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 need to sell or buy a home — and to find a Realtor® for that transaction, you have to sift through thousands of people who could make or break one of the most serious, important financial decisions in your life. Where do you begin?
Top agent Dave Mattes, who completes 16% more sales than the average agent in Reading, Pennsylvania, thinks that “a good real estate agent is somebody that dedicates enough time to treat their customers well, and they have fast responses, market knowledge, and good communication.”
Follow these steps for how to find a real estate agent you can trust completely and distinguish the bad from the good.
Four steps to find a Realtor that’s right for you
You can work with either a real estate agent or a Realtor to buy or sell a home. Both professionals are licensed to transact real estate. But note that Realtors are members of the National Association of Realtors and are bound by the Realtor Code of Ethics. Be sure and ask any agent that you’re interviewing about these qualifications.
Beyond that, the right Realtor for you will know how to market and sell your house and know your area inside and out. They’ll not only help you sell for more or save money where it counts, but negotiate for other non-financial concessions that you might need. And through it all, they’ll keep you appropriately informed.
Step 1: Look to the past. What are the agent’s actual results?
There are countless online sources where agents can purchase ads, listings, and even pay to insert testimonials. If you’re only looking at an agent’s online presence, you’re not seeing the full picture. One of the best ways to know if they’re effective is by their results. Past success is one of the strongest indicators of future success.
Before hiring a Realtor, think about what matters the most to you: speed of sale, sale to list price ratio, or knowledge of your neighborhood. How quickly has the agent sold homes in your area before, and did they sell for list price or above? Once you know your priorities, use the agent’s results data to narrow your search.
All of these strengths are represented in a Realtor’s sales history, but who has time to dig through months worth of listings?
Today, companies such as HomeLight will do this work for you — and fast. Our agent-matching platform surfaces sales records of top real estate agents in your area to provide individualized agent recommendations. Simply tell us a bit about your plans to buy or sell, we’ll run a query, crunch the data, check reviews, and provide you with up to three relevant and qualified agent matches in just two minutes.
Our powerful, data-driven tool analyzes millions of home sales to find the best performing real estate agents in your area. Its results aren’t based on questionable surveys, submitted testimonials, paid ranking systems or a friend’s recommendation — but on what they get done for their customers. The match tool’s speed and easy-to-read results allow you to browse and review agent profiles to determine who you’d like to interview. Enter your city and click “find an agent” to get started.
Step 2: Look at the now. Is the agent engaged in the current market?
A successful agent is one who is actively listing and selling now. They’ll have their finger on the market’s pulse, and have updated skills and strategies to bring buyers and sellers together. After narrowing your list of potential agents based on past success, look at their current pipeline.
Especially with the economic conditions of inflation and continually increasing mortgage rates throwing a wrench into the real estate market, finding an experienced agent becomes all the more important.
Mattes advises sellers to “look for agents that have active inventory.” You want to work with the people who are “actually doing business, and who have a flow of business that you can witness online,” he advises.
Do they have sales or listings pending? How many sales did they close in the last few months? A quick glance at a few of their online profiles gives you a good idea of their market activity.
Step 3: Interview at least three designated top agents
Once you’ve found a few great agents in your area, take time to interview and get to know them. Once you decide to list or buy, you could be talking to them several times a day. You’ll want to have a good rapport and clear communication. When you’re interviewing the agents, pay attention to how they respond.
Do they answer your questions with concrete, factual data? Beware of agents who respond with vague answers. You want someone who knows the average days to sell in your market and the current average list price off the top of their head.
Look for signs that they know your market, like mentioning the new grocery store opening down the block. A good agent is on top of changes that impact your home’s value.
Step 4: Ask agents the right questions
When it comes to interviewing agents, you could ask over 20 different questions to find the right fit. But if you don’t have that much time, here are the top five questions to ask.
Q: What is your “days on market” average?
A: The days on market is the number of days, on average, for the agent to sell a home. For great agents, this number is typically about half of the days on market for average agents. HomeLight provides local days on market information for cities across the nation.
You’ll find a list of popular cities at the top of our tool, and cities in each state down below. Once you select your location, scroll down and look for the chart with the “Days on Market” figures. You’ll also find additional information about what a top local agent can offer.
Q: How many homes have you sold in the past 12 months?
A: According to top real estate agent James Silver, who works with 76% more single-family homes than other agents in Detroit, Michigan, a real estate team should sell around 200-300 homes in a year. He says that a good number for a single agent is in the 30-50 home range. This range won’t be the same in other areas, so compare an agent’s transactions to your market’s norm.
Q: What is your sale to list price ratio?
A: This percentage is the final sale price (what the buyer paid for the home) divided by the last list price. A positive ratio tells you that they sell homes for more than the listing price. Look for an agent with a sale to list price ratio that’s over the average in the area.
Q: How well do you know the market in my neighborhood?
A: Selling points like the quality of local schools, access to nearby restaurants and grocery stores, and crime data, help market your home. You want an agent who can rattle off the pluses of your area during an open house, or point out what makes your location desirable.
