How to find a good real estate agent

Young couple sitting on the floor in their new home. Image: Young couple sitting on the floor in their new home.

In a Nutshell

A great way to find a real estate agent is to ask someone you know and trust for a referral. If that’s not an option, there are other ways to find a professional to work with you.

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There are many ways to find a real estate agent, but asking someone you know for a recommendation is probably your best bet.

While there’s no rule that says you have to work with an agent, a real estate professional can help guide you through what can be a stressful and complicated process. Plus, a good agent should negotiate on your behalf to make sure you’re getting the best deal that you can. If you can’t get a referral, there are other ways to find an agent. Let’s explore a few of them as well as the type of agent you need and the qualities you’ll want to look for.



Where can I find a real estate agent?

Many people looking for a real estate agent rely on referrals from family and friends.

Buying or selling a house is a big decision — both financially and emotionally. Working with an agent who’s been referred to you by someone you trust can help you feel more comfortable with the process.

Plus, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with the agent you choose, so it’s important to work with someone you like.

“People [that your friends and family] get along with are more likely going to be people you get along with,” says Amanda Jones, a real estate agent with Long & Foster Realtors in Northern Virginia.

While referrals are a good place to start, that doesn’t mean you should hire the first agent you meet. Take the time to interview a few candidates to ensure you find someone who has the professional expertise you need and is a good fit personally.

If you can’t find an agent you like through a referral from someone you know, here are a few other options to consider.

  • Drive around your neighborhood. Check out “for sale” signs for names of real estate agents who work in your area.
  • Open houses. Attend a couple of open houses and talk to the agent who’s selling the house. You may find someone you click with.
  • Online search engines. There are multiple online directories that list real estate agents by ZIP code. Examples include realtor.com and zillow.com.

What type of real estate agent do I need?

Before you start looking for an agent, think about the type you need. Some represent the seller. Some represent the buyer. And some do both. Here’s a brief explanation of each.

Buyer’s agent

As you might guess, a buyer’s agent represents the buyer in a real estate transaction. This includes finding listings in the buyer’s price range, scheduling showings, taking the lead when it’s time to make an offer and guiding negotiations with the seller to get the best deal for the buyer. When a contract’s accepted, the agent leads the buyer through the closing process. 

Selling agent

Now, here’s where it might get a little confusing. When a seller accepts the buyer’s contract, the agent representing the buyer becomes known as the selling agent since that person is responsible for “selling” the home to the buyer. The terms “selling agent” and “buyer’s agent” are often used interchangeably. But the important thing to remember is the agent continues to represent the buyer’s interests.

Seller’s agent

On the flip side, the seller’s agent — also known as the listing agent — represents the seller’s interest. A seller’s agent makes recommendations about the sale price of a home, lists the property being sold on the multiple listing service, or MLS, and markets the property. The seller’s agent also schedules open houses and negotiates on the seller’s behalf.

If you use the same agent to sell your existing home and help you buy a new one, your agent acts as the seller’s agent on the sale of your current home and the buyer’s agent on the purchase of your new home.

Your real estate agent’s obligation to you

When you choose an agent, you’ll typically be asked to sign a buyer’s agreement (if you’re buying) or a listing agreement (if you’re selling). When you sign with an agent, they’re generally obligated to act in your best interest.

But what happens if your buyer’s agent is also the listing agent on a property you want to buy or vice versa? That’s known as dual agency, and it’s legal in many states. However, it can make representing both the buyer’s and seller’s best interests more difficult.

If your agent does have dual agency, your agent is required to tell you. It’s up to you to understand all the potential conflicts of interest, and to decide whether you want to work with someone who’s not representing only you in the transaction. It’s a tricky situation, so you should proceed with caution. Be sure to have a full and frank conversation with the agent before you sign on. 

What should I look for in a real estate agent?

Buying or selling a home is a big decision, so “you want someone who’s going to negotiate for you and have your best interest at heart,” said Jones.

Here are a few things to look for when choosing an agent. 

  • Agents must be licensed in the state where they practice. You can find out if an agent is licensed by checking the real estate commission website for your state. You may also notice that some real estate professionals have a Realtor designation. In addition to being licensed, these individuals are members of the National Association of Realtors. They pledge to adhere to a strict code of ethics, designed to protect you throughout the process.
  • Market knowledge. A good agent should be familiar with the real estate market in your area. An experienced agent can give you a feel for the market, tell you how long houses typically take to sell and whether they’re mostly selling at, above or below asking price. This can help you decide how to price your home if you’re selling and how to structure your offer if you’re buying.
  • Time is often of the essence when buying or selling a house, and you need to know the best way to communicate with your agent. Do you prefer text messages, emails or phone calls? A little of each? Make sure your agent knows your preferred way to communicate and is willing to go along.
  • A veteran agent can help put your mind at ease during every step of the homebuying or selling process. Plus, agents who have been in the real estate business for a while have had time to build up their professional networks. This can help bring in prospective buyers when you’re selling — and get the inside scoop about houses that’ll be coming on the market soon if you’re buying.
  • You may need to see dozens of houses before you find one you want to buy. Select an agent who will be able to show you houses at a time that’s convenient for you.
  • If you’re selling your house, make sure your agent’s ideas about how to market your home align with your expectations. Ask about recent sales of homes similar to yours in the neighborhood to ensure your property is priced appropriately. Find out how your agent plans to attract potential buyers, and get on the same page about how quickly your home might sell.
  • Comfort level. “There has to be compassion and understanding that this is not only a huge financial decision, but there’s a lot of emotions involved [as well],” Jones said. So, it’s important to work with a person you like and can be honest with, and who will be honest with you. Choose someone who understands what you want and will put your needs first.

Bottom line

The great way to find a good real estate agent is to get a recommendation from someone you know and trust. If that’s not an option, there are other alternatives. Whatever your approach, be sure to choose someone you’re comfortable working with, and who’s knowledgeable and experienced enough to negotiate on your behalf and represent your best interests.


About the author: Jennifer Brozic is a freelance financial services writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in communication management from Tow… Read more.