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How to find a real estate agent

Real estate agents have specialties. What expertise do you need?

When you find a good real estate agent, you have more than just someone to unlock houses for you. The right person will be a trusted, responsive, knowledgeable ally who can help you understand the home-buying process, give you expert advice, and bring smart strategies to the table. You’re probably wondering how to find a real estate agent you can trust to meet your needs, and it’s a good question. We’ve got the goods.

Here’s how to find a real estate agent for you:

  • Understand why you even want an agent.

    Knowing the reasons you’re bringing on an agent in the first place will help you pick the right one. Here’s why you want one:

    • An agent costs you nothing as a buyer, so there’s no need to go with a newbie or first available agent. Take your time and get the best agent out there.
    • Agents have access to info you don’t. The Multiple Listing Service is a private database where brokers share listings so real estate professionals can see what’s available.
    • The right agent will provide you with local expertise on the real estate market and will work hard on your behalf.
    • Agents are real estate teachers. If you’re a first-time buyer, make sure you pick an agent with serious teaching skills.
    • Experienced agents have seen it all. When surprises come up or negotiations get tough, they’ll know what the best move is for you.
  • Start your agent search early.

    Give yourself plenty of time to figure out how to find a good real estate agent. Start your agent search before you fall in love with any listings, so you don’t feel any pressure to sign with anyone who can help you make a quick offer.

  • Learn the lingo.

    Not all agents are the same. Learning an agent’s official title—and what it means—can help you understand the level of expertise and accreditation they have.

    • Real estate agent or salesperson — anyone with a real estate license.
    • Realtor® — a real estate agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors®. This person has sworn to uphold the association’s standards and code of ethics.
    • Real estate broker — an agent with extra education who has passed a broker’s license exam. They can hire agents to work for them.
  • Make a list of needs.

    Knowing what you want will help you choose the right agent. Agents have specialties. Many work in particular neighborhoods and some focus on condos, coastal homes, or fixer-uppers. Finding an agent with the right specialty will ensure they understand your needs and can respond to you quickly throughout the home buying process. Make a list of the following things to keep on hand as you start your search:

    • Type of home you’re looking for
    • Type of mortgage you may be interested in
    • Neighborhoods you like
    • House budget
    • Characteristics in a real estate agent, like a tough negotiator, thoughtful listener, or speedy communicator
  • Get referrals.

    Start with friends and family and online reviews of real estate agents on Trulia, for example. Look at home-for-sale signs in a neighborhood you’re interested in and see which real estate agent’s name appears most often. That agent is likely to know the area inside out.

    Trulia can help you connect with trustworthy agents who will work hard for you through their Premier Agents resource. You can request to be connected with a Premier Agent on any property listing. These agents meet Trulia’s high standard for quality service, so you know you’ll have a great home buying experience with their personal support.

  • Check background info.

    Do a little sleuthing. Every real estate agent has a state-issued license. You can check with an individual state regulatory body online to verify their license. Or go to Arello, the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials and search by name and state.

    Look on the agent’s Premier Agent or individual website to see if they’ve won any awards or have any special certifications. If they’re a member of the local Realtor® association, you can call to verify that the agent is a member in good standing. You can also find out how many years of experience the agent has.

  • Interview more than one agent.

    You hire an agent, just like an employer would, so the process is similar. Set some interviews with agents that look promising. Ideally, they’ll treat the opportunity to interview with you just like a prospective employee would—eagerly and professionally. Bring a list of questions for the real estate agent you’ve developed in advance, and expect them to answer every one thoroughly. Make sure to ask them about their real estate background, but also about their personality and the way they work. You’ll be close partners with this person for months, so making sure you’ll enjoy working together is important.

    Also, ask for references to past clients.

  • Follow up with their references.

    It may seem like extra busywork to call satisfied clients the agent provided to you, but you can learn a lot from chatting with real people who worked with an agent. If they have anything negative to say off the bat, that’s a definite red flag. More likely, they’ll have nice things to say, but encourage them to answer some serious questions: What was communicating with this agent like? What’s one thing you would have done differently during your home purchase? What was the biggest challenge of working with this agent?

    Once you’ve how to find a real estate agent, you may be tempted to start setting home viewings, but there’s one more very important thing to do first: Get pre-approved for a mortgage.