Hiring the right real estate professionals to help you buy or sell a home is critical in finding your dream home or making the most of your home’s sale. 

A good realtor will show you great finds on the market immediately after they are posted, give you valuable insights into the industry, and counsel you about the buying and selling process. However, 34% of buyers say that they wouldn’t hire their most recent agent again, which makes you wonder how you can avoid ending up with regrets when hiring a realtor.

In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know for hiring the right realtor so that you can save yourself from a lot of headaches during your real estate transaction. 

Before Hiring a Realtor

Before beginning your search for a realtor, start by making preparations for either selling or buying a home. Here are some of the must-take steps we recommend to help you find the right realtor for your situation. 

If you’re buying a home: 

  • Determine your housing priorities. Sit down and brainstorm what features are most important to you. How many bedrooms does your family need? What kind of home do you want? Where do you want to live, and what features must the new home have?
  • Get pre-approved. Before hiring a realtor, it’s crucial that you get a mortgage pre-approval through a lender so that you know the exact price range you should be staying in when house-hunting. 
  • Learn about the mortgage loan process. If you are a first-time homebuyer, you’ll need to educate yourself about the mortgage loan process. You’ll need to budget for a down payment, about 20% is recommended, and earnest money, which is a deposit that goes toward the down payment and closing costs. You also need to budget for annual property taxes and insurance costs. Your realtor will guide you through these steps, but prior knowledge will be helpful. 

If you’re selling your home: 

  • Look for a realtor early. It can take months to get a house ready for sale, particularly if your home needs significant repairs, fixes, or a thorough declutter. Start talking with a listing agent up to a year in advance so that you can get their recommendations for preparing your home. Then, use the additional time to budget and pay for repairs throughout the year. 
  • Declutter and organize your home. To make a great sale, your home needs to be clean and organized so potential buyers can look at photos or tour your home and easily picture their belongings in your home. Declutter your home by clearing out boxes of old things, donating old or worn furniture you don’t plan on bringing with you, and getting rid of items that are monopolizing space in your home. 

Choose a Realtor with a Speciality 

Much like any other field or industry, realtors frequently specialize in either helping others buy or sell homes. They may also work within specific neighborhoods or with certain types of homes. 

During the home buying process, look at your housing priority list and budget. Consider what realtors are known for helping buyers shop for that kind of property within your budget. For example, some realtors specialize in selling luxury condos or apartments, so if you’re looking for a lovely country home, you’d want to look elsewhere. 

If you’re selling, look for realtors who are already familiar with, and may have even sold, homes in your neighborhood or area. 

Ask Others for Referrals

Ask friends and family in your area for realtor recommendations. Take note of any realtors with whom your friends and family had a bad experience, and avoid working with this individual. 

You’ll want to look for a realtor with experience working with clients with similar needs to yourself. For example, if you’re a first-time house buyer looking for a big family home, your needs will differ from someone downsizing and moving into a condo. 

If you’ve worked with a great realtor before, but they no longer work in real estate or don’t specialize in this type of project, ask them for a recommendation. 

Take note of all recommendations and reach out to these realtors for your next step. 

Research Possible Candidates

If you don’t receive many positive recommendations or don’t have a lot of friends and family in the area, you’ll need to research realtors another way. 

Look for official referral sources, like the NAR’s Find a Realtor form. You can also contact local real estate brokerage companies. We recommend looking for a nationally known company or a local, independent brokerage with a strong reputation. 

If these attempts don’t provide you with enough options, consider contacting a referral agent. Real estate referral agents can connect you with a great local agent through their many connections. This step may be especially helpful if you’re looking to buy a property out of state and don’t have any connections in that local market. 

Make Realtors Compete for Your Listing

Don’t go with the first realtor that’s recommended to you. Ideally, you’ll want to interview three to four agents you received recommendations for or found during your research. 

Use the following tips to assess their work ethic, success rate, and if you think they’ll be a good fit for your project: 

  • Visit these agents’ open houses to learn how they treat potential buyers. You don’t even need to mention that you are a seller or buyer undercover. If you like what you see, contact them after the open house. 
  • Ask the realtor how many homes they sell each year. Ideally, you’ll want a realtor who sells at least one home a month. Check if the homes they sold were within your price range. 
  • Talk to the agent about how they will market your home. Will they list it on websites, in ads, brochures, different publications, etc.? Look at their past listings and assess the quality of the photos and virtual tours. Check that the listing information is detailed and enticing. 
  • Ask the realtor for the original asking and sales price of homes they’ve sold recently. Did it take a long time for those homes to sell? Were they priced competitively?
  • Will this realtor help you stage your home? Ask if they will give you advice and critique your home. You want a realtor that will tell you what to clean, repair, declutter, update, etc. This process will make your home much more appealing to prospective buyers. 

