What To Look For In A Real Estate Agent

Real estate agents are often the key to your future home happiness. Despite the majority of househunting beginning with hours-long, late-night scrolling through online home-search websites (no, just us?), when you're buying a property, sooner or later, you're likely to come across a real estate agent. In fact, despite the ubiquity of viewing houses online, which can certainly give autonomy when it comes to searching for a property, 87% of buyers end up buying their homes through a real estate agent or broker, according to a 2021 survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors.

And there's a good reason for that. Real estate agents work with you to not only offer stellar property options but also guide you through all of the complicated paperwork, regulation, and important property information. A good real estate agent is an invaluable resource – but with so many out there, how do you know you're working with the right one? While it can be tempting to go with the first agent you come across, your choice of realtor can be the difference between a lifetime of joy or a lifetime of stress. That's why we've put together the most important things to look for when you're choosing who to work with.

How communicative are they?

It all boils down to communication with any relationship, and your relationship with your real estate agent is no different. As New Homes & Ideas points out, feeling that you have an open avenue of communication with your real estate agent is paramount to building your working relationship together. It also allows you to state where you're at and what you expect with the partnership, which will enable you to start on the right foot. Asking questions is key, and even if your realtor doesn't know the answers to everything immediately, the important thing is that they're open to communication. It's also super important to establish when and how you communicate, be it via phone, email, or text. This helps keep information ordered and boundaries clear.

As founder of Marker Real Estate Kevin Markarian states to Forbes, real estate agents should know how important communication is to their clients. So if you feel as though they're not attending to your needs or not liaising with you appropriately, it may be a bit of a red flag. Having said that, it's also crucial to remember that your real estate agent will have other clients, and so putting yourself in their shoes now and again can help you see things from their perspective.

With a real estate agent, it's all about chemistry

Okay, so we realize this is not an article about dating, but chemistry is important when working with a realtor. Simply put, do you click with them? While it sounds pretty basic, Carbutti & Co Realtors explains that it's essential to feel happy to spend time with your real estate agent and that you get along. Bear in mind that this is a person you're going to see a lot on your property journey and share financial information with. Plus, house hunting can be an emotional rollercoaster, and incredibly specific to your needs, desires, and experiences. If you don't really like the person you're working with amidst all of that stress and turmoil, it probably isn't going to end well.

A good real estate agent understands this dynamic well and would do their best to make you feel comfortable and supported, as well as make themselves appear easily accessible. Having said that, it's also important not to go all-in with an estate agent just because you like their vibe. You still need to check out their previous work to ensure they have good professional standing and plenty of experience.

Experience is key

We've all seen those movies where the rookie comes out of nowhere (on a football team, a stock brokerage, a chef's kitchen, whatever) and nails every assignment with endless panache. Unfortunately, real-life, particularly house hunting, is not Hollywood, folks. Real estate is an area where experience reigns supreme, so searching for a real estate agent with plenty of experience is key to your success. According to The Balance, there is a huge amount of less-experienced agents out there. Still, experience opens up connections, local market knowledge, better negotiation experience, and communication with agents that others may not have. Experienced real estate agents will also have worked with a good range of clients of differing backgrounds, experiences, and needs themselves, giving them a better sense of how they can help you properly.

So how do you gauge experience in an agent? The top question to ask is how many times they've renewed their license. This can give you a good sense of how many years they've been working (depending on how frequently they have to renew, based on the state you're in) and how effective they are at closing deals. Keeping an eye on how well they communicate and know the market is also a good indicator of experience.

They should be the right designation

Okay, so we don't want to blow your mind with this statement, but ... buying a home is complicated. And, it can be very, very easy to end up at the bottom of a rabbit hole. This can happen pretty quickly when researching real estate agents, for the sheer fact that you may have invested time in an agent who may not have the proper designation for what you need. According to Moving.com, there's some specific terminology you'll want to know. If you're looking to buy a property, you will want a buyer's agent who has the best knowledge of buying processes, markets, and properties available. If you're selling a property, a listing agent is the way to go since, in addition to market knowledge, they're also the best individuals for the marketing process of your house.

