👉 Sections: How to choose a realtor to sell | How to choose a buyer’s agent | Realtor red flags | Choosing for your situation | FAQs
Choosing a realtor is one of the most important financial decisions you’ll ever make. While most people commit to the first real estate agent they interview, we recommend comparing several options to find the best fit for you.
You can get started by pre-screening real estate agents online, focusing on the agent’s reviews, recent sale activity, and the location of each sale.
If you don’t have a good shortlist of agents to choose from yet, we recommend using an agent matching service like Clever Real Estate to get matched up quickly with top local agents. Clever also pre-negotiates lower fees with local agents to save you money.
Once you’ve got a few good options to compare, it’s time to set up some interviews to compare and choose the right agent for you. We lay out the process for you below.
» Connect with Clever to get matched with a top local realtor
How to choose a realtor: An overview
It’s smart to vet agents online before setting up your initial interviews. Here’s how to screen agents fast and easily.
1. Read reviews from past clients
Online reviews can help you identify bad real estate agents pretty fast. Search for past client reviews on sites like Zillow, Trulia, and Google.
Agents with few or no reviews is a red flag, as it shows the agent is either brand-new, unproven or lacking an online presence.
It’s normal for agents to have at least a few poor reviews from disgruntled customers, but a pattern of negative feedback is more concerning.
Here are some common negative comments to watch out for:
- The client felt pressured to sign a listing agreement or buyer’s agency agreement.
- The agent rushed a buyer to put in an offer on a house.
- The agent took too long to sell a house or pushed the client to take a low offer.
- A lack of effort or hustle from the agent.
- The agent was unresponsive or slow to respond to the client’s calls and texts.
- The agent was unsuccessful in contract negotiations.
Note: Agent matching services like Clever do this work for you, weeding through poorly reviewed agents and matching you up with the best ones in your market.
2. Determine full-time or part-time status
Homebuyers and sellers deserve to work with a dedicated, full-time realtor. Vetting work status is tricky, as most part-time agents probably won’t admit it. Here’s how to do it.
Check the agent’s sale activity on Zillow. Closing at least 10 sales in the past year shows the agent is active and likely not working real estate as a side hustle.
Try to contact the agent during business hours. An agent that is unresponsive from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. might be out working another job.
Scan through social media accounts. Full-time agents are more likely to have active social media accounts than part-timers.
You can gauge an agent’s online presence by searching their Facebook and Instagram pages (1-2 posts per week shows they are active).
3. Search for recent experience
Recent work experience is desirable in a constantly changing real estate market.
View each agent’s Zillow or Trulia profile to search for recent sales data, which should reveal how many buyers and sellers they’ve recently helped.
How to find an agent’s transaction history on Zillow
- Find the agent’s profile using Zillow’s agent finder tool
- Scroll down to “Sold” on the agent’s profile. Here you’ll find addresses, sold date, closing price, and who the agent represented in the deal (the buyer or seller).
- Click on the individual listings to learn more about the transaction, including when the house was listed and how long it took to sell.
You can also look up their real estate license to see when it was issued (showing you how long they’ve been a licensed agent).
Aim to interview agents with at least 2 years of experience, at least 1-2 closed deals within the past month, and your type of transaction (buying or selling).
4. Check for local sales
It’s best to work with a listing agent who has closed at least a few sales in your zip code within the past 1-2 months.
Agents working primarily in your area know how to accurately value homes, and likely have a strong network of contractors, inspectors, and appraisers to help you close.
Zillow is a great resource for checking local sales. An agent’s Zillow profile reveals their most recent sales on a Google map and in text, and includes the full addresses.
🤔Should you search for realtors or real estate agents?
The term realtor is often used interchangeably with real estate agent, which can create confusion among home buyers and sellers.
A realtor is a term used to describe an agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), while a real estate agent is any person licensed to help people buy or sell real estate (but not a NAR member).
