6 Tips to find a great real estate agent

July 15, 2020 - 7 min read

A real estate agent can make or break your home purchase

When you’re buying a house, your real estate agent can be a powerful asset.

They’ll show you homes and recommend great finds as soon as they come on the market, while also providing valuable insights and counseling about the buying process.

And yet, more than a third of recent buyers say they wouldn’t reuse their last real estate agent.

So how can you make sure you choose the right person for the job?

The trick is learning to vet recommendations to find an agent who best represents your needs.

Verify your home buying eligibility

In this article (Skip to...)

How to find a real estate agent

Here are six steps you can take to find a real estate agent who’s helpful, experienced, and has your best interests as a home buyer in mind:

1. Talk to a lender before finding a real estate agent

Your impulse might be to contact a real estate agent immediately so you can start looking at houses.

But you actually want to contact lenders first, to get a sense of the mortgage programs available in your area and to get prequalified for a mortgage.

A mortgage pre-qualification or preapproval gives you an estimate of how much house you can afford.

Without getting a pre-approval first, you risk hiring an agent only to look at homes a lender won’t approve you to buy.

It’s not a guarantee, since lenders need to vet your application through rigorous underwriting standards before you can close on a loan.

But a preapproval provides a snapshot of what you’re likely to qualify for based on your income, credit history, and current debt-to-income ratio (DTI).

Without one, you risk hiring an agent only to look at homes that a lender won’t approve you to buy.

You’ll have more success if you know you’re looking at homes within your budget from the start.

Get pre-approved for a mortgage

2. Ask family, friends, and neighbors for agent recommendations

We’re so accustomed to Googling every question that pops into our heads, it makes sense that your impulse may be to do an online search for real estate agents as well.

But when it comes to choosing the right agent, nothing beats an old-fashioned word-of-mouth recommendation.

Your friends and family will tell you things you won’t find on an agent’s website — like whether they were responsive to emails and texts, how proactive they were about recommending listings, and their general demeanor.

Ideally, you want your agent to have deep knowledge about trends in your local market and an instinct for the types of properties that will suit your needs and buying abilities.

It’s important that you trust your real estate agent because you’ll work with them closely throughout the homebuying process.

The people closest to you have an instinct for the personalities with whom you’re most likely to jell, and they can give you the inside scoop on what it’s like to work with a particular agent.

Your neighbors are also great resources since the agent they used likely knows the area in which you want to buy.

Ideally, you want your agent to have deep knowledge about trends in your local market and an instinct for the types of properties that will suit your needs and buying abilities.

3. Ask your previous agent for recommendations

If you’ve purchased a home before but your past agent doesn’t work in the area where you want to move, ask whether they have any contacts in the area.

Another agent may be able to steer you toward reputable real estate agencies or may even know a local agent who would be perfect for you.

As great as family recommendations are when it comes to the buying experience, a fellow agent may have a different take on what makes someone great at their job.

Getting their professional opinion can help you take a well-rounded view of all your options.

4. Check online reviews to vet potential real estate agents

Here’s where a Google search does come in handy when you need to find a real estate agent.

Once you’ve gathered your list of recommendations, spend time searching their names online. See if other homebuyers share your friends’ and family members’ opinions.

A few helpful questions to think about when looking at real estate agent reviews are:

  • Does this agent have rave reviews?
  • Are they known for making deals happen?
  • Are they emotionally and logistically supportive?
  • Do buyers say they responded quickly to questions?
  • Do they typically work with buyers in your demographic?

An agent who works frequently with people similar to you, in terms of your income and lifestyle needs, may be better equipped to anticipate your preferences and suggest houses that will pique your interest.

5. Meet an agent face-to-face before hiring them

Just as you should apply for a mortgage with at least three lenders, you’ll also want to meet with several agents before deciding on one.

That’s true even if a friend or relative introduces you to an agent they know personally. Just because an agent is a friend of your dad’s doesn’t mean they’re the best person to represent you.

When you talk with different agents, ask about the types of properties they specialize in and the types of clients with whom they typically work.

If you’re looking for a small starter home, you don’t want to sign on with an agent who typically works with luxury buyers.

When you talk with different agents, ask about the types of properties they specialize in and the types of clients with whom they typically work.

Since real estate agents work on commission, they may end up being less responsive than you’d like because they’re focused on bigger deals. You want to work with someone who can give you their full support.

Ask about their working styles as well. Are they “always on”? Can you call them after hours with questions? How frequently are they out of the office?

Think through your expectations for your real estate agent and make sure their approach is a match for what you want.

Too often, home buyers are so eager to get house-hunting that they rush into a relationship with a real estate agent who wasn’t really a fit for their needs.

6. Verify that your agent’s license is up to date

Real estate agents must hold valid, current licenses in order to legally advise and represent you on a deal.

Before you commit to an agent relationship, verify that they are licensed by checking the National Association of Realtors (NAR) database.

You can also look up your state’s association and search for their credentials through their site if that’s an option, or call the association and ask for help.

Hopefully, any agent recommended to you will have a valid and current license. But double-checking is quick and easy, and could save you a lot of trouble later on if something’s not right.

Why it’s crucial to find a good real estate agent

A good real estate agent doesn’t just help you find your dream home. They also advocate for you throughout the buying process. They can suggest a reasonable starting offer and help you build a competitive offer in a hot market.

Because they’ve seen so many deals succeed — and fail — an agent can provide perspective if you lose out on your dream house or the inspection process turns up some major red flags.

Your real estate agent will also negotiate the purchase price, as well as details like who will make certain repairs and whether the seller will help with closing costs (which can be up to 5% of your mortgage).

In short, you need a real estate agent you can trust. That’s why your search should actually start in-person, rather than online.

Although you’ve probably kickstarted your house hunt with virtual tours on Zillow and Trulia, you want to source your real estate agent recommendations from people you already know.

The more real-world insights you have about an agent, the better informed you’ll be — and the more successful a home buying experience you’re likely to have.

Final thoughts

The excitement of buying a house may have you wanting to find a real estate agent sooner rather than later.

But because this is such an important relationship, it’s worth taking the time to figure out who is best suited to represent you and who you’ll want to work with throughout a thrilling — but also stressful and emotional — process.

Time to make a move? Let us find the right mortgage for you

Casey Morris
Authored By: Casey Morris
The Mortgage Reports contributor
Casey Morris is a finance and tech journalist. She has written for Forbes Asia, The Washington Post, and a number of finance publications and institutions.