How to find a good realtor is a key step in your home buying process. You want a high degree of competence, honesty, and a pleasant person to work with. So how do you find someone with those credentials? Especially, how do you find a superb professional who will protect your interests and save you money?
Disclosure: Our editorial content contains affiliates from which we receive a small payment to support the site at no additional cost to you. These marketing partners do not influence our opinion of their products. They do not review, approve or endorse our editorial content. All opinions remain our own.
Finding a Good Realtor… A Key Part of Home Buying
Buying a house is a major life decision. It’s your biggest purchase in life. How to find a good realtor is a key component of your home buying journey.
Buying a home isn’t a decision you should make lightly or without professional advice. Don’t go it alone. There’s too much at stake. First, check out these articles on avoiding first-time homebuyer mistakes, questions to ask before buying your first home, and calculating how much home you can afford.
Next, find a top-notch realtor. You want smiles after the ink dries on the transaction… not a bunch of financial surprises that could’ve been avoided, just after you drained your bank account in biggest financial transaction of your life.
The question is how to find a good realtor. A good realtor, or real estate agent, is one who is professional, trustworthy, honest, knows their stuff, and is responsive to your wants and needs. One who will save you money… and protect your money. Ideally, they’re also great to be around, considering you’ll be spending quite a bit of time with them. A good agent has access to a lot of market info the public doesn’t have – despite the proliferation of real estate agent websites, such as Zillow and Redfin.
We just finished our ninth time through this process. So we’ve learned a thing or two about the good, the bad, and the ugly in the world of realtors. If you have friends or colleagues who’ve recently done a real estate transaction, that’s a great source of referrals, but it’s helpful if they did the same kind of transaction you’re doing. Buying vs. selling. Starter home vs. move-up home vs down-sizing.
While you’ll have friends who offer up names of real estate agents they know, someone who’s actually gone through a transaction with them is a better judge of their professional expertise and character than an “outsider.”
First, think about what type of agent you need. A buyer’s agent represents the buyer. A listing agent represents the seller. “Dual agents” represent both.
4 Things You Should Know About Realtors
1. The real estate commission is paid by the seller, not (directly, anyway) by the buyer.
The buyer’s agent and seller’s agent split the total commission.
2. A buyer’s agent is legally bound (with proper documentation) to protect your interests as a buyer.
Going directly to a seller’s agent compromises your interests. Agents who exclusively represent the buyers are called exclusive buyer agents. A buyer’s agent’s job is to get the best deal for you, the buyer. To save you money, protect your interests, and guide you through the closing process.
3. A seller’s agent is often called a listing agent.
They’re responsible for “selling” the house, hence the title. Some people use the terms buyer’s agent and seller’s agent interchangeably. But the seller’s agent actually represents the seller throughout the process… not the buyer. The seller’s agent makes recommendations about the listing price, puts it on the MLS (multiple listing service), and markets the property. They also negotiate on the seller’s behalf. If you’re a buyer, do not disclose personal information to a seller’s agent. It can compromise your ability to negotiate your best deal.
4. A dual agent in real estate is a realtor who represents both the buyer and the seller at the same time.
But when push comes to shove, whose side is the dual agent on? They’re supposed to get the best deal for the buyer and the most money for the seller. It’s an inherent conflict of interest. Agents love it because they know all the “secrets” on both sides of the transaction. They also get both the buyer’s agent commission and the commission for seller’s agent. In fairness, they do legally have to inform all parties that they’re acting as a dual agent.
Dual agents sometimes lower the commission to the seller as a way to overcome the seller’s objections to dual agency. In some communities just one or two agents dominate nearly every transaction within a subdivision or community, making dual agency common. In one such community I know especially well, they still get the “standard” 6% commission.
Dual agency is great for the agent. Arguably, not so much for the buyer or the seller. If you agree to dual agency, by all means hire a real estate attorney to protect your personal interests. Buying an hour or two of their time could save you a fortune if the deal should run into snags.
How to Find a Good Realtor Without a Referral
If you’re making a job-related move, your company will likely refer you to an agent in their relocation network, but if you’re left without a personal or relocation company referral, here are your best other options.
