How to Choose a Real Estate Agent

Quick Answer

A real estate agent can be an indispensable member of your homebuying team. Finding the right one involves:

  1. Getting preapproved for a mortgage to prove that you’re financially capable of buying a home.
  2. Searching for real estate agents that fit your unique needs.
  3. Making a list of questions that are important to your homebuying journey.
  4. Interviewing real estate agents and choosing the best one for your situation.

A man wearing a suit is showing something to a couple in a new home as they smile together.

The right real estate agent can be an invaluable member of your homebuying team. They can help you find potential properties, negotiate an offer and navigate the process of closing on a home. Most real estate agents also have a strong understanding of local housing markets. Between June 2020 and July 2021, some 87% of homebuyers used a real estate agent or broker, according to a recent survey from the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

There's a lot to know about choosing a real estate agent, but picking a qualified professional can make your home purchase significantly easier. Here are four simple steps you can take to find the right agent for you.

1. Get Preapproved for a Mortgage

Making the decision to buy a home is an exciting one. While it may be tempting to connect with a real estate agent right away and begin touring open houses, it's wise to get preapproved for a mortgage first. A preapproval letter helps prove that you're financially capable of buying a home, and many real estate agents will want to see one before they'll agree to work with you.

Getting preapproved for a mortgage is also an important step that helps clarify how much house you can afford. You'll provide a mortgage lender with your basic financial information, such as your income, debts, assets and employment details. They'll also run your credit. All this information comes together to generate a snapshot of your financial health.

If you meet the lender's criteria, they'll issue you a preapproval letter that states your estimated loan amount, interest rate and loan type. Most letters are good for up to 90 days. Having a preapproval letter also comes in handy when you're ready to make an offer because it shows sellers that you're a serious buyer. Just keep in mind that you'll still have to complete a formal mortgage application if your offer is accepted and you sign a purchase agreement contract with a seller.

2. Search for Real Estate Agents

Ask around to see if someone you trust can make a recommendation. In 2021, 47% of homebuyers used an agent who was referred by a friend, family member or neighbor, according to NAR data. The organization also provides a database to help buyers find local agents. (To clarify, a real estate agent is simply a licensed real estate professional, whereas a Realtor is a real estate agent who is a member of NAR and is aligned with their standards and ethics.)

Another option is checking online reviews for local real estate companies in your area. What you're looking for is a knowledgeable agent who'll take the time to understand your unique needs. You can also search for agents through sites that work with specific populations, like the National Association of Gay & Lesbian Real Estate Professionals or the Black Realtor Directory.

3. Make a List of Questions

Ahead of meeting with potential real estate agents, take a few minutes to jot down questions that are important to your homebuying journey. These may include:

  • What are your credentials? What professional designations do you hold?
  • How long have you been working in this local market? What real estate trends are you seeing in the area?
  • Can you point me to past clients who can speak to your process and results?
  • What are your fees and how are they paid?
  • Will you require me to sign a buyer's agent agreement? (This is a contract in which you agree to work exclusively with the agent for a predetermined amount of time.)
  • Will I be working with you directly, or will I be working with your assistants?
  • What's your availability for showing me properties?
  • Considering my budget, what kinds of properties do you think I can reasonably afford?
  • Will you be able to assist me in making a competitive offer and negotiating with sellers?

4. Interview Real Estate Agents

Close to three-quarters of homebuyers surveyed by NAR said they only needed to interview one real estate agent. But it goes without saying that interviewing multiple agents will give you more options. This, in turn, can give you a feel for how different agents approach the homebuying process. At that point, you can settle on the one who feels like the best fit for you.

Try connecting over a video chat or quick coffee to see if the chemistry is there. Be sure to bring along your list of questions and lead with that. Below are some potential red flags you may encounter while meeting with candidates:

  • They charge a fee for viewing properties, which isn't customary.
  • They are unwilling to provide references, or they do not have any.
  • They have negative reviews online.
  • They seem rushed or unable to make time for you.
  • It seems like they are simply telling you what you want to hear.
  • They aren't able to answer your questions regarding local real estate trends.
  • They have a large team and you're worried you won't get the personalized attention you want.
  • There's a potential conflict of interest. For example, some real estate agents serve as dual agents. This means they represent both the buyer and the seller in a transaction. While it may be legal in your state, negotiating for both sides can present a conflict of interest.

The Bottom Line

Most real estate agents work on commission that's paid by the seller, though these costs are usually factored into the home price, so you'll ultimately take on some of it. It's possible to buy a home without help from a real estate agent, but it will make the process much more complicated and prone to error.

If you're wondering how to choose a real estate agent, keep in mind that many factors will come into play. When all is said and done, you want someone you trust who can help make the homebuying process a little easier. When you are ready to make an offer, your credit score and credit report will be top of mind with lenders. Check both for free with Experian.