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Whom Can You Trust to Sell You a Home? Finding a Great Buyer’s Agent

Finding a good realtor to be your buyer’s agent is harder than you think — you want somebody you can trust and who has experience with both the neighborhoods and kind of home you’re looking to buy.

Real Estate Agent Giving Key to Home BuyerYou’ve seen the “For Sale” signs and you’re anxious to buy a home. But, how do you navigate all the various kinds of home loans and figure out how much house you can really afford? Plus, how will find out the inside scoop on each home and how to submit an offer? A real estate agent can help you with all of these decisions and more.

Real estate agents work to make buying and selling houses easier for the general public. As experts in the local real estate market where they work, agents can make a difficult transaction worry-free for you. Unfortunately, some people still say that real estate agents are a “dime a dozen.” This doesn’t mean that the profession is full of lazy or incompetent people, but there’s no denying that some real estate agents do a much better job than others.

So, how do you find the perfect real estate agent? Start by checking credentials.

The Realtor Difference

There are many active real estate agents, but not all of them are “Realtors”. To use the term Realtor, a licensed real estate agent must also be a member of the National Association of Realtors. This requires additional training above the licensing requirements that all agencies must meet. Realtors:

  • Complete ethics courses and exams, and
  • Make a commitment to uphold the association’s ethics standards, which are more stringent than both federal and state laws.

Realtors also hold themselves to higher standards regarding client rights. That means when hiring a Realtor, you’ll ensure you have a trustworthy professional on your side. You can do this by asking friends for referrals or searching for local Realtors in your area on Zillow.

Interviewing Prospective Agents

The next step is to call any Realtors you find through word of mouth or advertisements and conduct an interview. The Realtor will be working for you, so you’ll want to be comfortable with her personality, energy level, typical work hours and plan for helping you find the perfect home. Also ask how many properties she owns. If the answer is “none,” you might want to keep looking. Realtors who own at least one property may have special insights based upon their personal experience. Find out how many years she has been a Realtor and the type of property and area of town in which she specializes. (The more frequently the agent works in the areas and/or with the kinds of properties you want to buy, the more helpful she’ll be). Make sure she is a member of the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) as well, as that will give you access to the most homes that meet your criteria. You may even want to meet the Realtor face to face before deciding if she is the right one for you.

Before you sign a contract, check the Realtor’s history to be sure there are no legal or ethics violations on her record. You can do this by going to the Department of Real Estate website for your state. For example, search for “California Department of Real Estate”. You’ll see a link which says, “Look up Agent’s License,” or something similar. Enter the Realtor’s first and last names, or the company she works with.

Get Down to Work

Once you interview the Realtor and check her background, you should be ready to make a decision. If you have a difficult time choosing between two Realtors, make a “pros” and “cons” list. What did you like, or dislike about each? When your final decision is made, you’ll need to meet with the Realtor to sing an agency contract. The contract states that the Realtor is working for you, for the purpose of finding a house which meets your criteria.

Be prepared to tell the Realtor your criteria. She needs to know how many bedrooms and bathrooms you’d like, the area of town you prefer, any special amenities you’d like and, of course, the price range you can afford, and have been pre-qualified for. If you haven’t received a lender pre-qualification for a loan, the Realtor should be able to give you references for qualified, honest lenders whom she has worked with previously. After completing these steps, you’ll be ready to look at houses, submit offers and purchase the perfect home.

Published or updated on April 29, 2010

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About Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis is a real estate broker in San Diego, Calif. She enjoys helping both buyers and sellers and was voted one of the top 10 best real estate agents in San Diego in 2013 by Union Tribune readers. In her spare time she talks about real estate on a local radio show and manages her website RealtorSD.com.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. Karen Fogel says:

    Great article, its helpful information to us, choosing the right real estate agent can also be a challenge. Most of the time, you don’t have any idea about the personality of the agent that you are about to hire. Thank you for sharing.

  2. A very informative article. I will get some points here.

  3. Bentle says:

    I learned the importance of checking an agents history and even criminal record from a friend of mine who is a landlord in the area where I live. The agent she was working with had a recent arrest for a felony drug charge. I have found your article and information very helpful. Thankyou.

  4. leeseoung says:

    please send me some of your listing to choose from, a single family home, 3-6 bed 2-3 bath 2,500sqft, price range starting from $400,000 to $500,000 in a nice & quiet community.

  5. JM says:

    We found a great agent through a recommendation from a friend, as you mention in your article…but, we didn’t go with her immediately. I spoke to two other agents and, after ‘interviewing’ them I chose the one I was most comfortable with. This method worked out well for us.

  6. I recently had a very bad experience with a lousy agent and I recommend to take your time to get to know several agents before sticking to one.

    Make sure they are on time, communicate often, and show organization skills.

  7. I’m a little disappointed in this post. It reads like promotional copy from the National Association of Realtors.

    What’s worse, it doesn’t do what the headline says. This is the same basic boilerplate advice you can find scattered around the web.

    As a Realtor, I’m sure you know well that the best way to connect with a Realtor is a word-of-mouth recommendation by a friend or family member who has worked with that agent in the past.

    An interview doesn’t really tell you much. Seeing how quickly your calls and emails are answered are the real test of whether your agent is any good.

  8. I can’t help but have a mistrust for real estate agents. I know there are plenty of good, hard working agents but their compensation structure just scares me.

    A real estate agent is better off flipping a house as fast as possible. Spending a significant amount of time to save the homeowner 5 thousand is a lot to the homeowner but only a tiny fraction of the real estate agents pay. They are always better off spending less time on each home so they can sell more homes because even if they sell for less, their base commission will be higher.

    Luckily, good real estate agents know this is a good way to lose customers and referrals.

    • Sarah Davis says:

      I understand you’re point Edwin but they actually aren’t better off flipping a house as fast as possible. That would be bad business practice. With agency disclosures and the laws that bind real estate agents, they/we could get in big trouble if the parties aren’t fully informed and satisfied. Good Realtors (remember the distinction)spend as long as possible as is needed to satisfy their clients. My firm will sometimes take 9 months or longer in a short sale to help a client get the exact property that they want, but that’s okay. A person who sees their job as all about money in any sector, whether government, health care or real estate, is a bad apple. Unfortunately, there are people like that in every field.

      • I agree with you in principal but I seem to think a higher proportion of agents are “bad” rather than “good”.

        New agents that are in it for a buck tend to, in my experience, turn over houses as fast as they can. It is clearly a bad practice. The trouble is when a significant portion of agents do it, the consumer has a hard time knowing what to do (as you said they have to rely heavy on the agent).

        Having said that, your article gives great advice when it comes to picking agents that are actually interested in helping their clients.

        I just wish there weren’t such a high number of bad agents, the stories I’ve heard from people just make me angry.

  9. Janice says:

    Great information, thanks. I didn’t understand the difference between Realtors and Real estate agents. It’s nice to know how to check an agent’s history too.

  10. Referrals are a GREAT way to find realtors. In fact, when it was made known that I was looking for a house I received several referrals…more than I needed in fact.

    I’m so glad I went with the one my God-mother recommended to me over 5 years ago when I *thought* I wanted to buy a house. This lady has a very high work ethic, integrity, isn’t pushy, goes above and beyond, and makes me feel like I’m her only client.

    I recently found out she has been in the top 3% sales for our area for the last decade.

    As a 1st time home buyer she really did help ease the process. Some say you don’t need a buyer’s agent, but unless you are proficient in real estate, I would disagree!

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