Buying or selling a home is one of the biggest transactions of your life, so choosing the right real estate agent for the job is important. Surprisingly, most people still commit to the first agent they interview.
We recommend comparing 2–3 top agents in your region because it’s the only way to make an informed decision.
When you compare agents, you should focus on a few key pieces of information:
|👎 Bad reviews: Any agent might have 1–2 bad reviews, but watch out for agents who have a lot of them!|
|📈 Sale activity: Are they doing at least 10–20 transactions per year? The number will vary by location, but little to no sales activity could indicate they aren't a full-time agent.|
|💲 Sale prices: You want an agent who's familiar with homes in your price range.|
|📍 Sale location: Do they work in the ZIP code or neighborhood where you're trying to buy or sell? You want someone who has local experience.|
Sellers should look for a listing agent who can present a detailed plan for marketing their home, who has at least 2–3 years of experience, and who is ready to network and generate some buzz, even before the listing goes online.
Buyers should look for a buyer’s agent who has at least five years of experience because these agents tend to have a stronger local network of real estate contacts, know more about local construction, and understand the market well enough to negotiate a great deal.
If you don’t have a good shortlist of agents to choose from yet, Clever Real Estate can match you with top local agents and pre-negotiate lower fees to help you save money, whether you’re buying or selling.
How to choose a listing agent
|👉 What to look for|
|A savvy marketer: Get someone who will do more than post a yard sign and list your home on the Multiple Listing Service — the database where all agents and brokerages list houses. You want professional photos, social media activity, and pro tips on how to make your house look good for buyers.|
|At least 2–3 years of experience: There's no magic number for years of experience, but try to get an agent with at least 2–3 years. They'll have closed a variety of sales and understand what sells houses in your local market.|
|A willing-to-work mentality: Choose a motivated agent who's ready to start selling your house on day one. They should come in with a clear plan and have everything lined up so you can start showing your house as soon as it's listed.|
Read reviews from actual customers
Before you meet with a listing agent, read their reviews on their Zillow profile, their Google listing, or anywhere else you can find them online.
Numerous bad reviews are a major red flag. Any agent might have a couple of poor reviews from disgruntled customers, but watch out for a pattern of negative comments.
Themes to keep an eye on include:
- The agent took too long to sell a house.
- The agent demonstrated a lack of effort before/while the house was on the market.
- The agent provided poor service after a listing agreement had been signed.
- The agent pressured clients to accept a low offer.
Ask the agent for references if you’re still on the fence after reading their reviews. This way, you can talk directly to actual customers they’ve worked with.
Check the agent’s transaction history
You should check an agent’s transaction history to find out if they really know your neighborhood, if they’ve sold houses in your price range, and if they’re a legit full-time realtor or just someone who sells real estate on the side.
The easiest way to see an agent’s transaction history is to check out their Zillow profile. Look at their recent sales data, which should reveal how active the agent is.
Listen to the listing presentation
A serious listing agent who wants to earn your business will give you a full listing presentation — usually at your home.
The listing presentation is where you can judge the agent’s preparation. If they don’t seem like they have a plan, watch out!
The agent shouldn’t just tell you what you want to hear to get your business — they should be honest and tell you what your home is worth based on their research and analysis. They should also be able to answer your questions and objections with facts.
For example, if the agent tells you they believe it will take 30 days to sell your home, and you say, “But I thought the market was really hot right now,” they should respond with a fact, like, “Yes, but the comps in the neighborhood are selling in 25–30 days on average.”
Generally, a good listing presentation includes:
- A comparative market analysis (CMA) where the agent explains what your home is worth based on comparable houses in the neighborhood.
- Details about how the agent plans to market your home beyond putting up a yard sign and listing on the MLS. This might include running Facebook ads, hosting an open house, messaging other agents, and even creating brochures for buyers.
You don’t have to sign a listing agreement after the listing presentation, even if the agent knocks it out of the park. Think it over and compare the agent to others before you commit.
Request a seller net sheet
Get a seller net sheet from each agent who you talk to. If one of the three seller net sheets you receive has a way higher or way lower number than the other two, it might mean the agent:
- Over or underpriced your home
- Doesn’t understand local selling costs
Seller net sheets lay out all of your estimated closing costs based on the sale price the agent expects. The bottom of the net sheet shows your estimated net profit/loss from the home sale after all expenses have been paid.
The agent might bring a net sheet to your listing presentation, or you might have to request it later.
Test the agent’s communication skills
Test the agent’s communication skills to find out how communicative they’ll be if you end up selling your house with them. You don’t want a listing agent who is hard to reach!