Here’s the bottom line: Realtors (NAR members) are bound by the NAR Code of Ethics, but they aren’t necessarily better at their jobs than non-member agents. What matters most is the quality of the agent you choose to work with.
» MORE: Realtor vs. Real Estate Agent
How to choose the right listing agent
|👉 What to look for|
|Experience: There's no magic number for years of experience, but try to get an agent with at least 2–3 years.|
|A hustle mentality: Choose a motivated agent who's ready to start selling your house ASAP. 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.|
|Savvy marketing: Hire an agent who does more than post a yard sign and list your home online. You want professional photos, social media activity, and pro tips on how to make your house look good for buyers.|
1. Set up listing presentations
Why it matters: To test the agent’s personality, responsiveness, and communication skills before you commit to meeting and signing with them.
How to do it: Get the agent’s number and call them to test their responsiveness. Try texting or emailing if they don’t answer your call (some agents use those methods more frequently).
Good agents aren’t always available right away, but any agent who wants your business will get back to you within 24 hours, unless they provide a good reason, like a personal emergency.
2. Meet with the agent at your house
Why it matters: To vet the agent’s experience, skills, and real estate knowledge. The agent provides a market update, a home valuation report, and a net sheet, and reviews the listing agreement.
How to do it: Most agents will be thrilled to meet with you if you ask them to. Follow up beforehand to confirm your meeting, and give them a heads-up if your plans change.
The agent should show up prepared with home sale information, provide you with a CMA report and a net sheet, and show you photos and videos from their current listings.
🤓Expert tip: Get a seller net sheet from each agent who you interview. It lays out your estimated net profit from the home sale after factoring in all sale expenses.
If one of the seller net sheets you receive has a way higher or lower number than the others, it could mean the agent over or underpriced your home, or doesn’t understand local selling costs.
3. Follow-up with the agent
Why it matters: The post-meeting phone call is another chance to test the agent’s responsiveness and communication skills, and to see if they’re really serious about helping you.
How to do it: Call, text, or email the agent a day after your initial meeting. See if they answer right away, or take long to respond.
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.”
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 as it shows they aren’t committed to helping you.
4. Review the listing agreement
Why it matters: The listing agreement is usually 10 to 20 pages long and outlines all of your responsibilities, the duties your agent owes to you, your home’s initial listing price, and when it’ll go live.
Signing it is a big deal, as it kicks off the home selling process and authorizes the agent to work for you.
What listing agreements should include:
- The length of the agreement (usually 3 to 6 months).
- The agent’s commission rate.
- What you agree to pay the buyer’s agent.
- The agent’s cancellation policy, if you decide to part ways with the agent.
- How buyers will gain access to your house for showings.
- Services included in the listing (photos, videos, listing on the MLS).
How to do it: Have agents walk you through the listing agreement at your initial meeting or follow-up phone call. If anything is unclear, have a real estate attorney help you review it before signing.
5. Take next steps
Still undecided on agents? Here are some possible next steps.
- Find more agents to interview if you’re unhappy with your picks. Agent matching services like Clever can connect you to multiple local agents while also potentially saving you thousands on realtor fees.
- Check the agent’s real estate license, which should be active and in good standing.
- Re-read the listing agreement carefully, learn more about an exclusive right-to-sell listing agreement, or call an attorney for more help.
- Ask each agent for the contact info. of 3-5 past seller clients for reference checks.
- Call 1-2 clients from your list for further vetting (a random selection prevents agents from cherry-picking references and you from getting a biased perspective).
- Sign the listing agreement, if comfortable, or consider interviewing other agents.
How to choose the right buyer’s agent
|👉 What to look for|
|Experience: Meet with an experienced agent who has closed a lot of deals (10+ in the past year) – they've got strategies to help you beat out other home buyers.|
|Market knowledge: Strong agents know how to properly value homes in your local real estate market, and can point out potential issues ahead of time.|
|Strong network: Buyer's agents who have a network of agents, contractors, and attorneys are able to assist with your transaction, 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 usually more flexibility with contracts than there is with listing agents. You might not have to sign a buyer’s agency agreement until you’re ready to submit an offer on a home. Take full advantage of this by touring homes with a few buyer’s agents before you commit to one.
