You can also attend open houses and meet real estate agents. See how they interact with you and answer your questions. Pay attention to how they show the home. Take notes and collect business cards. Then you can compare the agents you saw.
Look at web sites of Realtors or real estate agents. Read any testimonials they have. Call them up and ask questions about their experience and how they work with buyers. Get a feel for them and what they can do for you.
Tammy Hayes, Realtor
Re/Max Palm Realty
Picking the right real estate agent to help you find your next house could save you many hours of wading through Internet listings, viewing homes that aren't right for you, and perhaps save you $$$ in the negotiation process . However, contacting the office that sells the most homes or has the most listings in a specific town may not translate into finding the right agent to assist you. The agent or office that lists the most homes does not translate into an agent's ability to help a BUYER in a real estate transaction -- buyer representation and seller representation are two very different aspects of a transaction.
First, I would suggest selecting an agent who normally works not only in the area where you wish to purchase a home but also the price range. He/she should be up to date and knowledgeable about local listings, neighborhoods, schools and general area information. They should be up do date on recent sales in your targeted area and/or neighborhoods.
Some agents may disagree with me, but most buyers would be better served by working with a real estate agent who does real estate full time vs a part-time agent. You want an agent that makes real estate a priority. Along that same line, I would also suggest asking the agent how long they have been working in real estate. While the amount of time they have been a real estate agent doesn't guarantee their ability to do a good job, the skills needed are mostly learned while actually doing the job. So hiring an agent who makes their living by listing/selling real estate full time and have been doing so for at least a few years generally equates to a better, more knowledgeable agent.
It's also worth asking if the agent has educational designations that pertain to your situation. For instance, if you are interested in looking at distress properties (bank owned/ REOs or short sales), you may wish to find an agent that has the SFR designation (Short Sale and Foreclosure Resource certification from NAR). Other good to have designations are ABR (Accredited Buyer Representative), CBR (Certified Buyer Representative) and CNE (Certified Negotiations Expert).
When you contact an agent you should definitely ask whether you will work directly with that agent or will they hand you off to a member of their team. There's nothing wrong with an agent having a team, but if you are going to work with a designated buyer's agent from a team, you should really be interviewing that team member not the agent you originally contacted to see if the agent is a good fit for you. Since we are in the summer months, it also doesn't hurt to ask if the agent will be taking a planned vacation soon and who will be filling in during his/her absence.
The agents you contact should spend at least a half hour or so with you initially, either in person or by phone, to get a good fells as to what type of home you are specifically looking for, going into details as to your likes and dislikes. That's a good time to evaluate the agent's communication skills and whether they are really listening to your answers. The agent should ask probing, detailed questions about the features & style of home, neighborhood and other criteria important to you. They should also ask questions regarding your finances - will you be paying by cash or mortgage. If you will be getting a mortgage, the agent should go into more details with you as to what type of financing, down payments and if you are pre-approved (vs just pre-qualified) for a mortgage.
You should also ask how often they plan to keep in touch with you after your initial consultation. Will it be whenever new listings come on the market, daily, weekly? How will they contact you -- by email, phone, text? Even if there aren't new listings that match your needs, your agent should still be contacting you on a weekly basis to keep you up to date on the local market, prices, inventory, etc. And ask if you do call the agent, how soon do they normally get back to their customers -- within the hour, day? Or even later?
Another question to ask is about additional fees. Some local brokerages have what they typically call Broker Professional Fees that you must pay at closing which can be as much as $295 to $345. So be sure to ask.
Ask the agent if they can provide you with references from recent customers who have bought homes through the agent.
You will also want to know if they have a readily available list of qualified vendors to assist you in the home buying process, such as home inspectors, pest inspectors, mortgage brokers, title companies, real estate attorneys, insurance agents, roofers, AC technicians, etc.
The more you know about your buyers agent, the more comfortable you will feel about working with the agent during the home buying process.
Diane Christner, Realtor, GRI, SFR, CNE
They are not necessarily going to be the same company. And that is not the best way to find the best agent or company for your needs. I agree with Tammy, you want an agent that is experienced, understands the local market and you can communicate with. Ask around, call and interview them.