Last year, 90% of home sellers worked with a real estate agent to list and sell their home. Now the time has come for you to hire a Realtor®. But with more than 3 million licensed agents in the U.S., how do you know which one is right for you?
Industry experts recommend sellers interview at least three agents before you sign a contract. Taking this advice will give you a feel for what you can expect from different agents.
Surprisingly, most sellers consult with a single agent and say “good enough,” so the outcome of their sale is essentially left to chance and the hope that they found a good agent.
We get that interviewing multiple Realtors® to find the right one can be a time-consuming and stressful process. So we’re here to help you navigate the hard part: how to tell if an agent will do your home justice, and provide the level of service you need to sell your home and get you the best deal.
No one wants to be stuck with poorly lit listing photos, terrible communication, and a house that sits on the market for six months. Follow this guide, and you won’t risk having those regrets.
To give you insight into how to pick a Realtor®, we talked with Kim Daneault and Jessica Boswell, top-selling agents in Manchester, New Hampshire and Bristol, Connecticut, respectively, who shared their expert tips for spotting a great agent.
What’s the difference between a real estate agent and a Realtor®?
Remember the old mind bender: all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares?
The same logic applies to real estate agents and Realtors®: all Realtors® are real estate agents but not all real estate agents are Realtors®. In 2020, there were over 3 million active real estate licensees, 1.5 million of whom were Realtors®.
A real estate agent is licensed by the state and is able to conduct real estate transactions. Realtors® have gone a step further to become a member of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), America’s largest trade association, and are bound by their Code of Ethics & Standards of Practice as well as subject to additional Code of Ethics Training Certificates. Along with their status as a Realtor® comes access to the association’s resources, training, and certifications.
Do I have to pay to talk to a Realtor®?
No! It does not cost money to interview agents or talk to a Realtor® about selling your home.
In fact, initial consultations and interviews are an integral part of their business generating process, and agents know that some sellers will end up hiring them and others won’t. Some Realtors® will even walk through a home with you and provide you with a recommended listing price as part of their listing presentation (aka sales pitch) to you.
Once you decide to hire an agent, you’ll receive paperwork and likely sign a listing agreement. Most listing agreements give the agent the exclusive right to sell the property — meaning that for a designated period of time (usually two to six months) this agent will work with you to sell your property and receive the agreed-upon commission if and when the home sells. We’ll dig into this next.
How much will a Realtor® cost me?
Real estate agents are paid a commission — a percent of the property’s sale price — when you sell your home. If there is a listing agent and a buyer’s agent, that commission is typically split to cover both agents’ fees, and it’s customary for the seller to pay both.
According to HomeLight’s transaction data, the average real estate agent commission rate nationwide is 5.8%.
After seeing this number, some sellers decide to take on the task of selling their property themselves — 7%, according to the NAR Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, are for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) sellers. Their goal is often to save the commission fee by selling the home themselves, but is it worth it?
Time for some math! In 2020, FSBO homes sold for a median price of $260,000 compared to agent-assisted sales with a median sale price of $318,000, according to NAR data. In the comparison scenario below, we’ll use a 5% commission.
Agent-assisted median home selling price – commission (5%) = amount earned by seller
$318,000 – $15,900= $302,100
In this scenario, working with an agent results in $42,100 more than the FSBO median home selling price of $260,000.
Another thing to note, according to NAR data, is that the majority (57%) of FSBO sellers knew the buyer and didn’t necessarily have to market the property and manage showings or open houses.
Still, the commission rate for using an agent is significant, and not all agents are created equal. So, it’s critical to hire someone worth their salt — and the money you’ll pay them.
When should I contact a Realtor® to sell my home?
The ideal window for contacting an agent is around three months prior to selling, and no sooner than six months before you aim to list the property. By connecting with an agent early on, however, you can get professional input on which upgrades and repairs to invest in, and which ones to skip so you don’t waste time or money on unnecessary fixes.
For example, an agent familiar with a neighborhood might advise you to focus on curb appeal rather than updating the kitchen countertops, as incoming buyers will be likely to gut and remodel the whole kitchen anyway. But it all depends on area trends and how hot the market is — which is why it’s super important to choose an agent that really knows the area and local market.
Another reason that you should contact an agent a few months before you plan to sell is so you have time to interview a few agents and make sure you hire one that’s right for you.
When it’s time to search for a Realtor®, HomeLight’s Agent Match tool will help you find a top-rated agent. Our data shows that the top 5% of real estate agents across the U.S. sell homes faster and for as much as 10% more than the average agent.. In just two minutes, you can input your address and answer a few questions about your home, and we’ll analyze over 27 million transactions and thousands of reviews to determine which agent is the best match.
I would interview at least two to three agents and really talk about your needs. You’ve got to feel good with this person. You want to be able to laugh and cry with them. You’ve got to feel that you’re being heard.
- Kim Daneault Real Estate AgentCloseKim Daneault Real Estate Agent at Keller Williams Realty-Metropolitan Currently accepting new clients
- Years of Experience 19
- Transactions 247
- Average Price Point $344k
- Single Family Homes 207
Should I interview real estate agents?