It’s a good sign if they live nearby or have had the bulk of their transactions in your neighborhood. An agent’s HomeLight profile page also has a map of every location where they’ve bought and sold houses, so you can see their activity in your area at a glance.
Beyond the neighborhood, do they know the real estate market? Even if you’re in a seller’s market, you want an agent who knows which concessions are common for your area, and what you can safely ask for during negotiations without risking the sale.
Q: What are your priorities for buyers/sellers?
A: What do you need most from the sale? If you’re selling a home and relocating to another state, speed may be your top priority. You need an agent who does their job well, fast, and keeps contact to a minimum. First-time sellers or buyers likely want an agent who will go out of their way to explain every step. Think about whether you need an agent who keeps you in the loop or takes care of all the details without checking in constantly.
If you email that agent to set up any sort of time or call them and they don’t answer or email you back promptly, it tells you how your sale is going to go. It’s a huge red flag
- Nikki Lagouros Real Estate AgentCloseNikki Lagouros Real Estate Agent at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty
- Years of Experience 11
- Transactions 804
- Average Price Point $555k
- Townhomes 340
What makes a good real estate agent?
Numbers are only one slice of the pie, however. There are other factors that make a good real estate agent the best choice to list your home. Here’s what to look for in a Realtor:
Has relevant professional certifications and experience
An agent who has learned about the market, contracts, and the laws surrounding real estate is the best choice to represent you. Their professional certifications indicate their competence, as does their years of experience. Some agents may have taken extra training in investment properties, waterfront properties, luxury homes — or in how to help specific clientele such as seniors or military.
Dedicated to the profession — not a part time hobbyist
You want an agent who makes their bread and butter from real estate, not someone who will be working at a day job when you call with questions. Accessibility indicates that they’re dedicated and give it their all. “If you email that agent to set up any sort of time or call them and they don’t answer or email you back promptly, it tells you how your sale is going to go,” says Nikki Lagouros is a full-time agent in Reston, Virginia, who sells properties 40% quicker than the average agent in her area. “It’s a huge red flag.”
In-depth knowledge of the local market
A great agent will have an in-depth knowledge of the local real estate market, but also the area. They stay informed about upcoming developments that could impact your home’s price. Plans to build a new highway on the other side of your backyard decreases its value; a new playground park increases it.
According to Lillian Montalto, a top listing agent in Andover, Massachusetts, buyers should make sure an agent “knows the marketplace, knows the inventory, is able to provide them with information, like how hot the market is and what homes are about to list.”
Tech-savvy marketing skills
Does an agent post regularly on Instagram or another social media feed? Do they know how to get your home out to a wide circle of interested buyers?
Lagouros leverages social media marketing to target potential buyers. After creating an avatar of an ideal buyer for one of her listings, she builds geo-centers around demographics and areas that target them in her social media marketing.
More and more, buyers are shopping for and purchasing homes online. According to HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights Survey for Spring 2023, 81% of agents report leaning into social media as a marketing strategy to reach these potential buyers. Pick an agent that caters to this slice of the market to increase your odds of selling quickly and for top dollar.
Customer-fit communication style
Depending on the situation, some sellers want an agent who gives a high level of personal attention. If you send a text about an offer at 10 p.m., you don’t want to wait until 8 a.m. for a response. Other sellers might prefer to keep it short and sweet, or handle everything by email (for example, if you’re selling a vacation home).
Your agent’s communication style should fit your preferences because you’ll be talking to them a lot — before listing or when looking at houses, and when evaluating offers.
In a multiple offer situation, Mattes says that sellers need an agent who can help them sort it all out in a way that makes sense — helping them narrow it down if they want government financing, a cash deal, or no inspections. It’s an important part of their job to communicate the differences between offers to help you pick the one that’s best for you.
Has a network of professionals
Would staging your home increase its sale price? Maybe the dining room could use a fresh coat of paint. A great agent has a network of professionals that they can call on to get your home ready for sale and also help out during the sale. Buyers often request repairs after the home inspection, but if you have to call around town and get recommendations and quotes, it could delay the closing. A good agent will know the right person for the job.
Integrity, the respect of their peers, and negotiation skills
A good agent will tell you the truth even if you don’t want to hear it. They’ll encourage you to be honest on seller’s disclosures, saving you from potential lawsuits after the sale. This integrity has likely led to a good reputation and the respect of their peers, which might be measured by industry awards.
They’ll bring this integrity to the table during negotiations. Even if you have a great offer, or have found a home that you’re thrilled to buy, there’s always something to negotiate. It could be the close date, repairs, or a rent back period. A good agent knows how to handle the back and forth of negotiations.
Dogged determination and self-motivation
Agents are independent contractors without the security of a regular paycheck of a 9-to-5 job. Successful agents will have the dogged determination to succeed, following up with interested buyers, responding to text messages late at night, and constantly working to get their sellers the best results.
What are the signs of a bad real estate agent?
A bad real estate agent could be one that isn’t a good fit for your needs, or one who won’t get the job done. If you see any of these red flags, get another agent.
