amount of time a property spends on the market before the deal is finalized.
Knowledge of the area.
In many cases, the neighborhood and its facilities are deciding factors. Therefore, the level of familiarity with the area can be an asset for the agent.
You can ask for an estimate of the asking price in addition to a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) on your property. The deciding element would be the reasoning behind their appraisal. It demonstrates their knowledge of the market and the area.
In today’s fierce market, inquiring about agents’ marketing techniques can tell you how well-versed they are with the latest tools.
Agents typically deal with different people with diverse backgrounds. Because of the nature of their job, they must have a negotiation, bargaining, and other social skills.
To get the measure of agent’s capabilities, you can ask the following questions:
- How long have you been working as an agent/broker? Full-time or part-time?
- On average, how long do your listings stay on the market?
- What is your impression of the (…) neighborhood?
- Can you give me your estimate on the asking price? Can you elaborate on your reasoning?
- How do you usually market a listing?
As for social skills assessment, your meeting is the best chance for it. See how they interact with you; consider their tone, body language, choice of words, professionalism, etc. That can give you an understanding of their people skills.
Your evaluation of this aspect will assure you that you can rely on your agent. For most buyers and sellers, an agent’s most crucial characteristic is trustworthiness. That reflects in their:
Agents can give you a list of their references upon your request or without it. You can contact them and inquire about their experience.
Most agents have a section dedicated to that on their social media pages. You can also find them on unbiased websites sharing reviews.
Customer satisfaction rate.
It is impossible to expect 100% satisfaction, but a balanced one can give you a clear image. If there are negative reviews, look for patterns.
Replacement in their absence.
Often the house hunt or selling process can take weeks to months. Having a backup plan in case of emergencies can give you peace of mind
To see if the agent is reliable or not, you can go for these questions:
- Can you give me some references?
- How would you rate yourself as an agent? Why?
- In case you are not available, who attends to your clients?
This factor shows the potential of your agent regarding their connections. You can trace it in:
Working with a team or alone.
It can be beneficial If your agent works as a team member and tasks are distributed among experts. However, this could backfire if you prefer one dedicated agent for your journey. In big agencies, you’d have one assigned agent, but others will be assisting behind the scene.
Every agent comes with an inventory- mortgage broker, insurance provider, painter, handyperson, photographer, attorney, etc. A solid connection with these service providers can pace up the process and make it easier.
To see if your agent has well-founded connections, you can ask them the following:
- How do you handle the workload of each listing?
- Can you recommend me a (service provider)? Why did you pick them?
This fee can also be a deciding factor. The agent’s commission is around 4-6% of the final price, and the seller usually pays it out of proceeds. It gets split between the seller agent and the buyer agent equally. Since agents work with a brokerage, half of their share goes to the agency.
As you can see, it is significant, and some owners prefer selling the house without a realtor. Even in that scenario, they should pay the buyer’s agent commission.
In some cases, the buyer and the seller may have one representative as their agent. Nevertheless, balancing the contradictory interests of two sides can be tricky. Due to that, some states have declared Dual Agency illegal, including Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Texas, Vermont, and Wyoming.
With all that in mind, when it comes to an agent’s commission, these are essential tips:
On salary agents.
Some brokerage companies hire agents on salary. In such cases, the commission would be around 1-1.5%.
The amount of commission and responsibility for its payment is open for negotiation. There is no legal rule governing the percentage. Also, you can agree with the buyer on a different payment arrangement.
Agents can provide a written explanation called Agency Disclosure to clarify the manner of representation. It lets the client know if the agent represents the buyer or the seller or acts as a dual agent. You can sign this in the first sitting or any other time during the process.
To settle the terms of the commission fee, you can go for questions like:
- Do you work on salary or commission?
- How much is your commission? Are you open to negotiating that? How?
- Could you provide me with Agency Disclosure?
Up to this point, you have been vetting the agent objectively. Here is where it gets personal. We all have peculiar standards for our social interactions. Whether you are selling or buying, there is going to be some hours that you spend with your agent. Since this is typically a stressful and heavy transaction, you need someone compatible from the beginning.
There are some indicators to see if you can work together:
The agent’s character is reflected in every sentence and behavior from the first interaction. Based on your preferences, you can check if their traits are a good match.
Having access to your agent is essential; during the process. See if your favored method of communication works for the agent.
Our instincts can be a helpful guide. Once you’ve assessed all the criteria logically, check with your gut. Between these two, you can make the right decision.
To determine your compatibility with the agent, you can use these questions:
- Can you tell me about memorable moments from your years of work as an agent?
- How do you keep in touch with your clients?
- How should your clients reach you? (working days and hours)
We are at the final stop but equally important to all the above. Here, your commitments toward one another get legally binding. Some areas need specific attention, including:
Length of contract.
Once you sign, the agent will have exclusive rights – you can’t go with another agent. If you do, the first one gets the commission unless you agree otherwise. Due to that, it is best to set a limit (3-6 months) for your contract. If no transaction happens, you can go for another agent after the time limit.
Both parties’ dos and don’ts must be clearly stated. If a subject is paramount for you, include it in the contract.
Working in teams.
For agents who work as a team, clarifying the contact person or the focal point in your agreement is best to avoid future issues.
Generally, it would be best to consult your lawyer before signing any agreement. To have the necessary information, you can ask the agent:
- Can you give me a sample contract from your agency?
- How flexible are you regarding the (…) term of the contract?
Here we are, in the end, knowing you are ready to set an interview with possible candidates. You have all the tools to decide where and how to find a real estate agent. We discussed the essential details (7 Cs) and elaborated on the questions for assessment. You have the God and the Goddess by your side to make the right choice and pick an agent that meets your needs and expectations.
If you are relocating to a new city or state and are forced to make a purchase, then the right time is what fits your needs. As for an investment option, here are the facts about the housing market leaving 2022 behind:
- The inventory is tight,
- Mortgage rates are high,
- If not pressured, sellers are reluctant to sell,
- The prices are elevated.
All this means you must approach the market intently and monitor all the changes in the region you are willing to invest.