Looking for a real estate agent to sell your home? Here’s an insider tip: Not all agents are equal.
HomeLight’s data analyzing over 27 million transactions reveals that 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. 10% on top of the median home value of $243,225 wins you an extra $24,323. That’s a huge difference.
Yet, 75% of recent sellers hired the first agent they interviewed to sell their home. Considering the difference a top agent can make, that’s a pretty weak vetting process.
“This is the biggest asset that most people have. It’s gonna be the biggest sale that they ever have. It’s important that they get the best representation when they’re going to do that,” shares Mark Boyland, a top real estate agent in Scott’s Corner, NY who’s ranked in the top 1% of real estate agents in the Hudson Gateway Multiple Listing System since 1995.
We’ll break down how to choose a real estate agent for selling your home covering online research, desired qualifications, and agent interviews. Before we jump in, here’s an overview of the main points we’ll cover:
- Use HomeLight’s Agent Finder to match with your top three real estate agents
- Evaluate agents’ experience and marketing capabilities
- Interview at least three real estate agents over the phone
- Choose the best real estate agent based on experience and personal connection
Step 1: Find quality candidates with online research and in-field research
Today, the expanse of online resources to research real estate agents is both a blessing and a curse. It’s easier than ever to find detailed information and reviews on agents, but keeping track of all the info you dig up is difficult.
The good news is, there’s a tool which does the heavy lifting for you: HomeLight’s Agent Finder. Our system crunches real estate agent’s stats and reviews to zero in on the best matches for selling your particular home. Your top three suggested agents will prove to out-perform the other agents in their area for properties like yours across different metrics and indicators like:
- High volume of home sales in your price range
- High sale-to-list price ratio
- Lower than average days on market
- Top-rated client reviews
You can fortify this insight with some additional online research. Search each real estate agent’s name on Google and read additional reviews wherever you can find them. Notice which positive qualities are mentioned repeatedly and see how the agent responds to any negative reviews.
Step 2: Evaluate agents by these qualifications
While reviewing your top candidates, pay close attention to how their professional background stacks up to the competition.
Look at the most important stats: Years of experience and sales volume
Ideally, you want to partner with a real estate agent who has at least five years experience selling homes. In this span, an agent will have deepened their understanding of the local market, encountered a range of unique situations, built a strong network, and developed effective selling strategies.
Going hand in hand with years of experience, you should choose a real estate agent who has completed a fair amount of transactions per year relative to your market.
“You really should be looking for an agent who is doing at least a transaction a week,” says Boyland. “They should be selling 50-plus houses a year because then you know that person has made a serious commitment to real estate. They’re going to have systems in place and are going to have staff. They’re going to have marketing. They’re going to have a budget.”
Consider how professional training and specialties add clout
At risk of stating the obvious, you should only work with real estate agents with an active real estate license from your state. Search for your candidates’ licenses on Arello, a real estate license verification database. Then cross-check the numbers with your state’s licensing division online to see when the license was issued and if there are any temporary suspensions or complaints on file. (All the agents in the HomeLight network that we’d connect you with must carry an active real estate license for their state).
As you may have noticed, real estate agents go by different names. While people commonly use these names interchangeably in conversation, these titles officially signify different things:
- Real estate agent: Real estate agents must pass a state exam to obtain their real estate license. Depending on the state, a real estate agent completes 30 to 90 hours of classroom instruction to prepare for the exam.
- Broker: A real estate broker has obtained their real estate license and completed additional courses in order to pass their state’s broker exam. This additional in-depth training includes contracts, taxes, ethics, and insurance.
- Realtor: A professional in the real estate industry who is a member of the National Association of Realtors, a 1.4 million member strong trade association. Members must pass professional requirements of their position, pass a test on the NAR Code of Ethics, and pay a yearly membership fee.
Some real estate agents complete additional training to specialize in a particular transaction type. Keep an eye out for these certifications if they apply to your situation:
- Certified Residential Specialist (CRS): To become a CRS, real estate agents must meet minimum professional requirements, complete 16 to 30 hours of education, and take 2-hour refresher courses each year after their certificate is granted.
- Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES): SRES agents complete a two-day training course on senior financing options, retirement planning, and communication to better serve the needs of retirement-aged homeowners.
- Seller Representative Specialist (SRS): To obtain an SRS certificate, real estate agents complete a two-day course on how to best protect sellers’ interest in transactions.