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 or gotten pre-approved for financing yet?
- 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.
1. Set up interviews
Why it matters: The initial phone call is a good opportunity to test the agent’s responsiveness, discuss your goals as a home buyer, get pre-approved with a lender, talk through the home buying process, and address any of your concerns.
How to do it: Call your top picks to set up in-person or Zoom appointments. You can ask any questions about the home buying process, and learn about their skills, experience, and knowledge.
5 questions to ask a buyer’s agent before your meeting
- Do you primarily work with buyers or sellers, too? Ask for recent sales data to learn how many buyers and sellers the agent has worked with.
- Have you helped buyers in my desired neighborhoods? You need an agent who really knows your area well.
- What is your typical price range? Aim to work with agents who help buyers in your budget.
- How do you help buyers compete in the current market? It’s a strong seller’s market in most areas, and you need every advantage you can get.
- Can you walk me through the home buying process? See if the agent will take the time to walk you through the buying process – it shows they want to help you.
2. Meet and set up home showings
Why it matters: The agent enters your buying criteria into the multiple listing service (MLS), the system realtors use to send homes to buyers. If you like what you see, you can ask the agent to set up showings.
If you tour houses and red flags are flying – like if the agent is pushy and impatient, and insists you put an offer in on a house ASAP – you might want to find a new agent.
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.
How to do it: Most buyer’s agents will be happy to meet with you, set you up with a home search, and show you homes if you ask them to.
There’s no risk in meeting with an agent, other than potentially spending a few hours with them and finding out they aren’t the right fit.
» JUMP: 5 traits to look for in a realtor
3. Pick an agent and sign an agreement
Why it matters: Signing a buyer’s agency agreement means you agree to work exclusively with the agent for a certain period of time, while the agent agrees to represent you and your best interests.
How to do it: You can either read and sign a buyer’s agency agreement in person, or via an electronic agreement like DocuSign.
Most buyer’s agency agreements are exclusive, which means you’ll be locked into using the agent to purchase a home. There might be a way to get out of the contract without a fee, but it depends on what the agreement says.
If you’re not ready to commit yet, ask them for a few references from past clients, and give them a call. If the agent really wants your business, they won’t rush you into signing a buyer’s agency agreement. Instead, they’ll earn your business through their hard work and earning your trust.
🚩 Realtor red flags to watch out for
Whether you’re looking for a buyer’s or seller’s agent, here are some realtor warning signs to watch out for.
1. They rush or pressure you
There’s nothing worse than working with a realtor who rushes or pressures you into making a decision when you’re not ready, just so they can get paid faster.
Here are some potential red flag situations to watch out for:
- The agent insists that you sign a buyer’s agency agreement or a listing agreement ASAP in order to move forward with the relationship.
- The agent shows you homes that don’t fit in your budget and pressures you to put in an offer when you’re not ready or insists you accept an offer on your house.
- They push you to sign an offer without you fully understanding its terms and conditions.
- The agent shrugs off major concerns discovered by a home inspector or appraiser.
Thankfully, you can usually tell if an agent will be patient with you at your initial meeting.
2. They’re unresponsive
Avoid agents who don’t answer or respond to your calls, texts, or emails within a reasonable time frame (24 hours max).
Responsiveness is super important in the fast-moving world of real estate. Picture these potential nightmare scenarios when working with an unresponsiveness agent:
Sellers: You receive a great offer on a home, but the offer carries an expiration date of 24 hours – so you need to act fast. You call your agent to accept the offer before expiry, but they can’t be reached, and it expires.
Buyers: You find the home of your dreams online, but you need to rush out to see it ASAP before other buyers do. You call your agent to book a showing, but they don’t respond until the next day (and you lose out on the house).
