88% of Homebuyers Used a Real Estate Agent Last Year. Here Are 5 Tips to Choosing One In Today’s Hot Market

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In today’s red hot real estate market, you need to be able to move quickly.

Homes are flying off the market fast, with many receiving multiple offers and over half selling above the asking price. This is on top of the already complicated process, navigating the paperwork, negotiations, shopping around for the best mortgage rate and the huge amounts of money involved. 

That’s why the vast majority of home buyers and sellers work with a real estate agent: 89% of sellers and 88% of buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors. “I would not buy or sell a house without an agent,” says Stephen Brobeck, a senior fellow with the Consumer Federation of America, a non-profit consumer advocacy organization.

With over 3 million licensed real estate agents in the U.S., finding one isn’t hard. But last year, just under 6.5 million homes were sold, so you may need to look a bit harder to find an experienced agent with a strong understanding of your local market.

The majority of agents out there are reasonably competent, says Brobeck, but an experienced agent can help you identify the little things you need to do to make the best possible offer or to get the best deal when selling a home.

Working with the right real estate agent can help your home buying or selling experience go much more smoothly. Before you sign on with the first real estate agent you find, here are five tips to make your search for the perfect real estate agent a bit easier.

5 Tips For Choosing the Right Real Estate Agent for You

1. Be prepared

Being prepared and knowing what you want will make it easier for you to find an agent that fits your needs.

As a buyer, you should get preapproved for a mortgage ahead of time. “For the buyer, it’s essential to qualify for a mortgage,” Brobeck says. “Many of the best agents will not really be that interested in you if you haven’t [pre]qualified for a mortgage.” Once you know how much house you can afford, you can talk with agents with experience with the types of properties in your price range. For sellers, you can search sites like Zillow or Redfin to get a rough idea of your home’s value and how long it may take to sell. 

Understanding what segment of the real estate market your property fits into, such as a starter home or an investment property, can also help you choose an agent. If you’re selling your family’s vacation home, you may not want to work with someone who only has experience dealing with first-time buyers.

2. Ask friends and family for recommendations

You’ll want to interview multiple people when you’re looking for an agent, and a good place to start your search is with your existing network. Family, friends, and colleagues who recently bought or sold a home can be great sources for unbiased real estate agent referrals.

You can look at online reviews for local agents, but you should take these with a grain of salt. “Almost all of those reviews are generated indirectly by the agents themselves, so there’s a positive bias there,” Brobeck says. You could also look at an agent’s social media presence, which could also be a good marketing tool if you’re selling a home. “You can get a good feel about somebody based on the type of things that they’re sharing on Facebook and Instagram and decide whether or not that’s somebody that you would really entrust with your very valuable assets,” says Karin Carr, a licensed Realtor and CEO of Georgia Coast Homes.   

3. Find someone who is active and experienced in your area

When interviewing agents be sure to find out how long they’ve been in the industry and if they work in real estate part-time or full-time. “I worry that if somebody does this as a side hustle,” says Carr. What if they are not available when you are to look at houses because they are working their full-time job, explains Carr. To get an idea of what type of experience someone has, you can also ask to see a list of their recent transactions to see what areas and types of properties they have experience working with. 

You’ll want someone who knows the nuances of the local market where you’re buying or selling. And it can be helpful to have someone who lives relatively close to where you’re buying or selling. “I would choose somebody local, but within reason, it doesn’t have to be somebody who lives in that specific subdivision,” Carr says. If your agent lives several hours away, that could limit their availability for last-minute showings.

4. Find someone who meets your needs and fits your personality

A big reason it’s so important to meet and interview a few real estate agents before choosing one to work with is because of the right personality fit. “There’s an advantage to interviewing the person personally and not over the phone,” Brobeck says. “You’re going to be paying them a lot of money. If they won’t take the time to do a personal interview, I’d look for somebody else.” It’s important to trust your agent and feel that you can rely on them when you run into problems.

The right agent can also help you navigate the emotional side of a home purchase. “This can be a very stressful transaction. We’re talking about a lot of money changing hands, and especially if you’ve never done it before,” says Carr. You’ll want to work with someone who has a style and expertise that fits your needs.

Be clear and straightforward with your expectations up front and make sure that your agent is comfortable meeting them. “I have a friend that said he does not work on Sundays,” Carr says. “Anytime he meets with a new client, he says, ‘I just want to be very upfront with you. I don’t work on Sundays. If that’s going to be a problem. Let’s talk about it.’” 

Pro Tip

Find out upfront what hours your agent is available to make sure they fit your needs.

Ask your potential agent:

  • What hours they are available for showings.
  • What hours they are available to answer questions.
  • Their preferred methods of communication. 
  • Will you be working directly with them or mostly with a staff member or assistant.

5. Know what you’re giving and getting

Once you’ve found the person you want to work with, you’ll typically need to put that commitment in writing. A typical exclusivity agreement with a real estate brokerage is for three months, and a seller’s listing agreement is a six-month commitment on average. However, the duration of these contracts is negotiable depending on the market and your needs. Just make sure that you are comfortable with the length of your commitment.

Real estate agents work on commission, and the typical agent fee is 5% to 6%. But if you’re a buyer, you won’t pay anything out of pocket. This fee is usually paid by the seller once the home is sold and split between the buyer’s and seller’s agents. 

You can shop around or negotiate agent fees, Brobeck says. If the home value is high, the total dollar value of the commission can still be high even if the percentage is a bit lower. But, the lowest fee may not always be the best fit for you. “The real question should be, not only what do you charge, but what do you do with that money?” Carr says. The costs of marketing a home comes out of the agent’s commission, so a lower fee could translate into a smaller push to sell your home. When you’re negotiating the fee, be sure you understand not only what you’re paying but also what you’re getting.