Absolutely. Yes. Definitely.
Interviewing real estate agents is the best way to find one that will work for you. While it’s important to get referrals and check an agent’s online presence (including social media), meeting them in person and asking questions is the only way to truly know if your styles will mesh. And you can be on the lookout for signs of a bad agent.
“I would interview at least two to three agents and really talk about your needs,” says Daneault. “You’ve got to feel good with this person. You want to be able to laugh and cry with them. You’ve got to feel that you’re being heard.”
If you’re not outgoing by nature or just don’t have a lot of practice in this role, the idea of interviewing strangers can be a little intimidating. For that, HomeLight has a helpful guide on how to interview a Realtor® in a brief 15-minute phone call. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- What’s your marketing plan for a property like mine?
- What’s your response time, and how often will you be in touch?
- What is your commission rate? (This is negotiable, so be ready to discuss what you’re willing to pay).
- If I pick you, what’s the first thing we need to do to get started?
- How many open houses will you do? How do you handle prep work and staging for open houses and showings?
10 signs you should hire that Realtor®
Alright, deep breath — it’s time to interview, and ultimately pick, a Realtor®. Here are 10 signs that you’ve found the one for you!
1. They get back to you right away
Real estate is a fast-paced business, and with 89% of homes selling in a month in 2021, your agent needs to be accessible, whether you’re trying to accept an offer on your house or a buyer just rejected your counteroffer.
The best agents will be clear about when they will be available to you. Daneault, for instance, says “My best attribute is my response time. I’m blessed with not needing a lot of sleep, so I’ll respond early in the morning and as late as midnight.”
And you can ask questions like “What is your window for taking client calls?” and “Do you have staff/assistants who will respond when you’re unavailable?”
2. They’ve got experience in your price point and property type
The right agent with the right experience and knowledge can likely sell your house faster and for more money than the typical area agent. But what qualifies as the “right” experience?
“It’s important to hire an agent experienced in selling within your home’s specific price point, property type, and location,” explains Daneault. “That agent will know what buyers are looking for in homes like yours, and how fast homes are selling in your area. They’ll also know how best to show your home.”
Some agents specialize in single-family homes while others specialize in multi-million dollar condos — some even specialize in selling islands. So it’s important to find out where the agent’s sweet spot is. If you’re selling your humble starter home, you probably don’t want someone who specializes in selling flashy vacation homes and vice versa.
Asking the agents how many homes they’ve sold in your area and at what price points can give you a feel for whether or not they’re well versed in your type of property.
3. Their stats reveal the true picture
During the initial consultation, agents will typically highlight their most relevant sales — but don’t just take their word for it. It’s vital that you do your own research and check out their full stats history on sites like HomeLight’s agent directory.
The main figures you need to look at are:
Average sale-to-list price ratio
The sale-to-list price ratio tells you what percent of the asking price a home actually sells for. If a house is listed at $250,000, and sells at $230,000, the sale-to-list ratio would be 92%. If a house sells over asking, the sale-to-list ratio will be over 100%. An agent’s average sale-to-list ratio indicates how accurate they are at pricing homes, and how much of a seller’s list price they’re likely able to deliver.
Days on market
An agent’s average days on market reflects how long it typically takes for their listings to attract an offer. Days on market tracks the time between when a house is listed and when it goes under contact with a buyer (the time from contract to close is not included). Most sellers would prefer a faster sale, so if an agent’s days on market is lower than the average for the area, that’s a good sign of their performance.
Number and type of transactions
The number of transactions that an agent does throughout the year is a telling metric of how good of an agent they are. Agents earn what’s called a “transaction side” each time they help a client buy or sell a home — if they are the buyer’s and seller’s agent, they would earn two transaction sides.
An agent’s transaction volume refers to the total dollar amount of homes they sell in the calendar year. While useful in gauging an agent’s overall success, this metric can be a bit misleading. A high transaction volume does not necessarily indicate a high number of total sales, or sales that would be relevant for your needs. If an agent is selling multi-million dollar properties, their sales would be very high, but they probably aren’t the right agent to give your three-bedroom, two-bath house the attention it deserves.
4. Their comparative market analysis (CMA) is accurate
Agents won’t just come to their interviews armed with their personal stats, they’ll bring a comparative market analysis (CMA) with them, too, and you need to go over that data with a fine-toothed comb — because the CMA is the data your agent will use to set your list price.
A CMA is a compilation of comps (recently sold homes comparable in size and location) that’s analyzed to provide a value for your house that will help the agent to set the list price. That value is reached by looking at both the hard data (square footage, lot size, number of rooms, etc.) and more nuanced factors (upgrades, appliance age, curb appeal, lot positioning etc.).
It’s the art of putting a value on those intangibles that requires the expertise of an experienced agent. And the right agent will explain how they came up with your list price. “When I help my sellers set the right list price for their home, I look at the value much like a bank appraiser would — because in the end it’s not about how much a buyer is willing to pay, it’s about how much a bank will lend on the house,” says Daneault.