3. They lack integrity
Naturally, you want to work with a professional – not someone who comes off as a sleazy, untrustworthy salesman.
Here are some potential signs of a dishonest real estate agent:
- They insist that their commission rate is non-negotiable (it usually is), or they hide extra fees from you.
- Their commission rate seems high, and they can’t explain what it covers.
- They make bold, unsubstantiated claims, like “I sold 100 homes last year!” or “I just closed 3 deals in that neighborhood last week!” Ask them to verify the data.
- They badmouth other agents, which is not only unprofessional but could violate state laws and cause you problems during contract negotiations.
Avoid agents that throw off any of these red flags!
4. They don’t understand your market
Real estate is local, and that’s why it’s super important to hire an agent who truly knows your market. Try asking them specific neighborhood questions to see how they respond.
Here are some good questions to ask:
- How much are home prices rising in my neighborhood?
- How many active listings are there in my zip code?
- What are the current months of inventory?
- What type of home buyers might be most interested in my home?
Buyer’s agents should also know your neighborhood like the back of their hand, pointing out recent neighborhood developments, such as new schools and businesses moving in.
5. They’re too commission-driven
Avoid realtors who suffer from “commission breath,” making every conversation about them and their paycheck, instead of on you and your needs.
Here are some warning signs:
- The agent brings up their commission rate in your initial conversation instead of asking you about your goals as a seller or buyer.
- They push you into making offers on homes that aren’t a good fit – or pressure you to accept an offer on your home that you’re not satisfied with.
- They’re overly positive during showings, saying things like “this home has everything!” or using phrases like “if you sleep on it, you might not sleep in it.”
- They ask you to list your home at a price below what you’re comfortable with. Some agents would rather list too low than too high just to get a faster paycheck.
The agent should focus more on making you happy as a client. That’s how they’ll earn their paycheck and potentially your repeat business or referrals.
Traits to look for in a realtor
Here are some important realtor traits or skills to gauge your initial phone call and interviews.
1. Good personality
Top agents are friendly and conversational. But they also take the time to learn about your specific needs and genuinely care about helping you achieve your goals.
A good sense of humor is a major bonus. Laughter takes off the pressure if things get tense at any point in the transaction (like in contract negotiations).
2. Strong communicator
Communication skills are crucial in real estate, especially when showing your house to prospective buyers and negotiating with other agents.
You can tell a realtor is a strong communicator if they do the following:
- Ask for your preferred method of communication (call, text, or email) during your initial call or interview.
- Focus on your conversation, not on other work calls, texts, or emails.
- Listen more than they speak, and learn about your situation and goals instead of focusing on themselves.
- Share real stories and experiences from their time as a realtor.
- Communicate proactively, and point out possible roadblocks ahead of time.
Good agents usually follow up with you after your initial phone call or interview, to see if you have any other questions or concerns.
3. Real estate knowledge
Knowledge is what sets some real estate agents apart from the pack. Informed, experienced agents are worth their commission for several reasons. Here’s why:
- Knowledgeable agents can walk first-time homebuyers through the process from start to finish.
- They know how to structure offers to help buyer clients win their dream house in a highly competitive seller’s market.
- They understand all of the forms, disclosures, and legal documents required in order to close.
- They’re a great source of local information and can answer any questions related to utilities, zoning rules, and homeowner’s association fees.
- They help you prepare your home for sale, explain how the home sale process works, and point out potential roadblocks.
- They’re experts at completing comparative market analysis (CMA) reports to accurately price your home, and can provide you with a seller net sheet.
- They know how to effectively market your home to buyers in order to achieve your real estate goals.
- They use their experience and knowledge to negotiate contracts with buyers.
How can you tell if a real estate agent knows their stuff? They can answer all of your questions, and back up their advice with real-life stories (inexperienced agents will struggle to come up with answers).
🔍 Need an agent? Clever can match you up with knowledgeable local realtors
4. Honesty and transparency
While real estate agents must abide by a code of ethics or state laws, there are still some bad apples in the industry.
