How on earth do I find a good real estate agent? you’re wondering as you attempt to squeeze in a little research between work meetings or while the kids are still at school. With a sandwich in one hand and your phone in the other, you’re overwhelmed with what’s only the first step in the home-selling process. There are so many in my city, and I don’t know who to trust!
Americans are busier than ever, and finding a good real estate agent is just one more task on a very long to-do list. For many, taking a “this agent will do” mentality might seem like the only way forward, with 77% of sellers resigning to hiring the first agent they contact!
However, a lack of research can seriously hurt your bottom line, as we’ve found that the best agents in a market sell homes for as much as 10% more than average. So who are these rockstars of your market and how can you find them?
Here are 10 pro tips to narrow your search and zero in on your top candidates!
1. Don’t go with someone just because they helped a friend or family member.
Thirty years ago, asking friends or family for real estate agent recommendations was the only way to vet a real estate agent — which is why it became the go-to agent-finding method. But that trend is changing, thanks to the agent information available online.
According to the National Association of Realtors’ (NAR) “2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers,” only 41% of sellers used a real estate agent found their agent through a referral by friends or family.
“Everybody knows someone who has a real estate license. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area we have over 20,000 real estate agents, however not everyone is an experienced professional,” explains Lily Moore, a top-selling agent in her Texas market. “It’s great to ask your friends and family, but that doesn’t mean the agent they recommend is going to be a good match. Maybe they worked with the agent 10 years ago, or they suggest a part-time agent who sells real estate as a hobby.”
Hiring a friend or family-recommended agent can also put a strain on relationships. It’s not so easy to push back if you disagree with your agent on pricing, marketing, or home repair projects — or even fire your agent when you know conflict could damage your friendship. And the last thing you want is to be walking on eggshells with your agent about a transaction that should be objective and free of emotion.
2. Conduct interviews with multiple agents before committing to anyone.
Commitment has practically become mandatory in the 21st-century. Get a cellphone, and you make a years-long commitment to purchase service. Go to a gym once and suddenly you’re stuck in a contract.
So many people feel like when they speak with a real estate agent about selling their house — they’re obligated to list your property with them.
Not so fast.
No company would hire the very first prospect who asked for a job without first running background checks and interviewing them to make sure they’re a good fit, and neither should you.
It’s time to set the pressure of social politeness aside, take your time, and meet with a number of agents before you make any commitment. Remember, every agent you meet with is interviewing for the job of selling your house — and just like any employer you have the right to consider a wide range of candidates before signing.
3. Factor in expertise by property type, whether it’s SFH, condos, or townhomes.
Between searching online and asking friends for recommendations, your list of potential agents may be getting rather long. You’ve got too many candidates to interview them all. One good way to hone down your list is to eliminate anyone who isn’t experienced with selling your property type.
If you’re selling a single family home on an acre of land, you don’t want to hire an agent who specializes in selling urban-area condos.
“You need to be careful about hiring an agent who specializes in condominiums to sell your single family home, because things can get complicated when your Realtor® is unfamiliar with your property type,” cautions Moore.
“The contracts and forms are different, and I have unfortunately seen agents make huge mistakes that cost their sellers thousands of dollars because the Realtor® didn’t check the right box.”
4. Narrow down your list based on neighborhood expertise.
Home buyers aren’t just looking to buy a house, they’re looking to buy into a community with the kind of right atmosphere, amenities, and attractions. So it’s important for sellers to find an agent with experience marketing and selling properties in your specific neighborhood. That’s why every agent profile on HomeLight features an interactive map that indicates an agent’s concentration of homes sold by neighborhood.
“Sellers should ask every agent these questions first, ‘How many houses have you sold in my neighborhood?’ and ‘Where is your office located?’” suggests Moore.
“If they haven’t sold any or many houses in your area, or their office is 45 minutes or more away from your neighborhood, then they don’t know anything about marketing the local schools, the parks, or the community centers to potential buyers.”
Agents with local expertise will also have a network of nearby contractors to call in to help you get your home ready to sell.
5. Gauge industry knowledge on their recommendations for home prep.
The advice an agent gives to guide you in prepping your house for sale can tell you a lot about the effort they plan to put in.
Are they recommending that you put no effort into fixing up your house and just list at a low price? Are they recommending a major overhaul remodeling every room in the house that’ll cost you tens of thousands of dollars? Both are red flags that indicate an agent isn’t the right fit to sell your house.
“There are agents who will recommend listing as-is at a low price because they’re just trying to get a quick commission. A great real estate agent is going to come in, walk the house and let you know what you can do to increase the price by $25,000 to $30,000 just by putting $4,000 worth of work into improving the property,” advises Moore.
