Whether you’re buying or selling your home, having the right real estate professional at your side as a supportive but firm friend to guide you through the process and the state of housing in your area can save you time, headache, and, ultimately, money.
It’s worth it, therefore, to invest time first in defining what you need, then researching and interviewing real estate agents until you find someone who aligns with your goals.
Why Work With a Real Estate Agent?
Of course, you can go it alone without an agent, but buying or selling with a knowledgeable pro in your corner can ensure you not only get the sweetest deal, but that the process is smooth, buttoned-up, and low on stress.
If your target market is highly competitive, working with a veteran agent can be an advantage as they’ll know the ins and outs of your neighborhood.
Similarly, if you’re looking for investment properties to flip or wholesale for profit — or for a secondary property outside your market, like a vacation home — an agent familiar with the market can be an invaluable partner.
What Kind of Agent Do You Need?
Any real estate agent you consider should, at a minimum, be licensed and in good standing within the state(s) they practice.
A buyer’s agent represents a buyer looking to purchase a property, and a seller’s agent (sometimes called a listing agent) represents a homeowner selling their property. Depending on your side of the transaction, you’ll most likely sign a buyer’s or seller’s agreement with your chosen agent, and it’s their responsibility to represent your best interests throughout the process.
In some cases, your agent may represent both sides of a transaction, the buyer and the seller. This is called dual agency, and is legal in many U.S. states. Your agent is required to tell you if they have dual agency, and while dual agency doesn’t necessarily create a conflict of interest, you’ll need to decide if you’re comfortable with your agent representing both parties in the transaction, or if you’d prefer to work with an agent who represents only your interests.
Questions to Ask a Real Estate Agent
It’s a good idea to interview at least three to four prospective agents before deciding who you’d like to work with. Start by asking the following:
- How long have you been a real estate agent? If you’re a first-time buyer or seller, you’ll want to know you can rely on your agent’s experience to guide you.
- How familiar are you with my target market? Work with someone who knows the neighborhood with all its unique quirks and trends.
- How many clients do you typically handle at one time? A thriving client list is great, but make sure you won’t get lost in the shuffle. Will your agent be accessible and responsive? Will you work with other members of their team? What level of communication are you expecting?
Questions for Buyers:
- Do you work with buyers with my budget? Make sure your agent has experience with the type of home you’re considering, from a luxury property to a fixer-upper.
- How will you help me compete in a competitive market? If the market is tight, how will this agent make your offer stand out?
- What do you do when something goes wrong? The ability to proactively problem solve is a must-have trait for any agent.
Questions for Sellers:
- How would you market my home? How will they make your home stand out? Are they up to date with newer technology like virtual showings? What kind of networks do they have?
- How do your fees or commission work? It’s common for the seller to cover the typical 6% commission split by the listing agent and the buyer’s agent, often rolled into the sale price of the home. Ask the agent to explain their commission structure and any other fees you can expect.
- How do you determine a listing price? Good agents use market data or a Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) to arrive at a listing price that leaves you well-positioned for the best possible outcome.
Where to Find a Real Estate Agent
To start your search for the right real estate agent, try:
- An agent matching service: These services will ask questions to learn more about your specific needs, then match you with a seasoned local agent, usually from a name-brand brokerage.
- Referrals from family, friends and neighbors: Word of mouth referrals are still a popular way to get the name of a good agent. If your contact says they’d work with the same agent if they had to do it all again, that’s a good sign.
- Attend open houses: Attend a few open houses in your area or the area you’re interested in. You’ll not only meet an agent in person but will observe them “at work,” which could help you decide if this is an agent who might be a good fit for you.
Check the agent’s online reviews as well, as they may be unsolicited and provide an unvarnished opinion.