However, if you're suddenly hearing the term "selling agent" amidst all this, don't panic. As Virtual Global Realty broker Rob Bill explains, "the terms 'buyer's agent' and 'selling agent' are used most of the time interchangeably, especially once a deal is consummated." Essentially, a selling agent and a buyer's agent do the same thing most of the time. So before you start investing time and energy, clearly establish what the agent you're considering does best. If in doubt, ask.

Do they know the area you're looking in?

We live in a world where you can find any property, anywhere in the world, with a few clicks of a mouse. This has become, over time, standard practice for a property search. The results of a 2021 survey from the National Association of Realtors points out that over 40% of property buyers start their search online, and almost everybody uses online tools at some point when looking for a house. However, once you find that house, will you know anything about that area specifically? How can you compare it to other properties in the area and their value over time? Based on previous homes in the area, do you have an idea of how much it'll appreciate? What are the schools and transport links like, and where are they?

These are all questions that a simple listing on Zillow or Trulia can't fully tell you, but an excellent real estate agent can. As realtor Sheila Cox points out to Inman, local knowledge is pretty much the most valuable tool in an estate agent's arsenal. While you might find your ideal home online, working with a real estate agent who has a handle on the neighborhood will stop you from ending up with a dream house in a nightmare location.

They should have good references -- but don't get distracted by good word-of-mouth

As anyone who's ever tried to sell something before will tell you, good word-of-mouth is key to success. And with real estate agents, few things are more beneficial than a recommendation from a source you can trust. If you're hearing good things about a realtor from a friend or family member, it could be a good sign the agent is worth your time. But if you're going in blind, check out any references, testimonials, or speak to former clients to get a handle on their work.

Remember, though, while a good review may be reassuring, it's not the be-all and end-all. A real estate agent could be an amazing person, but just not right for you, or may not have the right knowledge for the area you're looking for. That's why Trulia suggests some key questions to ask your real estate agent if you want to know more about them. Make sure you check their transaction frequency in your target areas, whether they work full-time, and whether they work as part of a team, which can be helpful to move your process along. All of these things will help you feel secure in your choice.

Check out the sources they're using

When it comes to real estate agents, you may find that some people promise big things, but it's vital to dig a little deeper than face value. The best way to do this is to check out what kind of sources they're using to back up their claims, advises Poplar Homes co-founder Chuck Hattemer. Hattemer tells Forbes that it pays to "pay attention to those using real data in their answers when it comes to investment analysis, neighborhood-level market performance, and long-term impact of your decision to buy or sell."

The reason for this, according to Hattemer, is more than just the promise of future return on investment. It can actively help to reduce risk in buying a property, future stress, and potentially catastrophic loss. If in doubt, remember that it can never hurt to play the field a little when it comes to real estate agents. Get in touch with several others in the area, and see if their data aligns with your initial contact. If it doesn't, you could be in trouble.

Are their fees reasonable?

Property transactions seem to come with a never-ending list of additional charges. It's all too easy to accept this as part of the process and pay up whenever told, and indeed, these charges are usually a fact of life. But it's important that you're not being overcharged for the services you're being given.

Understandably, it can be difficult to know exactly how much is reasonable when it comes to fees. And indeed, most people don't know. According to a report from the Consumer Federation of America, only 32% of people know that the average commission fee for a property sale is between 5% to 6% of the property's value, leaving a huge amount of people potentially paying more than that. As Redfin states, this 5% to 6% is usually split between the buyer's and seller's agent and covers a large portion of the services provided during the home selling process. Importantly, closing fees (like lender fees, appraisal, and taxes) usually aren't included in this commission price. And even more importantly, remember that you usually only pay a commission if your house gets sold, although contracts may vary, so it pays to read them closely.

Beware of pushy attitudes

A bullish attitude may pay off in a real estate agent when they're negotiating a price for your property, but if you notice one when communicating interpersonally, they may be best avoided. According to Massachusetts-based real estate agent Kim Davis, this is especially true when they're showing you homes. "I feel that the good agents have patience on their side, so any agent that's looking to push a property — I think that's a huge red flag. There's a fine line between educating and advising and being pushy and demanding," Davis tells HomeLight.

