Finding the best real estate agent for you can be a big task.
The barriers to entry are extremely low if someone wants to become a real estate agent in the US. Every US state has a different licensing authority–there is no “national real estate license.”
The process is roughly the same in each state. It begins with required classes that teach the laws and ends with a state exam and background check.
There’s nothing tricky about it, but people have to jump through some hoops to get it done.
Do you need a real estate agent?
Real estate agents are NOT REQUIRED when buying or selling real estate, but the vast majority of transactions in the US have at least one real estate agent involved.
There’s usually one agent who represents the buyer and one agent who represents the seller in each transaction.
In some states, a thing called dual agency is legal. It is illegal in other states. Dual agency is a controversial situation is when a real estate agent represents both the buyer AND the seller in the same transaction. Agents like this because they get to keep the entire commission instead of splitting it with another agent. Consumers should be aware of the laws in their state and avoid dual agency situations whenever possible. Think of it this way: Would you hire the same lawyer to represent the prosecution and the defense in the same trial? No? Then why would you do that in real estate?
Real estate agents perform many functions. The best real estate agents serve as advocates and save their clients money and headaches.
The worst real estate agents create problems and cost their clients money. It pays to spend a little time finding a great real estate agent.
The best real estate agents vs. all the others
There are well over two million real estate licensees in the US. This is a huge number. Sifting through all the possible agents can be a daunting task.
Agents “keep score” with a wide variety of vanity metrics that don’t really matter to you as a consumer.
You shouldn’t care who is #1 at this or that or how many decades of “combined experience” the agents brag about. Ignore that crap.
Buyers and sellers have different needs in real estate transactions. There are some universal features of great real estate agents, though. These questions will help you get a handle on what type of agent you’re talking to.
Questions to help you find the best real estate agent
References: Can I please have the names and contact information of three recent clients? (call them)
Data: Will you please show me a printout of all the listings and sales you have completed in the previous twelve months? Do you work with mostly buyers or sellers?
Marketing: What are some examples of the marketing you do for your clients (this one is seller-specific)?
Strategy: Do you recommend we price our house under the market value to create a bidding war (sellers)? Do you recommend we start with a lowball offer (buyers)?
Brokerage: Why did you choose to work with your current brokerage? What makes them the best for your clients? What is one thing you would change about the company if you had the power to do so?
Technology: What are your favorite technology tools in the real estate business? How will those tools help me in this transaction?
Team: Are you a stand-alone agent or do you work with a team? Why?
Focus: Do you have a geographic focus for your business? What do you do to focus on that area? (The answer to this one is not always critical, but you should ask anyway.)
Bad ways to find the best real estate agent
These WILL NOT help you find the best real estate agent in your town (yet SO MANY POOR SOULS do this every year and it makes me sad):
- Stopping by an open house on the way home from brunch and deciding that you have found a great agent after you have met exactly one agent.
- Using your distant relative who has a real estate license as your agent, even though she barely graduated from high school.
- Picking a random agent’s business card from the announcement board at your local coffee shop and using that agent.
- Flipping through the real estate magazine you grabbed at the grocery store and picking an agent who has the best professional headshot.
- Choosing the first agent you “meet” online at Zillow, Realtor.com or Redfin. Those sites are full of questionable tactics that make you think you’re communicating with the listing agent of a specific property. That is frequently not the case. Dirty tricks!
Do your homework
The most popular way for people to find a real estate agent is to ask friends and relatives for recommendations. That method is fine, but you still need to do your homework.
Don’t blindly take the advice of someone you trust. Just because an agent was the best real estate agent for your co-worker doesn’t mean she’ll be the best real estate agent for you.
Once you have identified a potential agent or two, it’s time to use your online stalking skills.
It’s simple, really. Google their names! If they have common names like John Smith, Google their names + “real estate.” See what you learn. I hope you only learn good things.
Places like Yelp, Google and Zillow have public rating systems where consumers can leave feedback.
The feedback systems are designed so it’s difficult/impossible to rig them with fake reviews. The good news is that fake reviews are pretty easy to spot on the rare occasions when they make it through the filters.
Does your agent have mostly great reviews spanning a few years? Perfection is always suspicious, so be wary of the people who have dozens of five star reviews and no two, three or four star reviews. The agents’ responses to the less-than-perfect reviews give me a chance to see how those agents handles it when the stuff hits the fan. Are they defensive? Are they blaming someone else? Did they offer to “make it right”? There are clues in the review ecosystem.
Real estate transactions are the biggest financial transactions most people will experience in their lifetimes. Finding a great real estate agent is easy if you do it the right way.