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Whether you’re buying or selling a home, having a real estate agent that you trust and works hard for you can make all the difference. Not only do real estate agents have your best interests at heart — they provide all the necessary information and insight to help you make informed decisions throughout your real estate transaction.
Finding a good agent can be difficult, especially if you’re unsure what to look for. With some preparation and outreach, you can find the perfect one to help you sell your house for the best price or find your dream home. Learn what to look for in a real estate agent and how to find one that meets your needs as a buyer or seller.
Realtor vs. real estate agent: What’s the difference?
You’ve probably heard the terms “Realtor” and “real estate agent” used interchangeably — while they’re both real estate professionals, they’re two different distinctions. A real estate agent is someone who has met state and national education and training requirements and has passed a written licensing exam (prelicensing requirements vary by state). Once licensed, they can join a real estate brokerage and work with clients.
Realtors® are licensed agents, but they must also become a member of the National Association of Realtors. NAR members are required to follow the organization’s code of ethics. Every Realtor is a real estate agent, but not every real estate agent is a Realtor. Both types of agents can represent sellers or homebuyers.
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How to find Realtors
While finding a Realtor or real estate agent isn’t difficult, it can be challenging to find one that fits your needs and you’re comfortable working with. Here are some steps that buyers and sellers can take to find the right agent.
Use your network
There’s a good chance you know someone who’s had a good experience working with a particular real estate agent. Ask your family and friends if they have any referrals. If you know anyone who’s recently bought or sold their home, find out who they worked with and whether they enjoyed the experience.
Another great way to get feedback quickly is to pose the question on social media. Ask your social network if they recommend a particular agent. You might even have a personal connection with a real estate agent that you forgot about.
Use any recommendations to start forming a list of agents to consider, keeping in mind that someone else’s experience working with an agent may not be the same one you have.
Attend open houses
Open houses are another place to look for qualified real estate agents and check out the homebuying and selling process through a different lens. Sometimes agents attend open houses to preview a home for potential clients. Open houses are a good opportunity to speak with potential agents, including the listing agent, for any homes you might be interested in.
Look for real estate agent signs in your neighborhood
If you’re a buyer and you know where you plan to buy a home, do yourself a favor and drive around looking for listing agents shown on “for-sale” signs. There’s a good chance they’re already familiar with the neighborhood and can provide valuable insights into where to look for the right home.
Search the NAR website
One of the easiest ways to locate a licensed Realtor is through NAR’s online search tool. You can enter your home address (for sellers) or the city where you’re looking to move (for buyers). Then, enter some basic contact information, and NAR staff will reach out to potential Realtors in your area.
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What to do once you have a list of potential Realtors
Once you’ve located some potential Realtors, narrow down your list. You’ll never know if someone is a good fit until you go through the process, but vetting potential agents will help you look for any red flags that suggest someone isn’t a good fit. Follow the steps below to hire the right real estate agent for you.
Think about what a ‘good Realtor’ means to you
This may seem obvious, but it’s a good idea to think in advance about what exactly you’re looking for in a Realtor. The last thing you want is to go in with no expectations, only to realize later that you have very different needs. Knowing what you want from a Realtor will help you separate the real candidates from those that don’t fit your criteria, and is helpful for the Realtor, too. If they know what you’re looking for, they’ll know if they’re a good fit for you. Clear communication starts things off on the right foot.
Interview at least three Realtors
It’s a good idea to interview at least three Realtors before choosing one. Interviewing more than one person lets you compare and contrast their communication style, learn more about their background, and understand the homebuying or selling process more thoroughly.
Prepare a list of questions in advance to help you decide. Here are some questions you may want to ask.
Do they work as a buyer’s agent, seller’s agent, or both?
What’s their experience level?
How long have they been in the industry?
Do they know the market you want to move to?
Are they available to give you personalized attention?
How often do they communicate with clients?
What kind of guarantees do they offer?
What’s their commission rate?
Do they work with a team?
Are there other team members that you would be working with?
You can also ask the agents if they have a list of client references if you want to find out about someone else’s experience working with a particular Realtor.
Make sure the agent’s license is up to date
Take time to verify an agent is licensed before you start working with them. It might seem like a formality, but it’s also a chance to see what professional organizations they’re part of and any other certifications they have.
NAR provides several opportunities for Realtors to expand their skill set and knowledge within the real estate industry. Check to see if a Realtor has earned any other accreditations.
Go with your gut
Now that you’ve done your due diligence, your choice comes down to who you feel the most comfortable working with personally. There’s a good chance that the Realtor you end up working with is who you liked from the very beginning. Ultimately, nobody knows your needs better than you, so trust your judgment when choosing the right Realtor.
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Tips for buyers looking for a Realtor
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you’re buying a home and looking for a Realtor.
Find a Realtor who’s familiar with the city where you plan to move and has done business in the area before.
Find someone who is available full-time — this is key, especially in an area where homes go off the market quickly. You want someone who can get you in to visit homes as soon as possible.
Have the Realtor walk you through the homebuying process, including who covers any costs associated with the purchase.
Tips for sellers looking for a Realtor
If you’re selling a home, keep these tips in mind when looking for a Realtor.
Talk to your Realtor about how they plan to market your home and make sure their plan lines up with your needs.
Find someone who can help you list your home for the correct sales price so that you get your money’s worth, but that isn’t too high that you don’t get any bids.
Find a Realtor who knows what to look for when viewing potential homes. They can help you determine if you need to push for any home repairs before buying a home.
About the author: Kevin Payne is a finance and family travel expert. He writes about credit cards, travel, student loans, saving money, homeownership, careers, and entrepreneurship. His work has appeared in Forbes Advisor, The Ascent, FinanceBuzz, Slickdeals, Student Loan Planner, and more. He is working toward accreditation as an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC).