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The First-Time Homebuyer’s Ultimate Guide to Finding A Realtor

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

You’ve saved up all your pennies, forgone the avocado toast, and you think you’re ready to buy your first house. But you need someone to guide you through the process, and you’re not sure how to find that person: either all the agents you know don’t seem like quite the right fit, or you don’t know any agents at all. If you’re ready to buy a house and you need to find a Realtor®, here’s how to do it.

Data used to find a Realtor.
Source: ( Christina Morillo / Pexels)

Let data do the job for you

In our technological age, there’s an algorithm for everything, including how to find a Realtor®. Agent-matching services like HomeLight’s use transaction data to find agents who have the most experience with sales like yours. If you really don’t know where to start at all, this is probably the best first stop. (A quick primer: A Realtor® is not exactly the same thing as a real estate agent, though there is a lot of overlap between those two job titles. A real estate agent is someone who’s been licensed by the state to help transact real estate [and is usually also a Realtor®, but not always.] A Realtor® is a member of the National Association of Realtors® [and is almost always also a practicing real estate agent or broker]).

For example, let’s say you’re a veteran approved for a VA loan between $250,000 and $275,000 in your area, and you’re looking at a specific neighborhood; HomeLight can use recent sales data to find agents who have helped the most buyers like you buy a house in that very neighborhood. We’ll recommend up to three agents for you to interview, they’ll reach out to you, and you can decide if any of them are the perfect fit.

Leverage your network

Word-of-mouth is one of the most reliable ways to find a great Realtor®. Your family, friends, and neighbors have likely bought houses using agents, so ask them who they used and if they would use that agent again. Friends, family and acquaintances that have been around the homebuying block more than once often have an agent they’ve worked with again and again—a recommendation like that should make you feel pretty confident that you’re hiring a Realtor® who will work hard for you.

Even if an agent comes highly recommended, however, don’t hire the first agent that is recommended to you! Make sure you talk to several Realtors® and weigh your options before deciding on the one you would like to work with. According to the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (ARELLO), there are an estimated 2 million active real estate licensees in the United States — so there are a lot of real estate agents to choose from! Just because a Realtor® is a great fit for someone you know, it doesn’t mean that person is the perfect Realtor® for you.

Ask other experts for referrals

“A good Realtor® should have title and lender companies in their pocket,” explains Heather Kerstetter, an experienced real estate agent in York County, Pennsylvania. “When you need inspections, they should be able to tell you who they have worked with and let you decide. Your Realtor® should have all of that information for you,” she says.

On the flip side, your mortgage broker probably knows tons of agents, as do home contractors or handymen, inspectors, plumbers — the list goes on. If you’ve already got someone helping you with one part of your real estate transaction, they might be able to suggest a good agent to you.

Source: (NeONBRAND / Unsplash)

Attend first-time homebuyer classes

If you’re a first-time buyer, checking out a local first-time homebuyer class will not only provide you with a lot of information to help demystify the homebuying process, but it will introduce you to Realtors®, too.

“If Realtors® are making time for first-time buyers and showing them the ropes, it’s an indication they will sit and hold your hand throughout the homebuying process,” says Kerstetter.

Use online reviews

In today’s digital world, reading reviews is one of the best ways to find a great Realtor®. Online, clients can rate agents and share their experience working with the agent, and you can use those reviews to find an agent who’s a good fit.

“Check social media sites or HomeLight,” advises Kerstetter. “See what Realtors® in your area are getting rated.

“If a Realtor® is rated five stars and has good reviews, you can interview them. If you gel right off the bat, great, work with them. But if you’re not sure, reach out to another one. There are plenty of Realtors® out there.

“You want to find the right one that makes you comfortable and will work hard for you,” she adds.

And remember, as important as it is to read the good reviews of potential agents, it’s just as important to read the negative reviews. Pay close attention to the agent’s response to their less-than-stellar reviews, too — it can tell you a lot about their character.

Find the community leaders

Many Realtors® are heavily invested in the areas where they work. “I believe in order to be a great Realtor® you not only sell a home, but you sell the community as well,” says Kerstetter, who spends a good deal of her time at charity events. When you’re out enjoying community events like a local parade, for example, look for real estate agents who have taken the time to build their own float and participate.

Another good way to identify agents that are heavily invested in the community is to look on social media or do a Google search for agents offering blog posts or videos sharing details about the area you are interested in buying. If an agent has made it a priority to share their in-depth knowledge about the community in which they work, it’s another good indication that they are well suited to help you find your dream home in that community.

An open house used to find a Realtor.
Source: (Sidekix Media / Unsplash)

Attend open houses

The agents at open houses are often willing to represent you as a buyer — so if you meet one you like at an open house; it might be worth considering them. That said, if you’re interested in putting an offer in on the house that the agent is representing, be careful about dual agency (a scenario when an agent represents both the buyer and the seller). As a buyer, it’s usually better to have someone representing your specific interests alone. “I would be wary of using the agent that is representing the seller,” says Kerstetter.

If you meet an agent you really like but want to avoid dual agency, Kerstetter advises getting the agent’s card and calling their agency to see if there is another agent available to represent you. “At an agency everyone is different, but their values usually align,” says Kerstetter.

Open the local paper…

Although newspapers feel a bit old-school, they are still a solid way to get good leads on Realtors®. Agents may have ads in the paper indicating their area of specialty or highlighting their listings.

… And check the mailbox

“I don’t cold call or door-knock. People don’t like to be called. They don’t like to be solicited,” Kerstetter says. She does, however, reach out to potential clients via their mailbox.

“When I send out mailers, I’m not bugging you,” she says. “If you’re not interested and you throw it away, fine. But if you’ve been thinking about selling, you might want to reach out. If you’re renting and you want to buy, you might contact me,” she says.

A car used to find a Realtor.
Source: (Xan Griffin / Unsplash)

Drive around

An easy way to identify agents that are knowledgeable about the neighborhood you’d like to buy in is to drive around and assess which agents are doing a lot of business there. Check out the “for sale” signs in the yards and take note of the listing agents. The agents already selling in your ideal neighborhood likely know the area really well and can help you find a great home in your desired location.

Final tips for finding the perfect Realtor®

No matter how you find a Realtor®, Kerstetter says you’ll know they’re worth considering if they know their stuff and can explain it to you clearly. “If you ask them a question, like, ‘what is the first step in the homebuying process?’ or ‘do you know a good lender?’ they should give you an answer,” she says.

Kerstetter also points out that if you connect with an agent who is new to the real estate world, you shouldn’t worry too much about their inexperience. “We all have to start somewhere,” she says. “First time Realtors® might be nervous, but that doesn’t mean they won’t do a good job.”

Overall, Kerstetter says the bottom line is that a good Realtor® will give you the attention you deserve and make you feel comfortable. “When I was buying my house before I was a Realtor®, I used a less-experienced agent because the agent I initially had was forceful. She showed me two houses and said, ‘Which one do you want?’ But I didn’t want either one,” says Kerstetter.

“Maybe you start talking about things you have in common. You should feel comfortable,” she advises. “There will be several agents out there you will feel comfortable with — it just may not be the first one you come across.”

Header Image Source: (Andrew Neel / Unsplash)