Man and woman sitting at table shaking hands with male real estate agent.

How To Find A Real Estate Agent

February 22, 2024 9-minute read

Author: Patrick Russo

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Whether you’re buying or selling a property, finding the right real estate agent is one of the most important parts of the process. While you may know you need one, many first-time home buyers don’t know how to find a real estate agent or even exactly what an agent does.

A real estate agent’s responsibilities can differ depending on their certification level, who they represent in the transaction, and what type of real estate brokerage firm they work for. Follow along below for more information on the multiple types of real estate agents, how they can help you buy or sell your home, and how you can find the best agent for your needs.

What Does A Real Estate Agent Do?

A real estate agent facilitates real estate transactions by providing expert knowledge of the local area, market conditions, and the entire real estate process to make the transaction as easy as possible for either a buyer or seller. By conducting extensive research of potential homes in the area to buy or marketing a home to sell, real estate agents provide both buyers and sellers an invaluable service. Since most people do not purchase or sell real estate very often during their lives, many are not familiar with the complicated and often stressful process involved. Real estate agents simplify the process by guiding the mortgage process, leading negotiations and completing mountains of paperwork so their clients don’t have to make buying or selling a home their full-time job.

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The Difference Between Agents For Buyers And Sellers

Real estate agents for buyers and sellers will have many of the same responsibilities, but there are also distinct duties on both sides. Below are some of the opposing responsibilities for buyer’s and seller’s agents.

Seller’s Agent Responsibilities

  • Determining the price
  • Staging the home to appeal to buyers
  • Listing on the Multiple Listings Service (MLS)
  • Marketing online and in-person
  • Coordinating showings and open houses
  • Negotiating with potential buyers
  • Preparing the seller for closing

Buyer’s Agent Responsibilities

  • Working with buyer to determine what homes are in their price range
  • Searching for properties based on buyers wants and needs
  • Scheduling and attending home tours
  • Submitting an offer
  • Negotiating the best possible price
  • Coordinating third parties such as title agents, home inspectors and mortgage brokers
  • Completing all necessary paperwork before closing

Real Estate Broker Vs. Real Estate Agent

A real estate broker is a real estate agent who received a broker’s license that allows them to take on more responsibilities within a real estate transaction and in the real estate industry. To be a broker, an agent must pass a broker license exam. Once they pass the exam, brokers can continue working as real estate agents, but they can also hire other real estate agents to work for them. These firms, also known as brokerages, allow real estate agents to pool their resources and assist each other and each other’s clients. In return for this assistance, agents pay a percentage of their commission to their broker.

However, starting your firm is not the only extra responsibility for a real estate broker. Brokers also gain the legal ability to move money in and out of an escrow account for their clients and mediate certain legal disputes between their agents and clients.

Types Of Real Estate Brokers

There are several types of real estate brokers with different levels of legal and managerial responsibilities.

  • Principal broker: A principal broker is held to the highest standard in a real estate transaction by being legally responsible for every transaction and all of the operations within their brokerage. The principal must ensure that each of the agents they hire is compliant with state and federal laws. There is only one principal broker per brokerage firm.
  • Managing broker: A managing broker is typically a leadership role that supervises a team of real estate agents. While they have a broker’s and real estate agent’s license, they typically do not personally take part in real estate transactions. Instead, they assist a team of associate brokers and agents who work for them. However, they do not hold the same legal responsibilities as a principal broker. A brokerage company can have multiple managing brokers, but one typically manages an entire brokerage office.
  • Associate broker: Associate brokers also have their brokers licenses, but do not hold the same legal or managerial responsibilities as the brokers mentioned above. Associate brokers are typically found in large brokerage firms.

What To Do Before Contacting A Real Estate Agent

Here are a few things you should do before reaching out to a real estate agent that will make both of your lives much easier in the long run.

If You're Buying A Home

  1. Get preapproved for a mortgage loan: Getting preapproved for a loan is one of the most helpful things you can do for your real estate agent, which is why many will not take you on as a client until you have one. Getting preapproved for a loan will give your agent an accurate window into how much you can afford to spend on a home so they can tailor their home search more precisely.
  2. Save for a down payment: How much you have saved for a down payment is important because it affects the size of your loan and your monthly mortgage payments. If you have enough money to put at least 20% down, you will save money on your monthly payments by not having to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI).
  3. Prioritize your home must-haves: Apart from the hard numbers you can provide to your agent to inform their search, give them a list of home characteristics and amenities that you absolutely must have in your new home. This information combined with your preapproval letter will let your agent know whether they can find a home that meets your needs in your price range or give you advice on how to change your priorities.

If You're Selling A Home

  1. Start searching for a real estate agent: Before you make your final choice on a real estate agent, make sure to conduct an extensive search of experienced agents in your area.
  2. Stage your home: You want to make sure that prospective buyers can see themselves living in your home. So apart from fixing obvious flaws like creaky floorboards or broken cabinets, focus on staging your home in a traditional fashion to make it appealing to the widest range of buyers possible.

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Finding A Good Real Estate Agent

A real estate agent can make or break one of the largest financial transactions of your life, so it is important to do the work to find the right one for you.