Remember, an ulterior motive may be behind the pushy attitude. Davis advises that this kind of behavior can stem from "some kind of incentive for that agent," which could be great for them if you pay up for a home but less good for you. While quiet confidence may not be as dazzling as promising the world, it's the kind of behavior that'll probably pay off for you in the long run.

Check if they can adapt to your viewing needs

Times are changing, and how we prefer to property hunt is changing too. According to a 2017 report from the National Association of Realtors, half of house-hunters from all generations found virtual tours useful in their search for a new property. In fact, video content increased inquiries on listings by an astonishing 403% (via Inman).

If touring homes virtually is a requirement for you, it pays to check if your potential real estate agent offers this service. People need access to virtual tours for various reasons, whether they're frequent travelers and aren't home enough to consistently tour homes, want to move to a distant location, or are too busy to drive to listings. Whatever your reason, if your real estate agent can't provide you with virtual details, it may not be their fault. But if they take issue with your need to see things virtually before committing to an in-person walk-through, it could be a red flag for the general quality of service they provide.

Do they have access to the kind of houses that you're looking for?

A quality real estate agent is a valuable asset unless they can't get you into houses. Unfortunately, this could be a more common occurrence than you think, thanks to two combined reasons: The increasing popularity of being a realtor as a career and the decreasing number of houses on the U.S. market. This creates competition. This is reiterated by Jessica Lautz, the National Association of Realtors vice president of research, who told Marketplace that most of their members "do work on a commission structure. So having that inventory is key. And that is lacking in this environment right now." 

So, when interviewing a real estate agent, make sure you check what kind of houses they can access. Checking their current and former listings online can also be a great indicator of this. Keep in mind that different real estate agents will specialize in different property types. Not every broker will have the kind of access to the homes you're seeing on "Selling Sunset," after all!

Don't just look at the agent -- look at their team, too

As the old saying goes, "no man is an island." And, while certain real estate agents work alone, those supported by a team are probably the best choice. "An agent who has support can offer a high level of customer service to every customer," real estate agent Will Featherstone told Forbes. "Most agents work with several clients at a time. The logistics of buying/selling a home are complicated, and it's easy to miss something or fall short without a support staff."

In short, a realtor supported by a team will be way more available to tend to your needs and to communicate with you properly. If they're tied up, one of their colleagues will step in, helping you feel supported in the time-crucial world of buying or selling a home. Additionally, researching a real estate agent's team gives you a good indication of the brokerage they work at in general, their values, and the kind of people they have working there. If a quality team supports them, you're likely to be in safe hands.

How do they respond at the interview stage?

It can be a little daunting interviewing your real estate agent, but doing so is an essential step in making sure you're hiring the right person. After all, you're not renting an apartment but buying a property. The interview is your chance to dig into what you need as a client and who they are as a realtor. Seeing how they respond to any questions you have will tell you a lot of what you need to know.

Understandably, not many of us have conducted such an interview, so The Balance has some tips on the type of questions you might like to ask a real estate agent. Discussing their experience, their marketing plan (if you're on the selling side), and any references they might have are useful points of discussion. You might also want to ask them how they can best cater to your specific needs as a client and person, how they like to distinguish themselves from the crowd as a realtor, what kind of guarantees they offer for their services or cancellations, and of course how much they charge. Remember, real estate agents need your business more often than not, so if you're unsure, don't panic and go for the first one you meet. Instead, shop around and interview others first.

Their negotiation skills could be everything

If you've ever been privy to a negotiation, you'll know that those who know how to play the game usually come away on top. Good negotiations at property sales can save you thousands if you're buying and gain you that amount if you're selling.

This is where good real estate agents truly come into their own. According to Chadwick Real Estate, there are a few key things to look out for when hiring a real estate agent. Think about their first impression and your first meeting, for example. How well did they come off, and how easy was it for them to sign you on as a client? Getting you on board for their services with skill and ease is a good sign that they'll be able to negotiate competently on a house price. Feeling that they're properly invested in your property journey is also a good indicator of their commitment. Finally, if in doubt, ask them for proof of their ability, including references from former clients.