How to Choose a Real Estate Agent

by Camilla Cheung on 26 January 2012 5 comments
Photo: Bigstock

Buying or selling a home is one of the biggest financial transactions you will ever make, and it’s important to have a real estate agent who can give you a true idea of your options, explain the details of the transaction to you, and help to navigate any potential problems. But how do you choose a real estate agent? How do you avoid the untrustworthy agents and find someone who is professional and has your best interest at heart? (See also:  When Should You Fire Your Real Estate Agent?)

1. Have High Expectations

If your expectations for a real estate agent are simply someone to chauffeur you to houses and unlock the doors, or someone who will just list your house for you, your expectations are too low, and they will be self-fulfilling. Think of a realtor as a professional, not a salesperson, and hold them to the same expectations that you would hold any other professional, such as a CPA, an attorney, or a doctor.  This is the person who will be advising you on how to spend a huge chunk of money. The agent should be able to educate you on your options and help you to understand the consequences of whatever choices you decide to make.

2. Look for Certain Qualities

In the current market, there are few easy deals to be had in real estate. Many transactions, especially complicated ones such as short sales, require someone with the skills and expertise to navigate all of the potential problems. Whether your real estate agent has the right skills may affect whether or not you are able to buy or sell a home at all. Markus Brown, a real estate agent in Orange County, says these are the top qualities you should look for in a real estate agent:

  • Organization skills and detailed knowledge of the stacks of paperwork and legal issues that are involved
     
  • Negotiation skills — someone who can deal efficiently with problems as they come up, who has good people skills when dealing with opposing agents
     
  • For sellers, a marketing strategy and experience marketing homes
     
  • Excellent communication skills — someone who can explain things to you in terms that you understand, empowering you to make the right decisions

3. Interview Your Potential Agent

Brown says, “Sellers usually interview agents, since they are paying them, but buyers often don’t think of interviewing agents, to their detriment.” Whether you are buying or selling, take the time to interview at least three real estate agents. You can meet real estate agents through referrals from family and friends, or you can find them at open houses. It’s a good idea to visit an open house and talk with a real estate agent face-to-face before requesting an interview. If an agent isn’t interested in being interviewed, find someone else.

Be careful about working with family or friends who are real estate agents. Buying or selling a house is possibly the biggest financial transaction of your life, and you deserve to work with the best person for the job. Family obligations should have no place in this business transaction, and if a deal goes sour, it may cause awkwardness and heartache in the end.

When interviewing a real estate agent, Brown suggests the following questions:

How long have you been in the business?

This is the agent’s opportunity to explain how they gained the skills for the job. How an agent answers this question can provide insight into the way they think and work. Agents who use this question to brag about how amazing they are instead of how they helped buyers and sellers accomplish their goals might be the sort of people who talk more than they listen — a bad sign. Remember, just because someone has been in the business forever doesn’t mean they’re the right person for the job; sometimes someone with less experience can be just as knowledgeable and may have other skills that will be valuable.

Can you describe the process, from start to finish, of buying or selling a house? 

How well does the agent explain things to you? Do you have a clear picture of the process, and do you feel empowered rather than belittled? Never work with an agent who talks down to you.

Can you describe how you treat the offer process? How do you submit my offer to the seller? (Or, if you are the seller how do you assess potential offers?

Does the agent present offers in person? Do they try to meet with the listing agent to establish a good rapport? How will the agent discuss potential offers with you, and what strategies do they have for responding to offers?

4. Look for Red Flags

At the end of the day, you have to decide whether you feel comfortable working with a particular real estate agent. If something about them feels untrustworthy, go with your gut and look for someone else (there are plenty of agents out there). Be especially wary of working with the following:

  • Agents who talk more than they listen, or talk about themselves more than they listen to you.
     
  • Agents who are part-time — either they can’t cut it in the real estate world and have to hold on to a day job, or they won’t have the detailed knowledge and expertise of someone who makes it their primary business.
     
  • Agents who are desperate for your business. If they are trying too hard to gain you as a client, chances are they will not give you objective advice. An agent who wants to close the deal too much may pressure you into something you aren’t happy with.

Have you had a good experience with a real estate agent? What qualities made that agent successful?

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Guest's picture
lofts

Great tips, having a bad real estate agent will really make you dread the process

Guest's picture

At the end of the day, we all have to remember that real estate agents are ultimately looking out for their best interest as well. I think the ultimate key, like you stated, is to go through a referral from a friend.

Another tip is to look at their MLS listing to see how many homes they've sold. Closely look at the listing price vs sale price to see how good of a negotiator they are.

Guest's picture
Robert

It can be a nightmare if you have a terrible real estate agent who doesn't look out for your best interest. Always research as much as you can - as described in the article - it will save you lots of time and frustration! Great article over all!

Guest's picture

One thing I've seen time and time again is Real Estate Agents that try to push their mortgage guy on a buyer. Real Estate Agents are there to help you find the house, Loan Officers are there to help you finance that house. The same steps above, apply to finding a Loan Officer. Referrals from family/friends should carry the most weight (assuming you value their opinion).

Guest's picture
Michael

Thats right. Don't just assume the Realtor's mortgage guy is best for you. Do you own shopping....