Picture the perfect real estate agent — someone who can help you win the house of your dreams or sell your home at a sky-high price with as few headaches as possible. For a home seller, that could mean the agent helps you set a competitive listing price, takes professional photos and videos, negotiates with tenacity, and closes on your sale quickly.
For buyers, it could mean taking the time to walk you through the home buying process, showing you homes that perfectly match your criteria, and writing up a strong, winning offer. Some agents live up to that high standard. But finding a great agent can be tough — especially when searching among the dozens or hundreds of local agents that pop up on Google or Zillow.
A lot can go wrong in a home purchase or sale. It pays to have a seasoned agent in your corner — a professional who has helped many clients navigate the same challenges. The best real estate agents have a proven track record and years of experience. Look for an agent that has worked in the industry for a minimum of two years. A good real estate agent “should know what to look for when buying or selling a home, and be able to navigate the tricky waters of the real estate market,” says Alan Harder, a mortgage broker with MortgageStudio. “They should also have a solid network of professionals they can rely on, such as loan officers, home inspectors, and appraisers.”
How to check experience level
Search their real estate license to see when it was issued. You can also find out how long they’ve been active in the industry by checking their sales history on their Zillow page. Ask the agent for a list of recent and past sales. This data should come from the multiple listing service (MLS) — a database most agents use to market and sell homes. Meet with agents who have experience working with other buyers or sellers in your price range. An agent that specializes in million-dollar home sales isn’t the best fit if you’re looking to sell a $300,000 house, regardless of their experience level.
2. Local knowledge
Your success as a seller or buyer is highly dependent on an agent’s knowledge of your local housing market.
A knowledgeable listing agent knows how to:
- Price your home appropriately based on recent home sales in the area.
- Identify and market your home’s key selling points.
- Negotiate with buyers and their agents on your behalf.
- Help you decide on the best offer to accept.
- Educate you on your legal requirements as a seller.
A knowledgeable buyer’s agent also needs deep market knowledge to serve as a trusted guide during your home search. A good buyer’s agent knows how to:
- Help you find local homes that meet your criteria.
- Set up home tours and walk through each property.
- Structure a competitive offer on your top pick.
- Negotiate with sellers and their listing agents.
- Refer you to other competent professionals, like attorneys and home inspectors.
How to gauge an agent’s local knowledge
A detailed and thoughtful listing presentation or comparative market analysis (CMA) report is a big sign that an agent knows their stuff. Agents use listing presentations and CMAs to pitch their services to home sellers. An agent shares information about the local market, their marketing strategy, and a recommended listing price. Good agents offer a meticulous listing presentation or CMA and can defend their pricing recommendation if challenged. Another sign of a knowledgeable listing agent is the ability to speak fluently about the market and answer your questions on the spot.
An agent with local expertise can help you find a great house in your target area and guide you through the home buying process. That includes knowledge of prices and trends in the local market, as well as real estate laws, zoning rules, the cost of utilities, quality of schools, and other common homeowner concerns. A good buyer’s agent can draw on their understanding of market conditions to structure a competitive offer on a house. Knowledgeable agents “have a detailed understanding of local pricing trends, property tax rates, and regulations,” says Megan Micco, broker associate and CEO of Megan Micco, Inc. “Don’t fall for the story that real estate is the same everywhere, because it’s not!”
A good listing agent has a large professional network, according to Chase Michels, luxury broker, and partner at The Michels Group. When they have a new listing or host an open house, they can generate more interest in the home. “We want to host an open house the first weekend a home is listed and have 30 people all walking through at the same time,” he says. “If potential buyers like the home and sense competition, it will drive the price up and create a bidding war.”
Given the financial and legal stakes of buying or selling a home, it’s important to work with someone you can trust.
Real estate presents lots of opportunities for agents to lie, exaggerate, or deceive to make a quick buck:
- Some agents inflate a property’s value in a CMA report to try to win a seller’s business — or push you into buying a house that is not the right fit.
- Others misrepresent their experience and production level to come off as a top-producing agent when they’re actually a rookie.
- Some agents falsely claim that realtor commission is non-negotiable or charge bogus fees.
An honest realtor won’t do these things. When touring homes, for instance, they won’t exaggerate a home’s conditions and features to try to sell you on an obviously crummy house. For sellers, an honest agent will tell you straight up if an offer is no good — instead of pushing you into accepting the offer. Candor and frankness are signs of an honest realtor. Be wary of an agent that always tells you what you want to hear.