- Military Relocation Professional (MRP): These agents complete a one-day training course and two-hour webinar addressing relocating military families’ needs, timetables, and stressors.
Dive deep into an agents’ digital marketing activities
When researching real estate agents, pay close attention to how they market their listings online. A real estate agent must nail digital marketing in order to get your home the attention it deserves. According to the National Association of Realtors, 44% of recent buyers’ first step to the home buying process was looking for properties for sale online and 52% of buyers find the home they eventually end up purchasing on the internet.
Assess each agent’s recent listings on their website or aggregate listing websites like Redfin or Zillow. The listings should consistently include beautiful professional photos and creative descriptions to match.
Up next: some social media research. Scope out each Realtor and their firm’s social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Nextdoor. Give points for:
- Large follower bases
- Several posts per property such as new listing, open house, and sold posts
- Professional, yet creative posts and stories
- Effective use of hashtags
- High engagement (comments, reactions, and shares)
Word to the wise: take note if an agent’s marketing is more about their properties or themselves. Self-promotion is part of the game, but an agent who shares the social spotlight with their past clients will do the same for you.
Step 3: Interview at least three real estate agents to get the real deal
Online research is incredibly useful, but the best way to choose a real estate agent is to speak to them directly. A quick, 15-minute phone call or in-person interview is the most effective way to determine how an agent can help you with your particular home sale. Through conversation, you can get a feel for important qualitative qualities like honesty and friendliness, as well as a sense of chemistry between your personalities and communication styles.
Give an overview of your situation
Open the conversation by quickly sharing the basics about your home including:
- Specific location
- Square footage
- Amount of bedrooms and bathrooms
- Condition (briefly touch on recent remodels, necessary repairs)
- Unique features such as large acreage, pool, guest house, finished basement, etc.
Once you’ve hit the facts, share your objective for your home sale. Let the agent know if you need to sell your home in a specific timeframe or for an absolute minimum amount.
Ask these thoughtful, open-ended questions
Now that you’ve given the agent a picture of the task at hand, ask them the following questions for a clearer vision of how they operate:
How well do you know the area?
Real estate is hyper-local. You want an agent who knows what it takes to compete for buyers’ attention in your market. At a minimum, the agent should tackle this question confidently without zooming out to discuss their experience in the greater area. Ideally, the agent can point to specific examples of homes they’ve sold in your neighborhood or surrounding area.
What sets you apart from other agents?
This is an excellent question to see how the real estate agent is as a salesperson. This is their opportunity to give you an elevator pitch on why they should choose you over other agents. If they pass with flying colors, you can trust they’ll put their persuasive power to work on your home’s prospective buyers.
How many clients do you represent at a time?
You’re listening for a goldilocks response: too many clients and they won’t dedicate enough time to your home sale; too few, on the other hand, is a red flag.
What would your marketing plan for my home look like?
The agent should have a quick response and touch on digital and traditional marketing touchpoints. Pay extra attention to the language the agent uses to describe online marketing efforts like social media — you need a digitally savvy agent.
Does your fee include any extra services?
Some agents include the cost of services like moving and staging in their fee. In HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights: Q1 2019 Report 75% of agents surveyed stated they’ve provided sellers with complimentary staging services. This added perk may just tip a tie-breaker…
What’s your preferred communication style? How often will you touch base?
You want a real estate agent whose communication style is compatible with yours. If they’re all about texts and emails and your preference is phone only, you may want to go for another agent.
What do you think the biggest challenge will be?
This question tests for an agent’s honesty and humility. If your home is decked with popcorn ceilings and golden oak and the agent doesn’t address the remodeled competition, they may just be trying to flatter you.
As you edge closer to the 15-minute mark, ask a few final questions on logistics:
- How much do you charge and is that flexible?
- What do the contract terms look like?
- Could you provide me with any references?
- If I choose you to sell my home, what’s the first thing we do to get started?
Step 4: Choose a real estate agent by experience and personal connection
When you’ve wrapped up interviews and any final online research, take a moment to compare your candidates one last time. The real estate agent you choose to sell your home should tick all the quantitative and qualitative boxes we covered above.
Additionally, you should choose the agent you trust the most and connect with on a personal level. This person will be your confidante throughout the entire home sale process — they’ll stand by you and for you through the good, the bad, and the ugly. If everything looks great on paper, but something just doesn’t feel right during the interview, it probably won’t get better. Go with your gut!
Header Image Source: (Stanislav Kondratiev / Unsplash)