- Invisible results and vague experience. While we all have to start somewhere, you probably don’t want an inexperienced agent handling your largest asset. If you hear lies and half-truths when asking about their sales record, run! A good agent will be upfront about their past results and experience.
- Real estate is only a side gig. An agent who only sells real estate part time is unlikely to get you the results you want. Ask if the agent works real estate full time.
- Unprofessionalism on many levels. Do they show up with unkempt hair and a stained shirt? Is their behavior, such as late or no-show appointments, demonstrating unprofessionalism? Buying and selling real estate is a business transaction, and you want to work with a professional. Also beware of arrogance or an abundance of ego, particularly when you ask about past sales. An agent who responds arrogantly will be off-putting to other agents, making it difficult to negotiate, and could be over-inflating their track record and lack needed experience.
- Unfamiliarity with the market. If an agent can’t answer basic questions about the market, specifically the market in your area, it’s a red flag. Another sign they don’t know your market? Lagouros says that if they “don’t know the guidelines on the HOA, or of the condo association, or the various models or layouts for that neighborhood,” the agent could be misleading you about their expertise.
- Shaky negotiation skills. To close a sale, the agent has to be your best advocate, whether buying or selling. If an agent is over-eager to please, seems to be faking their enthusiasm, or you’re starting to feel like they’re not on your side, they might be the wrong agent for you.
- Pushy with an agenda, too much pressure. Ever got the feeling that a salesperson cares less about putting you in the right car and more about their commission? The same can be true for some real estate agents. When an agent is pressuring you to accept an offer that doesn’t fit your most important needs, take a step back. Also, pay attention to signs that your agent is misreading your cues — such as failing to even ask for what you want — or not listening to your answers.
- Doesn’t understand contracts. It doesn’t matter if the agent’s a good negotiator if they don’t get it in writing. Buying and selling real estate are legal transactions, and you need the protection of strong contracts. According to Lagouros, good agents know the contract and all the implications and loopholes to protect their buyers. She points out that in a real estate transaction, “people are putting down earnest money deposits of $100,000. If the agent flubs something in the contract, they could lose that money for them.” A good property agent should go over the contract to list or represent you as a buyer, and be able to explain confusing terms and clauses.
- You’re getting nowhere. Has your home been on the market for longer than normal? If there isn’t an identifiable reason — your home’s condition or poor location — it could be a sign that your agent isn’t doing their job. Consider canceling your contract with them and finding someone else.
Differences between agents for buyers and sellers
Agents may specialize in helping clients buy or sell homes. Most agents provide both services, but it’s common for agents to start their career helping buyers, and then graduate into becoming a more regular listing agent. As you search for your perfect agent match, look for agents who work primarily on your side of the transaction and are passionate about their job.
Mattes thinks that the advantage to working with an agent who exclusively handles either buying or selling is that you get somebody 24/7. If it’s a buyer’s agent, “They’re super focused on finding people a home and then learning the tactics to help their buyers get a home over somebody else,” he says.
Now — go find a great agent!
Buying or selling a home is no easy task, but the right real estate agent can make all the difference. According to our internal data, the top 5% of real estate agents across the U.S. sell homes for as much as 10% more than the average real estate agent. If you’re overwhelmed with how to find a Realtor and sort through their qualifications, HomeLight would be happy to introduce you to a few top candidates in your area and get the ball rolling.
FAQs on finding a realtor
It’s easier than ever to find a qualified Realtor or real estate agent today using HomeLight. We analyze over 27 million transactions and thousands of reviews to find the best real estate agent for your needs. It takes less than 2 minutes to match you with a top agent who will guide you through the process. You’ll have the chance to interview your suggested Realtors and make a selection. Choose an agent who communicates effectively, understands your needs, and has a proven record of successful transactions.
When interviewing a Realtor, inquire about their experience in your specific market, their marketing strategies, and how they plan to price your property. Ask about their negotiation skills, their availability for communication, and the specific services they offer throughout the selling process. Inquire about their commission structure and any additional fees involved.
The size of the brokerage is not the sole determining factor. Focus on the individual realtor’s experience, expertise, and track record rather than the brokerage. Consider factors such as their knowledge of your local market, their dedication to client service, and their ability to effectively market and negotiate the sale of your property.
Signing an exclusive listing agreement is common practice and provides clarity on the terms and expectations of the agent-client relationship. It ensures that the Realtor is committed to marketing and selling your property and protects their investment of time and resources. However, review the agreement carefully and ensure it aligns with your goals before signing.
To determine if a realtor is the right fit, consider their expertise in your property type and price range. Evaluate their communication style, responsiveness, and willingness to listen to your needs. Look for a professional who demonstrates professionalism, market knowledge, and integrity. Trust your instincts and choose an agent with whom you feel comfortable and confident in their ability to represent your interests.
Header Image Source: (rawpixel / Unsplash)
- "Designations and Certifications," National Association of Realtors® (2022)
- "Single-family Homeowners Typically Accumulated $225,000 in Housing Wealth Over 10 Years," National Association of Realtors (January 2022)
- "Consumer Price Index - September 2022," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (October 2022)