5. They’ll be active in preparing the home for sale
The right Realtor® will have enough experience and knowledge of the area to offer tips and tricks to help the house sell faster and for more money. One thing that Boswell wishes more clients would ask is “what should I do to make my house more marketable?” and then act on the advice.
Boswell even hires professional stagers for each property she lists — whether it’s a $150,000 single-family home or a $900,000 condo — because she believes that everyone deserves that service.
“I pay for an hour consult for the [stager] to actually go to the house, sit with them, and make them a super comprehensive list. And then after they get the list, the sellers and I can sit and choose the things that will give them the most bang for their buck,” Boswell says.
A good agent won’t just give you a to-do list and walk away. Instead, with the right experience and knowledge, an agent can transform your home’s flaws and awkward areas into assets or help you maximize value by advising on what projects will increase your home value.
6. Their network runs deep
If you’re going to get your home ready to list on a tight timeline you’ll need a great crew — and the right agent can help you with that, too.
Every great agent maintains a network of qualified contractors and other home repair experts who know how to meet a deadline and a budget. Boswell recommends hiring someone who has an arsenal behind them, so “they’re not only coming to you with themselves but they have cleaners, stagers, contractors, photographers, and videographers ready and waiting.”
Also ask for ballpark figures for all the repairs and upgrades you’re considering making, and how much room these contractors have available to fit your projects in.
7. Their marketing expertise shines through
“Evaluating an agent’s marketing plan is super important, because you don’t want to hire one who’ll just slap it in the MLS (multiple listing service) and that’s it,” advises Daneault.
But how do you tell if an agent’s marketing plan is up to snuff?
Start by looking at the days on market for their listings — as well as some of their competition. If your prospective agent’s listings sit on the market for 60+ days, yet competing houses sell in a week or two — that agent probably has no marketing game.
The right agent for you needs to have solid answers to marketing questions like, “What is your marketing budget for my house and what doesn’t the marketing plan look like (mailers, open houses, social media posts)?
Some agents offer different services. According to Boswell, “they can go anywhere from an MLS-only — where there’s a flat fee charge and the client literally does everything except for the entry on the MLS — all the way to full-service concierge, where they show up to every showing and give you the full beautiful marketing package.”
8. They know the neighborhood
Homebuyers aren’t just evaluating how your house will fit their needs, they’re sizing up your neighborhood, too. That’s why you need an agent who knows your neck of the woods like the back of their hand.
While you’re peppering prospective agents with questions on how they’ll market your house, slip in a few questions that’ll show how well they know your neighborhood. Ask them how they would respond to potential buyers asking about local coffee shops, the location and quality of nearby schools, traffic patterns, and crime and safety statistics.
9. You feel comfortable with the Realtor®
This is less dependent on facts and figures and instead relies on how comfortable you feel with the person who will be walking you through a huge financial and emotional transaction — but it’s one of the most important factors in hiring a Realtor®.
“Communication is the biggest and most important part of the relationship between a Realtor® and the seller,” says Daneault. “Even if you’ve worked with an agent as a buyer, if you’ve never sold a house before, this will be your first time learning how to prep a house to sell. So you need an agent that you’re comfortable with who can explain what the process looks like.”
And it’s not just the ins-and-outs of the home sale process that you’ll lean on your agent for. Selling a home can be an emotional process.
Boswell understands the needs for an agent that you feel comfortable with. “This is the biggest transaction of some people’s lives and depending on the scenario, it can be scary. It can be related to divorce or selling a parent’s home that’s passed.” It can also be an exciting start to a new adventure. So finding an agent that‘s understanding and empathetic and will go on the journey with you is key to a successful relationship.
10. They have glowing reviews
When it comes to great agents, you want one that will go above and beyond, like this one who sold their client’s house while they toured the country in an RV.
You’ll already be combing your prospective agents’ profiles for their stats, but while you’re at it, run through their online reviews for little nuggets that demonstrate a willingness to go the extra mile for their clients.
At the interview, ask each agent to provide a short list of satisfied clients that you can call or message to get a first-hand account of just how helpful the Realtor® was throughout the entire home selling process.
Remember that you’re hiring them.
Hiring a Realtor® to sell your home is exactly that — you’re hiring someone to perform a service and bring their expertise and their team along with them. “A seller has a lot to consider when choosing an agent to sell their house. This is a big decision and we understand that it’s not personal when a client decides to go with another agent. It just wasn’t a match,” says Daneault.
So when it’s time to sell your home, using this guide will help you feel confident and ready to choose the Realtor® that’s right for you.
Header Image Source: (ConvertKit / Unsplash)
- "Quick Real Estate Statistics," National Association of Realtors® (November 2020)
- "Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice," National Association of Realtor's® (January 2022)
- "Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers," National Association of Realtors® (2021)
- "The 2021 Housing Market: 89% of Properties Sell in a Month," The Ascent (July 2021)