When you hear the word “real estate agent,” what comes to mind? Maybe you immediately think of the face that graces lawn signs in your neighborhood, or perhaps you imagine Joel and Sheila Hammond or Phil Dunphy. (If it’s the latter, maybe it’s time to take a little break from Netflix.)
As with any other profession, the real estate industry attracts many different types of people.
That’s why it is necessary to shop around when you are looking for a real estate agent to work with on your home sale or purchase. Some agents will be a better fit, personality-wise, than others. And since you’re going to be spending a lot of time with this person over the next several months, it’s important to find one whose company you enjoy, or at the very least, tolerate.
Not sure where to start your search? We’ve created this crash course in finding the best real estate agent for you. Think of it as Real Estate Agent 101!
First, Let’s Clear Up Some Terminology Confusion
People who aren’t in the real estate industry tend to use the terms “real estate agent” and “REALTOR(R)” interchangeably. However, there’s a crucial difference. While both are licensed, REALTORS(R) are also members of the National Association of REALTOR(R) (NAR). As such, they subscribe to the REALTOR(R) Code of Ethics.
Neither professional is better at their job than the other. In many cases, a person dabbles in real estate while also working full time in another sector, and therefore doesn’t do enough business in real estate to justify the expense of membership in the NAR.
Location, Location, Location
You’ve no doubt heard that the most important factors in a successful real estate transaction are “location, location, and location.” It makes sense, therefore, to choose a real estate agent who specializes in a particular area or neighborhood. Learn more here.
Not only does this mean that they understand the local market, but they also stay abreast of community happenings that might affect a home buyer’s decision.
For example, there might be a controversial building project, such as a waste management facility or big-box mega mart, in the works right where you’re looking at houses. You might not know about it, but your REALTOR(R) will — and can advise you accordingly.
Track Record and References
What’s the agent’s experience? How long do their houses typically stay on the market? Do those houses tend to sell for the original listing price? These are questions you will want the answers to, before you settle on a real estate agent.
A good way to narrow your search from the beginning is to ask friends, family, and coworkers for referrals. Don’t be shy about asking an agent for references, or about calling those references, either. Former clients of the real estate agent you’re considering are a valuable source of information.
Be sure to ask those references if their property was similar to yours in size, location, and price. You definitely want your agent to have experience selling homes like yours. If they specialize in a different type of property, you may want to cross them off the list and find someone whose experience is more in line with your needs.
Real estate agents are licensed at the state level. The regulatory board in your state is also responsible for disciplining agents whose actions have been inappropriate, immoral, and/or illegal. It’s a good idea to do your homework once you’ve narrowed down a few candidates. Check to make sure the agent is properly licensed and hasn’t faced disciplinary action.
Awards and Education
On the flip side, if you discover that an agent you’re considering has won industry awards, that’s a good sign! Peer-given awards such as the NAR’s “Realtor of the Year” award, in particular, speak to an agent’s professionalism, integrity, and skills.
Another indication that you’re dealing with a highly qualified professional is if they have gone above and beyond when it comes to continuing education. Their additional training in particular specialties means that they are committed to providing exemplary service to clients.
Some of the specializations that you might encounter while searching for a real estate agent include:
- a CRS, or Certified Residential Specialist, is well-versed in residential real estate.
- an ABR, or Accredited Buyer’s Representative, is trained to represent buyers in transactions.
- a SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist), has additional education in dealing with buyers and sellers in the 50-plus age range.
Communication Style and Personality Fit
Maybe your real estate agent loves to chat on the phone, but you’re more the texting type. Or you would be happy to drop everything on a moment’s notice and go look at a house that’s just come on the market, but your agent prefers a more methodical approach.
While you’re driving from property to property, the agent tells stories, opines on various subjects, and generally fills any silence — but you’d much rather she quiet down and let you process what you’ve just seen.
Communication style might not seem like a critical factor in your decision making process. It isn’t as cut-and-dried as, say, how many houses the agent has sold in the past year. But it’s an important factor nonetheless. You are going to be spending a lot of time with this person. If you don’t work well together, you might be tempted to settle on a property that’s not quite right for you, just to get the agent out of your life.
Did Real Estate Agent 101 Whet Your Appetite?
We hope that you’ve learned something from real estate agent 101. As you can see, it’s important to spend some time researching potential REALTORS(R) and real estate agents. A little due diligence will go a long way — not just toward helping you find the perfect house or the perfect buyer for a home you’re selling, but also toward insuring that the entire process is as pleasant as possible.
If this information has whetted your appetite, there’s more where that came from! Check out some of the other content we offer about the home buying or selling process. And to receive the latest articles, sign up for our monthly newsletter.