Ask For Referrals Through Your Personal Network

Some of the best sources of information are your friends and family who you trust the most. If anyone close to you has gone through the real estate process recently or perhaps works in the real estate industry, ask them if they would recommend any real estate agents in your area. Getting this firsthand information can be extremely helpful because someone in your personal network will be able to suggest someone that specializes in the type of home you’re looking for. Or, if the person referring you knows you well enough, they may be able to introduce you to a real estate agent who’s personality fits with yours so you can look for a home and have fun while you’re at it!

Research Online And Offline

There is plenty of research to be done online to find the perfect real estate agent for you. Reading through an agent’s website to see how they describe their expertise and view the house’s they’ve helped buy or sell in the past can be extremely revealing. However, the internet is not the only place to do your research. REALTORS® often host in-person events to get to know potential buyers and sellers in the area and help share their expertise with them. Look for local real estate workshops or informational cocktail hours in your area to meet with prospective agents in the flesh to see if you would interact well together.

Use Referral Sources

There are several third-party resources that can aid your search for a real estate agent. Start with your local chamber of commerce to get their opinion of the most widely known and respected agents in your area. Rocket HomesSM can also help buyers find a great REALTOR®

Review The Contract

When you believe you’ve found the right real estate agent, review the contract they present to you to confirm the commission structure and any other important information is accurate. Keep in mind that the contract almost definitely includes an exclusivity agreement, meaning that you cannot work with any other real estate agents after you’ve signed it.

How To Interview A Real Estate Agent

Interviewing a real estate agent is one of the best ways to get to know them and determine if you will work well together to buy or sell a property. Below are some of the most important characteristics you should ask about during the interview.

  • Experience: Finding out the amount of experience a real estate agent has is essential during your search. With years in the industry under their belt, real estate agents build up their skill sets on finding homes, negotiating the best deals, and handling complicated paperwork and compliance issues. However, the amount of time in the industry is not always all you need to know about their experience. Also ask how many homes they buy or sell every year to ensure that they have a volume of experience as well as length.
  • Relevant certifications: You should first ensure they have the legal certifications required to be a real estate agent, but you don’t have to stop there. Ask if they have continued their education with non-mandatory certifications to see if they are committed to learning their craft.
  • Local real estate market expertise: While an agent may have years of experience in the industry in another area, make sure they know your location specifically. Knowing the intricacies of the local market is incredibly important for a real estate agent.
  • Marketing and technical skills: Determine whether they have the modern capabilities to market your home or search for one online. While these skills may have been a necessity for years now, it is still important to ensure you avoid an agent who works the old-fashioned way.
  • Availability and customer service: Deals can move incredibly fast in real estate, so you need to feel confident that your agent is ready to assist you. Ask them what their average response time is to a request and see what mode of communication they prefer.

Home Buyer Considerations For Finding A Real Estate Agent

  • Buyer challenges in the current market: One of the biggest challenges in today’s market is lack of housing supply. With so few homes on the market, your dream home can be gone in a day if your agent does not catch it in time. Make sure your agent is attentive to the type of home on your wish list and keeps you in mind when they’re searching the market.
  • Agent approach to seller negotiations and bidding wars: Low supply can lead to bidding wars when a great house comes on the market, so it is important for your agent to be prepared. Ask your real estate agent whether they have a set strategy when approaching a negotiation and ask specifically what they would do if they got in a bidding war with a competitive buyer.

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Home Seller Considerations For Finding A Real Estate Agent

  • Agent’s estimate of a home’s value: Pricing a home is one of the most important and intricate skills of a real estate agent. Price the home too low and you could lose out on thousands of dollars; price the home too high and you could lose out on many prospective buyers. Ask any prospective agent what their strategy for pricing a home is and what factors they use to come to a price.
  • Home improvement suggestions: Making sure your home is in the best condition to sell is important, but you don’t want to spend too much money or time on renovations that won’t significantly increase your home’s value. Get your agent’s input on what home improvements they believe will translate into a higher sales price.

Finding A Real Estate Agent FAQs

Below are some of the most common questions about real estate agents.

What is the difference between a REALTOR® and a real estate agent?

A real estate agent is a real estate professional licensed to facilitate real estate transactions. A REALTOR® is a real estate agent who is a member of the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). So all REALTORS® are real estate agents, but not all real estate agents are REALTORS®.

Can I buy a house without a REALTOR®?

Yes, you can buy a house without a REALTOR® or real estate agent. However, the process can be complicated and involve lots of confusing paperwork that is challenging for someone not experienced in the industry. Plus, since sellers typically pay the buyer's agent’s fees, you may not save any money by not using a REALTOR® as a buyer.

Is it okay to talk to multiple real estate agents?

It is perfectly okay to talk to multiple real estate agents before you begin working with any of them. However, once you sign an exclusive agreement to work with one agent, you can no longer work with another agent.

How much does a real estate agent make per sale?

The total real estate agent commission for a sale is typically 4% – 6% of the home’s purchase price. This commission is typically split 50/50 between the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent. The seller usually pays the entire commission from the proceeds of the sale.

The Bottom Line: Find The Right Real Estate Agent For You

Finding the right real estate agent at the beginning of the real estate process will make the entire journey much easier for everyone involved, whether you’re the buyer or seller. If you have found an experienced real estate agent that fits your needs, start your mortgage application today!

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Patrick Russo headshot.

Patrick Russo

Patrick is a writer and researcher with expertise in real estate and insurance. When he is not writing, you can find him hanging out with his family and friends or walking around Washington, DC, listening to an audiobook.