To see how quickly the agent will respond, email or text them after your first meeting.
For example, text and say, “Hi John, thanks for meeting with me yesterday. I was just wondering about [blank] based on the conversation that we had about selling my house.”
It doesn’t really matter what you ask them about — you just want to gauge the speed and quality of their response.
A quick, personal response is a strong indication the agent will be available when you need them during the selling process.
If the agent takes days to get back to you, or delegates the response to someone else, they probably won’t be a good fit.
Sign a listing agreement
After going through these steps with 2–3 agents, you should be able to choose the best one. Once you’re ready to choose, it’s time to commit by signing a listing agreement — the official contract between you and your listing agent.
You can’t start the home-selling process without a listing agreement since it gives the agent the legal right to represent you. In most cases, agents use a template from their brokerage or their state’s real estate association and then fill in the blanks with the most important information.
The key details to look for in the listing agreement are the duration of the contract, the agent’s commission, and the cancellation policy.
|🔑 Key details in a listing agreement|
|🕔 Duration of the contract: Most listing agreements last 3–6 months, but this can vary depending on the market. Don't get locked into anything longer term — you want the agent to be motivated to sell before the agreement expires. You can even try asking for a shorter term (like 30 days) if you're on the fence about working with the agent.|
|💰 Agent's commission: Listing agents generally charge 3% commission that they split with their broker. Most people don't realize you can negotiate commission with your realtor.|
|⛔ Cancellation policy: The agreement may include details about how you can cancel the contract before it expires, and what fees you might have to pay.|
Need help finding a good listing agent? Clever’s concierge team can match you with local agents for free, and help you save thousands in realtor commissions.
You can compare your matches and choose the one that’s best for you.
How to choose a buyer’s agent
|👉 What to look for|
|5+ years of experience: Get an agent who has shown lots of homes and done lots of deals — they'll know how to make the most of your time by showing you homes that you can actually afford and that meet your criteria.|
|Building knowledge: Work with an agent who can point out the good and the bad in the houses you're touring so that you're aware of potential repair issues and things that might be worth negotiating into your deal.|
|A local network: Buyer's agents who know other realtors, local contractors, lawyers, and more will be able to help you get a quick second opinion from professionals and close the deal faster.|
Most home buyers (73%) hire the first agent they interview, which isn’t the best approach.
We recommended interviewing multiple agents.
Comparing buyer’s agents is easy because there’s a lot more flexibility with contracts than there is with listing agents. Take full advantage of this by touring homes with a few buyer’s agents before you commit to one.
Unlike listing agents, who require a written agreement before they can represent you, some buyer’s agents don’t even ask you to sign a contract until you’re ready to submit an offer. This might vary based on the agent and their brokerage, but a buyer’s agent’s main concern isn’t a piece of paper, it’s whether or not you’re ready to work with them.
A good buyer’s agent doesn’t want to waste time — they’ll vet you as you’re vetting them by asking questions like:
- Have you spoken to a lender?
- What neighborhoods are you interested in?
- Do you need to sell your current home, or are you renting?
Be prepared to answer these questions before you start touring homes if you want to convince the buyer’s agent you’re serious and get their full attention.
Read reviews from actual customers
Numerous bad reviews about a buyer’s agent usually signal they won’t be a good fit. Use Zillow, the agent’s social media pages, or even their Google listing to find out what past customers have to say.
Look for themes like:
- The customer felt pressure to sign an agreement before the agent had even done anything.
- The agent couldn’t understand the customer’s budget and priorities as a buyer.
- The agent offered little to no help during the negotiation process.
- The customer felt uninformed and unsure during the entire transaction.
This first step could save you a lot of time in the vetting process since you’ll be able to identify a bad agent pretty quickly.
Check the agent’s transaction history
A top buyer’s agent should be doing lots of deals in your local market. If they’re not, they probably don’t know the market well or have enough experience to successfully negotiate on your behalf.
Check the agent’s Zillow profile to see how active they’ve been the past 12 months, what price range of homes they help customers buy or sell, and what neighborhoods they’re most familiar with.
You can take this a step further by clicking on individual listings to find out more about the types of properties they’re working with.
|🔑 Key buyer's agent metrics|
|Number of transactions in past 12 months: Agents with 14+ transactions in the past 12 months are likely to be active, full-time agents who know the local market. Agents with less might be working part-time and not have as much of a sense of what's going on.|
|Sale prices: You want an agent who's familiar with homes in the price range you're looking at. This way, they'll know common problems to watch out for, how much sellers might be willing to negotiate, and ultimately how to spot a good deal.|
|Locations: Even in one city, the market can vary significantly. You want a buyer's agent who knows the ZIP code or neighborhood where you want to buy. Beyond housing prices, they'll know the best schools, crime rates, amenities, etc.|
Tour houses with each agent
Walking through a house with a buyer’s agent is one of the best ways to evaluate them because you’ll see the agent in action.
