How to find the best real estate agent in your area

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Buying or selling a home is no small feat, and it’s one of the biggest financial decisions of your life. That’s why finding a real estate agent with experience to guide you through the process is key.

There’s no shortage of real estate agents vying for the job via online ads, postcards and yard signs, but with so many professionals to choose from, finding the right one can feel overwhelming. Follow these tips on how to find a real estate agent to make sure you hire the perfect pro.

How to find a real estate agent

  1. Talk to a lender before you hire a real estate agent.
  2. Get referrals from your network.
  3. Research potential candidates.
  4. Interview at least three real estate agents.
  5. Request references — and check them.
  6. Go with your gut.
  7. Take a close look at your contract.

1. Talk to a lender before you hire a real estate agent

Sometimes home shoppers hire a real estate agent and dive into their home search before they ever talk to a mortgage lender. It’s smart to talk to a lender first to learn how much you can afford.

Getting preapproved for a mortgage provides you with the maximum amount you can borrow and identifies issues that need to be worked on early in the process. This helps you stick to homes in the right price range, and it will show potential Realtors (and sellers) that you’re a serious buyer. In competitive markets, you’ll need a preapproval letter in order for sellers to consider your offer.

2. Get referrals from your network

Ask friends and family members if they can recommend a real estate agent with whom they’ve had a good experience. Ideally, you’ll want someone with experience working with clients who are similar to you. The needs of first-time buyers, for example, are different than those of repeat buyers or homeowners who are looking to downsize.

Look for a real estate agent who is a Realtor with a capital R. That means they’re a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and have formally agreed to abide by the group’s code of ethics. Some Realtors also have certifications to show that they’ve completed training in a certain area of real estate. Some designations include:

  • CRS (Certified Residential Specialist): Completed additional training in handling residential real estate
  • ABR (Accredited Buyer’s Representative): Completed additional training in representing buyers in transactions
  • SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist): Completed training aimed at helping buyers and sellers aged 50 and older

Also, familiarize yourself with the difference between a buyer’s agent and a seller’s agent. A buyer’s agent represents a homebuyer in a real estate transaction, while a seller’s or listing agent is responsible for the seller’s side, including pricing and marketing the home and negotiating the terms of the sale.

Sometimes, a single real estate agent can act as an agent for both parties, a practice known as dual agency. This usually occurs when a buyer and seller resort to the same brokerage for an agent. Some states don’t allow dual agency, and it can have some inherent risk, so keep this in mind if you’re considering agreeing to this arrangement.

You might also encounter an agent who acts as a referral agent, meaning the agent provides leads to other agents for a fee.

3. Research potential candidates

Start by examining an agent’s online presence. Check the agent’s website and active social media accounts. Take a look at their online reviews, as well. Don’t worry about one or two negative reviews, but more than that could be a red flag.

Be sure to check with your state’s real estate regulator to find out whether an agent you’re considering is licensed or has any disciplinary actions. Vet candidates you’re interviewing on your local Better Business Bureau’s website to see if they’ve received any complaints.

Ideally, you should start looking for an agent several months out from the time you expect to get preapproved for a mortgage and start looking for a home.

While you’re doing your homework to find the right agent, it is also a good time to create a wish list and must-haves of what you’re seeking in a home.

4. Interview at least three real estate agents

An interview is your opportunity to get a sense of the real estate agent’s style and experience. Ultimately, you’re looking for a Realtor who is familiar with a particular area and understands your budget and needs.

“See how polished and professional their proposal is,” says Katherine Hutt, chief communications officer with the Better Business Bureau. “The more effort they put into a presentation for you, the more effort they’ll put into presentations when they’re working for you. You want someone who is really savvy.”

The interviews also give you a chance to find out the agent’s preferred method of communication and their availability. If you’re most comfortable texting and expect to visit homes after work hours during the week, you’ll want an agent who’s happy to do the same.

5. Request references — and check them

Ask real estate agents to provide information on homes they’ve listed and sold in the past year, with contact information for at least a few recent clients. Call those clients to find out their experience and what type of support the agent provided throughout the process, including during the negotiations. Ask if they’d hire that agent again for their next real estate transaction.

6. Go with your gut

Just as important as the knowledge and experience an agent brings is their ability to guide you smoothly through the process. Above all, go with an agent you trust and will feel comfortable with if the road to closing gets a little bumpy.

“It’s just like dating — sometimes it just comes down to chemistry,” says Herman Chan, an associate broker and Realtor with Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty in Berkeley, California. “If everything checks out, but you just don’t vibe with that person, don’t go with them. There are plenty of other real estate agents out there that will be happy to help you that might be a better personality fit.”

7. Take a close look at your contract

Your contract should spell out all of the terms to which you’ve already agreed, including the real estate commission. Traditionally, the seller pays 6 percent of the sales price of the home for real estate commissions, with half going to their own real estate agent and half going to the buyer’s agent. The commission rate is negotiable, however, with the average commission actually just under 6 percent, according to HomeLight.

Another factor to look at: The length of the contract itself. Look for a contract limited to six months or less. In a competitive seller’s market, it can take less than 30 days to sell a home, according to NAR. If your contract is much longer than that and you still haven’t sold your home in a reasonable time frame, you want to be able to switch to another agent. Similarly, if as a buyer you haven’t found the home you want within a few months, it’s helpful to keep your options open.

Why the right real estate agent matters

In a competitive housing market, the right real estate agent makes a difference. The more experienced a buyer’s agent is with a certain area, the more likely they can guide you toward the right property for the right price, and within your timeline and budget. With a listing agent, you’ll want to work with someone who has a compelling track record, and can help you effectively market your home and negotiate offers so you come out ahead.

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