How to Find and Hire a Real Estate Agent

By Miranda Marquit on 5 June 2013 (Updated 8 July 2014) 1 comment

Looking for a home to buy can be challenging — and selling your home can be even more challenging. With a little help from a professional, it's possible to find just the house you want or sell your home a little faster. (See also: Real Estate Agents: Do We Really Need Them?)

While you can take care of home buying and home selling transactions on your own, it can be helpful to have a professional guide you through the pitfalls. However, you need to make sure that you choose a real estate agent who is most likely to work well for you.

You will be spending hours with your real estate agent looking at houses or planning selling strategy. As a result, you need to hire someone you feel is competent and whom you feel comfortable with. Here are some of the steps you can take to improve your chances of hiring the right real estate agent for your situation.

Get Recommendations

Your first step, when possible, is to get recommendations from family and friends. Find out which real estate agents those you know have used, and find out what they liked about these agents. After getting a few recommendations, you can begin whittling down the list. Call a few real estate agents to get a feel for how they function and to see how helpful they are. You can get the list down to about three, and then dig a little deeper to settle on a real estate agent who is likely to best suit your needs.

Look for a Specialist

Realize that there are different types of real estate specialists. Consider your needs as a homebuyer or seller, and look for a real estate agent who can help you accomplish your goals.

Certain certifications and accreditations can be a real help as you hire a real estate agent. If you are a buyer, you might look into hiring a real estate agent who is an Accredited Buyer's Representative (ABR). Someone with this designation specializes in helping buyers get the most for their money. In most cases, as a buyer, you won't have to pay your real estate agent; it's something that the seller does.

Whether you are buying or selling, it might help to hire a real estate agent who is a Certified Residential Specialist (CRS). This means that the agent has additional training related to residential real estate transactions and can help you with the ins and outs.

There are other specialties, such as Seniors Real Estate Specialist, Specializing in Land Sales, Specializing in Foreclosures, and Specializing in Commercial Real Estate that can ensure that you get access to expertise in your specific category of interest.

Check Licensing and Professional Memberships

Real estate agents are usually licensed by individual states. Check with the appropriate board to verify that the real estate agent is up to date on all required licenses. You can also get information about disciplinary actions against the agents.

Also consider professional memberships. If a real estate agent presents himself or herself as a Realtor (note the capital letter "R"), it means that he or she is a member of the National Association of Realtors, and subscribes to a certain code of ethics, and has agreed to abide by certain practices.

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Check the Agent's Current Listings

What else is the real estate agent working on? You want a real estate agent who appears to understand the local market (whether you are buying or selling) and who seems to have a pretty good handle on the most effective techniques.

You can find real estate listings on the agent's own website (or the company website), or by checking the Multiple Listing Service database at Realtor.com. Get a feel for how many listings the agent has. This is especially important if you are selling. You want to use a real estate agent who clearly has a decent amount of business, but who doesn't have so much business that you get lost in the shuffle.

If you are looking for help buying, you want someone who has fewer listings and has time to show you what works best for your situation.

Look to see how the real estate agent deals with online listings. Most buyers look online first, so if you are a seller, you want a real estate agent who is savvy about using online listings.

Some sites also provide information about how long a home has been on the market. If the real estate agent you are investigating seems to sell homes abnormally fast or abnormally slow, ask questions about techniques. You want information about why homes seem to be moving so quickly or why a home has been on the market for so long.

When to Switch Real Estate Agents

For the most part, you want to keep with the same real estate agent until your transaction is complete. However, there are times when you have to admit that you made a mistake as you hired the real estate agent. Here are some signs that you might need to fire your real estate agent and hire someone else.

  • Your agent is slow to return your calls or emails.
     
  • If you are buying, the agent shows you whatever is convenient, without real attention to what you are actually looking for in a home.
     
  • Your agent isn't using the Internet tools available to better show your home.
     
  • You feel like you aren't getting the help and attention you need.

In many cases, who you "click" with is a gut feeling. After you go through the vetting process, meet with a couple of different real estate agents to get a feel for how you interact. If you already have another agent or so whom you feel like you can trust, it makes it a little easier to switch if the relationship deteriorates with your current real estate agent.

What are the things you look for in a real estate agent?

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I would also add that if you are a buyer you consider working with an /exclusive/ buyer agent--one that does not ever list houses for sale. That way you know for sure your interests are the only one's being served. Accredited buyer agents, while more helpful than someone with no training in buying, nonetheless gave up on the mission of exclusive representation, according to the national Association of Realtors. This means an accredited buyer agent can work in a agency where the person in the desk next to them is selling the very house you are hoping to buy!