How to Pick a Real Estate Agent

Here are tips for choosing the right one for your needs.


Nicki Duesberg

Photo by George Baker Jr.

As the busiest real estate time of the year moves into full swing, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is choosing a real estate agent — whether you’re buying or selling.

A good agent can make sure you get the best price if you’re selling, or help you land a home in your price range if you’re buying. Finding the right Realtor can seem daunting, but with a little online research, a few referrals, and three or four interviews, you’ll be well on your way.

“Referrals are a good way to get started,” said Nicki Duesberg, homeownership programs coordinator for the city of Oakland. Duesberg has guided hundreds of people through the process.

Friends and co-workers can be a good source of referrals, Duesberg said. Also, agents who are familiar with the neighborhood where you are buying or selling are the best choice, so searching on “real estate agent” and your neighborhood’s name can turn up a number of choices. “We suggest you interview at least three agents before making the decision,” said Duesberg, adding that she advises  buyers and sellers to hire an experienced agent.

Tim Manni, home expert for NerdWallet, a personal finance website, agreed. “As a buyer, you want to make sure the person has experience where you are buying and the type of home you are buying,” Manni said. “You are looking for experience in the market you are buying in and the type of home you are looking for.”

Buyers should also ask what price range the agents like to work with, Duesberg said. “Some agents are not as interested in the lower price ranges. If it’s a first-time buyer looking for a starter home, an agent with a price range of a million and up is not a match.” Also, buyers should find out if the agent has trustworthy lenders, repair people, and other service providers to recommend.

If you’re selling your home, you want an agent who is an expert at sales and marketing, Manni said. Ask them for the average variation between the initial listing price for the homes they sell and the final sales price. In today’s overheated market, that difference can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s a seller’s market, and you want an agent who will take full advantage. Manni suggests googling the agent’s recent listings to get an idea of their marketing strategies. “Ask, ‘Are you using a professional photographer? Are you bringing in professional stagers?’ You don’t want them using their iPhone to take the photos,” Manni said.

Find out what specific marketing approaches the agent would use to sell your home. Online marketing is key; in 2016, 44 percent of homebuyers looked for properties online first.

Ask the agent, “How will you keep me informed about the progress of my transaction?” The best answer here is a question, according to the National Association of Realtors. An agent who pays attention to how the client prefers to communicate — text, email, phone — will make for the smoothest transaction.

Finally, ask for contact information on the agent’s three most recent clients, and ask the clients if they would use the Realtor again. Happy hunting (or selling)!

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