See if the agent is passive or active — do they let you wander around the house, or do they guide you through it and highlight its best features while also pointing out potential flaws?
An agent who’s only focused on getting paid will sugarcoat every tour and hope that you make an offer. An experienced agent will identify issues, focus on what matters to you as a buyer, and quickly answer any questions about the property.
The buyer’s agent should use the tour as an opportunity to learn more about your likes and dislikes. If you don’t like the home after you see it, the agent should try to find out why so they can help you find something better.
Pick the best agent and sign an agreement
You can confidently commit to a buyer’s agent once you’ve identified the one on your list who knows the most about houses, communicates clearly, and is motivated to find the best house for your situation.
At this point, it’s reasonable to sign a buyer’s agent agreement — the legal document that assures the agent they’ll be paid commission from the proceeds of the sale when you buy a home.
Buyers who don’t want to commit exclusively to one agent can sign multiple agreements.
Most buyer’s agents want an exclusive agreement because it guarantees they get paid commission when you buy a home. However, non-exclusive buyer’s agent agreements only guarantee that the agent gets paid if they’re involved in the purchase of your house.
How to choose a realtor for your situation
Your situation as a home buyer or seller will determine what qualities are most important when you’re trying to pick a real estate agent.
Below you’ll find advice we gleaned from experts on what to do if you’re in one of these common situations.
Buying and selling at the same time
Fifty-four percent of people use the same real estate agent to buy a new home and sell their old one, but this approach really only makes sense if you’re buying and selling in the same area.
Your listing agent might be willing to offer a discount on their listing commission if they know they’ll quickly get repeat business from you as a buyer. If you’re happy with the job they did listing your house then it makes sense to hire them to represent you as a buyer.
However, if you’re moving out of town you should get a local buyer’s agent who knows the area you want to move to. They’ll be able to identify the best properties and probably negotiate a better deal based on their local knowledge.
First-time home buyer or seller
You need a highly communicative agent the first time you buy or sell a home because you’ll have lots of questions.
Prioritize working with someone motivated and willing to hold your hand through the entire process.
Veteran agents who do a high volume of transactions may not be able to work as closely with you, or they might even hand you off to a less-experienced member of their team.
Buying a competitive market
It can be difficult to win a bidding war in a competitive market.
One of the experts we interviewed recommended approaching the listing agent who’s selling the home you want to buy. You can tell the agent you’re unrepresented and willing to work with them directly. This is called dual agency.
A dual agency situation might make your offers more attractive to the seller. The agent can coordinate both sides of the transaction, saving time and possibly even netting the seller more money by lowering the buyer’s agent fee.
The potential downside of dual agency is that the agent has a conflict of interest — do they represent the seller’s best interests, or yours? If you enter into a dual agency agreement, be aware that the agent will probably prioritize the seller’s needs since they represented them first.
FAQs about choosing a real estate agent
What's the best way to choose a real estate agent?
The best way to choose a real estate agent is to narrow your search down to 2–3 top local agents with the help of an agent matching service like Clever Real Estate.
Next, compare each realtor by gauging things like:
- How well they communicate
- Their level of local knowledge
- Their experience
Finally, sign an agreement with the agent you're the most confident in.
How long does it take to choose a realtor?
Choosing the best real estate agent for your situation can take several days or even several weeks, but you shouldn't rush the process.
Take the time to compare 2–3 top agents in your area before you commit to one.
A discount real estate broker like Clever can match you with 2–3 top agents if you need help getting started.
What should I watch out for when I choose a real estate agent?
The biggest red flags to watch out for when you're choosing a real estate agent include:
- Numerous bad reviews from customers
- Poor communication
- Less than 10 transactions in the past 12 months
- Pressure to sign a contract immediately
How to Find a Real Estate Agent: What You NEED to Know: Discover the top ways to start your search for a local real estate agent, and learn what to watch out for along the way.
The Best Discount Real Estate Brokers for Every Budget: Read about the top discount brokers that can help you save money when you buy or sell your next house.
Must-See Clever Real Estate Reviews (Learn the TRUTH!): Find out what real customers are saying about Clever Real Estate, how it works, and how much money you could save on realtor commissions.