6. Give more weight to past performance than promises.
Every agent puts on their game face when they meet with prospective sellers, but just because they can talk a good game doesn’t mean they have the track record to back up their sales pitch.
Thankfully, stats don’t lie — which is why checking out an agent’s performance history is a vital part of finding a great agent. Here’s the key stats you need to look at:
Yearly number of transactions: The number of homes an agent sells annually is one good indicator of their success and experience. An agent who sells 30-40 homes each year obviously knows how to market and price a house to sell well.
Days on market: Days on market (DOM) tracks the time between when a house is listed and when it goes under contact with a buyer. If an agent’s average DOM is lower than average, it’s a good sign that they price homes correctly to attract quick offers and come out of the gate with a strong marketing plan for their listings.
Sale-to-list-price ratio: The sale-to-list price ratio tells you what percent of the asking price a home actually sells for. 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. The higher their average sale-to-list price ratio for sell-side transactions, the better their track record.
Awards and local involvement: If your agent has received recognition from fellow Realtors® or the local community for their real estate work, that’s a pretty good indicator of their dedication and involvement with your neck of the woods, which can translate into having more informed conversations with buyers about your property.
7. Look for ‘above and beyond’ tendencies in client reviews.
While you’re looking up your agent’s stats on their online profiles, it’s a good idea to take a look through their written reviews from past clients. But don’t just go by the number of 4- and 5-star reviews they’ve received. To find out if an agent you will go “above and beyond for you, take the time to dig into the review details.
What you’re looking for are personal stories that share concrete details on just how the agent went out of their way to help past clients.
For example, did the agent spend time preparing their client’s home for the market while their clients traveled the country in an RV? Have they helped past clients downsize after a medical emergency and helped declutter the home on an impossible deadline? Did the agent work out a complex lien against the property to get it sold?
Believe it or not, these are all real examples of things agents have done in the past to make sure their clients were happy. And you shouldn’t expect anything less!
It’s also wise to count how many times client reviews mention key qualities that all great agents have, like offering quality home prep advice, exhibiting patience, and great communication:
“Communication is important because agents need to move at the speed of the market. It’s a red flag if an agent takes 24 to 48 hours to respond to you,” says Moore.
8. Ask your agent finalists for references from past clients — and take time to call them.
Online reviews that share concrete details and personalized stories are a great way to narrow down your long list of potential agents, but when you’re getting close to hiring an agent, it’s important to ask your finalists for references who you can talk to personally.
“In the real estate industry, you can get online reviews from pretty much anybody. Family and friends can write reviews saying what a great person you are, but being a great person doesn’t make you a great real estate agent,” explains Moore.
“That’s why I provide references for my prospective sellers, so they can call up past clients and ask about their experience with me.”
9. Evaluate an agent’s additional certifications and specialties.
Just like snowflakes, no two home sales are alike and your unique property may call for an agent who has additional certifications or specializations beyond the standard real estate license.
NAR lists over 25 different specialized credentials that designate agents as experts in working with unique property types, clients, or sale types, including:
- Short Sales and Foreclosure Resource (SFR®) certification
- Resort and Second-Home Property Specialist (RSPS) certification
- Military Relocation Professional (MRP) certification
- Seniors Real Estate Specialist® (SRES®) designation
- NAR’s Green Designation
- Certified Probate Real Estate Specialist (CPRES)
Even if you don’t need this level of specialized help, it’s a good idea to take a look at what designations, certifications, and specializations your agent has listed on their business cards, online profiles, or websites. These credentials say that your agent is dedicated to their profession and devoted to meeting their clients’ needs.
10. Give bonus points to any agent who’s making a big community impact.
Good agents have in-depth knowledge about your neighborhood that’ll help them sell your house fast. Great agents go the extra mile and give back to the community.
There are plenty of ways that great agents show their community commitment, such as organizing charity events, or even making videos about moving to your city. These are signs that your agent has a great local reputation and are focused on building true relationships with their clients rather than treating sellers like transactional acquaintances.
“We personally put time and money back into our community by sponsoring local baseball and basketball teams, and we support the Children’s Hunger Fund in Dallas. We also host an event once a year where we invite the whole neighborhood and provide free ice cream to show that we can all be better together,” says Moore.
It’s worth the effort to find the right agent
Finding a great real estate agent to sell your home – your most valuable asset – is a huge pain point. In fact, it’s the reason HomeLight got started. We are committed to helping sellers fully evaluate potential candidates by providing detailed, stat-based profiles on our agents, interactive maps that track local home sale statistics, and offering multiple agent recommendations that fit your specific criteria. Whenever you’re ready, we’re here to help.
Header Image (Source: (Matthew Henry / Burst)