How to tell if an agent is honest
Realtors are professionally obligated to be honest and transparent, but not all realtors meet this standard. To gauge an agent’s honesty, check and verify their experience and past deals. Read client reviews and ask for customer referrals. Do your own research to check out an agent’s claims about the market or the buying/selling process. Interview multiple agents and ask detailed questions to see if they come across as honest and legitimate. Ask about their experience level, commission rate, strengths and weaknesses, and cancellation policy (in case you later need to part ways with your agent). If an agent’s claims seem “too good to be true” (for example, about the value of the home you’re listing), try getting a second opinion from another agent.
Self-motivation and hustle can spell the difference between a lackluster agent and a superstar. A truly driven agent is willing to go the extra mile on your behalf. Buying or selling a house is a complex, lengthy process, so look for agents that have the dedication and work ethic to see it through.
How to measure an agent’s hustle
Look beyond an agent’s paper credentials and interview them in person to judge whether they have the drive to help you. The initial meeting or listing presentation is a great opportunity to evaluate an agent’s thoroughness and professionalism — good indicators of their level of hustle. “Don’t just get sold on the fancy national brokerage affiliations,” says Vincent Chan, chief operating officer of real estate development and investment firm Christina. “Sometimes the younger, newer agents who work for independent brokerages will have more to prove, work hardest, and be your best advocate.”
5. Attention to detail
Buying or selling a home is a complex transaction in which success depends on the details. A disorganized agent can miss important deadlines or fail to inform you of your responsibilities as a seller or buyer. One missed deadline or overlooked form can derail a deal and even get you into legal trouble.
Signs of an organized agent
The agent’s self-presentation can tell you a lot about their attention to detail and organization skills. A well-dressed agent who shows up on time and conducts themselves in a professional manner is likely more competent and dependable than one who doesn’t. “When evaluating real estate agents, I think you should consider how they present themselves during your initial interaction,” says Bill Samuel, real estate broker and head of cash home buyer company Blue Ladder Development. “Did they prepare for your meeting with detailed information and have an organized conversation covering all of the key points of the transaction?”
Selling your house or finding a new home is an important personal decision. An agent should be warm, personable, and patient — never rude or irritated. An agent needs to have the patience to educate you about the market and the real estate process. They should listen carefully and be responsive to your questions and concerns. This shows they understand and care about your situation, and it means they’ll likely walk you through important contract details later on in the process. Remember that if you find an agent easy to work with, people on the other side of the deal are likely to feel the same way. You’re more likely to achieve your goals as a seller or buyer.
Signs of a personable realtor
Look for an agent who is empathetic, friendly, and seems genuine. “You want someone who sees you as an individual and is genuinely curious about your financial and emotional needs,” says Megan Micco, broker associate and CEO of Megan Micco, Inc. “Someone to guide you based on what is best for your personal situation, not the agent’s own pocketbook. Trust your instincts – personal chemistry is worth its weight in gold,” Micco adds.
7. Good communication
Clear, timely communication is vital in real estate. A realtor is the main point of contact in a transaction, making sure all parties — buyers, sellers, agents, lenders, inspectors, appraisers, title companies, and attorneys — are on the same page. Your agent needs to be a skilled communicator when showing your house to prospective buyers, negotiating a contract, or answering your questions about the process.
How responsive should your realtor be?
- Your agent should be accessible by phone during business hours and promptly reply to your texts and emails within a reasonable time frame (1–2 hours).
- A good communicator contacts you proactively at every step in the buying or selling process to inform you about what’s next and what’s needed from you.
- The agent should let you know if they’ll be unreachable for a certain period of time.
All it takes is one delayed email response to prevent you from closing on your ideal offer or the home of your dreams, notes Ricardo Mello, co-founder and managing partner of Manhattan Miami Real Estate. Lack of timely communication from an agent is a warning sign, according to Bill Gassett, realtor and founder of Maximum Real Estate Exposure. “Some agents are notorious for putting communication on the back burner.” Agents need to communicate with each other as well as their clients. For example, a buyer’s agent should give feedback to a listing agent after a showing. For sellers, your agent needs to keep you apprised of what buyer’s agents are saying. “If you’re selling your home, it’s nice to know if there is any interest — and if not, why,” says Gassett.
Signs of a strong communicator
A strong communicator responds quickly to your calls, texts, or emails to set up an initial interview. The agent should call you to confirm your interview ahead of time. During the interview, they should clearly explain how the real estate sales process works and answer all of your questions. A good communicator provides clear and correct paperwork for you through the real estate process. If you’re selling, the agent will draw up the contract. If you’re buying, they will write the offer letter.