Here are a few ways to gauge whether you’re in the hands of an honest, trustworthy professional:
- Commission: The agent should disclose their commission and any other fees (and explain what it covers). Realtor commission is negotiable, so watch out for agents who tell you otherwise.
- Expectations: No agent can guarantee that your home will sell at a sky-high price or that you’ll have a stress-free transaction. Good agents don’t make promises and set reasonable expectations.
- Experience: Watch out for agents who misrepresent their experience or credentials, like how many homes they’ve sold. An agent’s online information should match up with what they tell you.
- References: Transparent agents can provide you with the contact information for several past clients for you to contact.
» LEARN: How to negotiate commission and save on fees
How to pick a realtor for your situation
Maximum savings | Selling to buy | First-timers | Relocation | Foreclosures
Your situation as a home buyer or seller may determine what qualities are most important when you’re trying to pick a real estate agent.
Below you’ll find the advice we gleaned from experts on what to do if you’re in one of these common situations.
Whether you’re buying or selling a home, working with an agent-matching service (AMS) is a great option if you don’t have an agent picked out yet.
AMS’ match you up with top-rated local agents based on your needs as a home buyer or seller. They’re 100% free to use, and some offer significant commission savings.
We recommend Clever Real Estate, which matches you with top local agents and pre-negotiates a low 1.5% listing fee. In other words, you get the same full-service realtor experience for about half the typical rate.
Selling to buy
54% of people use the same realtor to buy a new home and sell their old one, but this approach only makes sense if you’re buying and selling in the same area.
Your listing agent might be willing to offer a commission discount since they’ll get two paychecks instead of one.
But first, check to see if the agent has experience helping clients sell and buy at the same time – they need to be super organized and pay close attention to detail to manage both deals.
First-time buyers or sellers
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.
If you’re planning to relocate, look for an agent who can help you with stressful moving tasks, like hiring movers, and someone who knows how to close a deal in your absence.
For buyers: It’s smart to look for agents who are tech-savvy and can provide you with virtual tours if you’re unable to view homes in person.
For sellers: You’ll need an agent who is super-trustworthy since you’re handing them the keys to your house. They’ll be responsible for showing your home to buyers in your absence.
Buying a bank-owned property takes a lot more patience and homework than buying from a homeowner, and it can be a lengthy, stressful process.
Aim to pick an agent with extensive real estate owned (REO) experience, including helping buyers purchase government-owned properties (HUD, VA, and USDA foreclosures).
How to choose a realtor: FAQs
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
Why you should trust us
Our mission is to provide accurate, actionable, and practical information you can use to make better decisions on your real estate journey.
To create this guide, we interviewed realtors, real estate investors, and experienced home buyers and sellers to find out how to choose the best real estate agent.
We also poured over hours of training videos from major brokerages like Coldwell Banker and Keller Williams to learn more about how top agents are trained to interact with potential customers in the field.
About the authors
Steve Nicastro is a real estate agent, investor, and personal finance writer based in Charleston, South Carolina. While working as a full-time agent between 2020-21, Steve closed 19 transactions totaling $6 million in volume, helping both buyers and sellers.
During his time as a full-time agent, Steve shadowed several top-producing agents in the Charleston, S.C. market, learning the ins and outs of the business – including how home buyers and sellers choose which realtor to work with.
Andrew Whytock contributed to this article. Andrew spent hours interviewing realtors, real estate investors, and experienced home buyers and sellers to find out how to choose the best real estate agent. He’s written dozens of other guides to educate homeowners.
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.
How to Sell Your Home – The Ultimate Guide: Learn everything you need to know about the home selling process, from start to finish, to get ready for your big sale.
What Does a Real Estate Agent REALLY Do?: Learn what the agent’s key responsibilities include for both sellers and buyers.
Realtor Fees: Who Pays the Commission and How Much Is It?: Wondering how much realtor fees cost? This guide explains what you’ll pay (and how to get discounts) when working with a realtor.
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