Just be aware there’s no automatic assurance of quality here. Some of the most well-known referral sites pay to be listed in these directories.
We considered a move to a new city a year ago, and found an agent from one of these online directories. Actually it was a referral from a well-known organization. Despite the name, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. We dashed in from 400 miles away, the agent had promised the time to us… then suddenly cut the time short for a rather arbitrary reason. We didn’t get to see several of the houses she’d scheduled.
You really don’t know what you’re getting with a directory, even if the name behind the site is well-known. Also, be aware of fake online reviews. Reviews are important, but view them with a bit of skepticism.
Attend open houses.
Make notes about the agents you meet. Observe whether they’re knowledgeable, informative, and polite. Are they pointing out features, giving house tours, interacting with you… or sitting in a corner, reading a book or talking on the phone, and ignoring you? Ask them about how long they’ve been an agent, what price range they sell the most houses in (ideally it aligns with your range), what real estate-related designations they have, and whether they have happy clients you can talk to.
Track for-sale signs in your neighborhood.
How fast from the appearance of the sign till they get a “Sold” sign? To be honest, this might be more relevant if you plan to sell a house than if you’re looking to buy. But don’t rule it out as a buyer. Most agents represent some buyers and some sellers. Real estate agents tend to know the neighborhoods they sell in, which is important to you as a buyer.
Pay attention to print ads.
Real estate agents spend lots of money on print ads for two reasons – to sell a specific house, and to drum up more business.
Mortgage brokers and bank loan officers.
These professionals have first-hand dealings with various realtors and definitely know which ones have stellar reputations and which do not. If you have a relationship with a lender, ask if they know a great agent they can recommend.
7 Qualities of a Good Realtor
The barriers to getting a real estate agent license are surprisingly low, which means there are many in the field who are incompetent. Or newbies. Both of which can cost you money in the process. As in all fields, you get your share of those who lack integrity too. Here are seven qualities you’ll want to look for:
1. The Realtor designation noted by the Realtor logo.
Besides being licensed, these professionals are members of the National Association of Realtors, which means they’ve pledged to adhere to a strict code of ethics.
2. Market knowledge.
An experienced Realtor should know the real estate market in your area forward and backwards – including prices in various neighborhoods and average time to sell, applicable laws in your state, and how to best structure your offer.
3. Communication style.
Time can be critical in real estate transactions. Does your Realtor use text messages, emails, phone calls…? Make sure they know your preferred method of communication, or you may be like two ships passing in the night.
4. Length of time in the business.
It takes time to learn the nuances of the market, the laws, and how to handle tricky deals. Agents who’ve been in the business longer will likely serve your needs better. The caveat here is that a newbie might have more time to spend with you and therefore be more available during the process.
You may need to look at dozens of homes before finding the right one. Is the agent you select available to show you homes during the times you are?
6. Comfort level.
You’ll spend a lot of time with your agent and there are many emotions involved. There must be compassion and understanding on the part of your agent. It’s important to work with an agent you like and one who you can/will be honest with. And know that they’ll be honest with you.
Admittedly this is hard to assess when it’s not a referral, unless you want to develop a list of questions to interview them with… aka, job interview type questions. Though not too many people will do this.
We had a bad experience with a big-name agent (and a less than honest inspector he colluded with). Both definitely lacked integrity. In hindsight, I should’ve reported the real estate agent to the National Association of Realtors.
If you’re buying a house with another person and either of you feels uneasy about your agent, it’s time to find someone else to work with. Unless you’ve signed a buyer’s agent agreement, you’re free to leave. And even if you signed a buyer’s agent agreement, you can ask for a release from it. It happens a lot in real estate. (I know… I sold real estate for a living for five years in the early 2000s.) Don’t feel bound to an agent you’ll regret working with.
In the case above of our agent and inspector’s collusion, leaving would’ve spared us considerable angst and money. Use your intuition and leave if something seems amiss.
Bottom Line on How to Find a Good Realtor
Buying a house can be exhilarating. It’s also highly stressful. That’s why finding a good realtor to help you through the process can tip the scales in favor of more fun and less stress.