Look for Realtors, Not Real Estate Agents

Whether you are buying or selling, looking for a realtor, not a real estate agent, has certain advantages. 

While these terms are thrown around interchangeably, the difference between the two is that a realtor is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), which means they adhere to a strict code of ethics. Many realtors will even have certifications showing that they’ve completed specific education for different types of real estate. 

Consider looking for the following certifications when hiring a realtor: 

  • CRS, or Certified Residential Specialist, indicates that the realtor completed extra training for handling residential real estate. 
  • ABR, or Accredited Buyer’s Representative, indicates that the realtor finished additional training for representing buyers in transactions. 
  • SRES, or Seniors Real Estate Specialist, indicates that they completed additional training to help sellers and buyers over the age of 50. 

Check a Realtor’s Online Presence

Do your homework before interviewing a realtor in person. 

Check your state’s real estate regulator agency to verify that the agent is currently licensed and if they have any disciplinary actions against them. 

Does the realtor have a professional social media presence? Examine their social media and website for additional information on them. Look at online reviews for the agent and the agent’s brokerage. 

Don’t fret about a negative review here or there, but if you see many negative comments about the agent, we recommend scratching them off your candidate list since this is a red flag. The Better Business Bureau is a great place to look for complaints and reviews. 

Consider these questions when looking at realtor reviews: 

  • Do buyers note that the realtor responded quickly to their questions?
  • Does the realtor have rave reviews?
  • Are they working with buyers or sellers in your demographic?
  • Do reviewers say the realtor was logical, supportive, and good at their job?
  • Do reviews note that they “made deals happen” or “helped them find their dream home?”

If the answer is yes to many of these, then you’re probably ready for the next step — interviewing a couple of stellar realtors. 

Interview Multiple Realtors

Even if you believe you’ve found the perfect realtor, we recommend meeting with several realtors before hiring one. 

In-person interviews are critical to finding an agent with the style and experience you need and finding someone who also meshes well with your personality and needs. A realtor can be perfect on paper for you, but if you don’t vibe with them, it can be much harder to work with them successfully. 

Take note of how professional and polished the realtor’s proposal is when interviewing them. If you’re a seller, the proposal you are presented with will likely match the quality of the proposal your potential buyers will see, so this is critical. 

Ask Plenty of Questions

Don’t be shy when meeting with the realtors. Ask them plenty of questions about the types of homes they help others buy or sell, the neighborhoods they work in, their typical price range, what the agent’s commission fee is, and how they help buyers and sellers stay competitive in the current housing market. 

Explain to the realtor what your work hours are and when you’d be available to visit homes or meet with them about your home. If you prefer a specific communication method, such as phone calls, texts, or emails, ask them if they are comfortable communicating this way. 

Don’t be afraid to turn down an agent’s proposal, even if they are great on paper. Go with your gut and choose someone excellent on paper and who suits your personality and preferences. The right chemistry between the two of you will make the buying or selling process much more enjoyable and straightforward. 

Request References

Ask realtors you’re seriously considering for references before signing on with them. Ask for references for a few recent clients that they’ve listed homes for or help find homes. 

Call these clients and ask them about their experiences with the realtor, how supportive the realtor was with them, and how they handled negotiations. Don’t forget to ask them the most telling question — Would you hire this real estate agent again? 

Final Thoughts

Finding the right realtor can make or break the home buying or selling process. Real estate deals are already stressful enough between the pressure of making the right choice or trying to maximize your home’s profits. Don’t make the process more stressful by signing with the first realtor you meet with or are recommended. 

Even the best fit on paper can turn out to not be the right fit for you if they work with clients at different hours than you’d like, don’t offer certain features you need, or aren’t knowledgeable about the neighborhood you live in or want to live in. Take your time and thoroughly research and interview several candidates before signing a contract with a good real estate agent. 

Editorial Contributors
Lora Novak

Lora Novak

Senior Editor

Lora Novak meticulously proofreads and edits all commercial content for Today’s Homeowner to guarantee that it contains the most up-to-date information. Lora brings over 12 years of writing, editing, and digital marketing expertise. She’s worked on thousands of articles related to heating, air conditioning, ventilation, roofing, plumbing, lawn/garden, pest control, insurance, and other general homeownership topics.

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Andrew Dunn

Senior Editor

Andrew Dunn is a veteran journalist with more than 15 years of experience reporting and editing for local and national publications, including The Charlotte Observer and Business North Carolina magazine. His work has been recognized numerous times by the N.C. Press Association and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. He is also a former general contractor with experience with cabinetry, finish carpentry and general home improvement and repair. Andrew earned a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as a certificate in business journalism. He lives in Charlotte, N.C.

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