Although the housing market is starting to cool, it’s still necessary to move fast and be smart to get a good deal when you’re buying a home — or to maximize your profits if you’re selling a home. And given the complex nature of real estate transactions, it’s no surprise that more than 85 percent of both buyers and sellers work with a professional agent to close deals, according to National Association of Realtors data.

Real estate agents are easy to find: They advertise everywhere, their faces are on “for sale” signs and NAR has more than 1.5 million members across the country. The trick is narrowing them down to choose just one — the right agent for you.

Why work with a real estate agent?

It’s certainly possible to buy a home without an agent or sell your home on your own. But there’s a reason why so many people partner with agents to help navigate the process. Coordinating pricing, listings, showings and negotiations is a lot of work. Real estate transactions can be complicated, and they involve large amounts of money and complex contracts.

“Not knowing the law doesn’t mean you’re excused from following the rules — this goes for real estate as well,” says Realtor Chantay Clark Bridges, with EXP Realty of California. “You could possibly lose money, have a tremendous amount of legal liability or even end up in court. A reputable agent can assist in protecting your best interests, answering your questions and reducing your stress.”

Agents are particularly useful for first-time homebuyers and sellers, who might find the process bewildering. “They can help guide you through and ensure everything goes smoothly,” says Vancouver-based mortgage broker Alan Harder.

How to pick the ideal real estate agent for you

Once you’ve narrowed your options down to a shortlist, it’s vital to assess the personality and work style of the agents you’re considering. You want someone you really click with.

“Take the time to meet with them in person”, says Harder. “This will give you a better sense of their communication style and whether or not you’ll be able to work well together.”

Ask plenty of questions to determine whether the candidates will be a good fit for you. Here are a few good ones to start with:

  • How long have you worked in the industry?
  • Are you located nearby?
  • How much experience do you have in my local market?
  • Do you have experience with my type of home?
  • What’s your sales volume for the past six to 12 months?
  • Do you hold any special certifications (ie, Accredited Buyer’s Representative or Seniors Real Estate Specialist)?

Verbalize your expectations to ensure that you and the agent are on the same page. For example, if you prefer communicating by phone but your agent prefers texting, that could be problematic. In addition, some agents only work part-time or rely heavily on assistants or other team members to interact with clients. Consider whether you will be OK with that, or if it will bother you.

How do you know if an agent is reputable?

Credentials and industry affiliations are a plus, but they don’t necessarily mean a person is trustworthy. “Ask the agents for references from past clients — this will allow you to hear first-hand accounts of what it was like working with them,” Harder says. You can also look at online reviews (but take them with a grain of salt, as each person’s situation is different).

Realtors — that is, real estate agents who are members of NAR — are held to a professional code of ethics. You might also get a better feel for a candidate’s professional conduct by diving deeper into questions about the buying or selling process, Harder suggests. In addition, every real estate agent, Realtor or not, is professionally licensed. The status of an agent’s license can be fairly easily checked online.

Buyers’ agents vs. sellers’ agents

Different kinds of agents might specialize in one side of the transaction or the other. Here are a few of the key differences between buyers’ and sellers’ agents.

Sellers’ agents

Also known as listing agents, these agents represent the seller in a real estate transaction. Their primary role is to list the home on the market at a competitive price that attracts the right buyers. Sellers’ agents often host open houses, help the homeowner sift through offers and work with the buyer’s agent to close the deal as quickly as possible.

Buyers’ agents

On the other side of the transaction are agents who represent prospective homebuyers. They search for properties that work for a buyer’s budget and needs. Buyers’ agents also submit offers and negotiate on a buyer’s behalf, assist the buyer with finalizing the deal once an offer is accepted and coordinate with the seller’s agent to set a closing date.


If you do want to go it alone, there are alternatives to using a real estate agent, particularly for sellers. Plenty of homes are offered “for sale by owner,” or FSBO — an arrangement that involves listing and coordinating your home’s sale without the assistance of an agent. However, FSBO sales tend to go for lower prices than agent-assisted ones.

If you need to sell your home fast, you can reach out to an iBuyer, like Offerpad or Opendoor, to get an instant cash offer. The process is simple, but again, you’ll likely get a lower price than you would with a traditional sale.

Bottom line

When choosing a real estate agent, compile a list of candidates that could work for you, and ask the right questions to decide if they’re a good fit. Pay attention to how they respond to your inquiries: If they seem pushy, unknowledgeable or present any other red flags, eliminate them from your list of options. Once you find the right match, you’ll be one big step closer to getting into a new home — or selling the one you already have.