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Choosing the Right Realtor

Updated on June 1, 2011


In today’s real estate environment, it is more important than ever to find the right Realtor to help you sell your house fast and for the best possible price. Not all Realtors are created equal. You have to find one who is knowledgeable, experienced, competent, and has a proven track record. The Realtor must treat you with respect, honesty, and be someone who you will be comfortable working closely with over an extended period of time.

Choosing a real estate agent is easy. Choosing the right real estate agent, however, may take a little time and effort. What follows is an easy to follow three-step plan to help choose a Realtor that will be right for you.

Step One: Do Your Homework

Your best resource is going to be people you know and, more importantly, people whose opinions you value and trust. Reach out to friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, and acquaintances. Ask them if they, or someone they know and trust, have employed the services of a Realtor in the last two to three years. Ask them about their experiences. Buy a notebook, and take good detailed notes! Ask them what the Realtor did that they liked and didn’t like. Ask them if they would use that Realtor again. Ask them to give the Realtor a letter grade.

The goal during this phase is to compile an initial working list of maybe fifteen to twenty names. The Realtors that people you trust have used and would use again are going to be at the top. If, after doing this, you don’t have enough names, then you will need to expand your search circle. Start with your local newspaper and the internet. You want a Realtor that has a strong presence in both areas.

Most newspapers have a dedicated real estate section on Saturday or Sunday with hundreds of ads. At first glance, it will seem like the ads are for houses that are for sale. Don’t think of them that way. Instead, think of them as ads for Realtors advertising their services, and inspect them with a critical eye. If the houses in the various ads were your house, would you be satisfied? How are the pictures? Does the description of the house entice you? Is it well written? Is the ad big enough to stand out? Does it have good placement? Does the agent project professionalism through the ad? Look for trends. Which Realtors are getting the best placement?

Pull the name and information of the Realtors from the paper that look promising and check out their websites. Look at it with the same critical eye that you used for the newspaper ads. Imagine that your house is for sale on the Realtor’s site. Would you be satisfied with the website’s look and layout? Are their multiple high-quality pictures? Is their a virtual tour? Is the site user-friendly and does it have good information for perspective buyers regarding schools and neighborhoods?

Open Houses

Another great way to see Realtors in action is to go to Open Houses in your neighborhood.  Remember you are not there to see the house; you are there to see the agent in action.  Show up a few minutes early.  Is the Realtor set up and ready to go, or is he/she scrambling at the last minute to get things in order?  Are there signs up throughout the neighborhood notifying potential buyers who might be driving around where the house is?  Does the Realtor look professional, and do they have professional looking printed materials?  How does the agent greet you?  Is there a sign-in sheet to capture potential buyers’ information?  Ask a lot of questions about the house and the neighborhood.  Make sure the Realtor knows their stuff.  When you leave, write down your notes about the Realtor in your notebook.  Write down your likes and dislikes.  Give the Realtor a letter grade.

A good Realtor will follow-up later in the day or the next day with a phone call or e-mail to all potential buyers who attend an Open House.  This is important.  You want a Realtor who is thorough and does everything they can to make sure no potential buyers slip through the cracks.  But at the same time, you do not want one who comes across as pushy and too “salesy” because that will turn potential buyers off.  It is a fine line.  Use your judgment.

Also, look at the house with a critical eye.  It is part of the Realtor’s job to make sure that the homeowner gets the house into proper showing condition.  This means that it is clean and clutter-free.  At first you may not think so, but how the house shows is a reflection on the Realtor.  Ultimately the condition is the responsibility of the homeowner, but a good Realtor will do their best to make sure the house shows well especially on the day of an Open House.

Further Reading

Step Two: The Interview Process

By now you should have a good working list of fifteen to twenty Realtors.  Look over your notes.  Which agents received the highest grades and best recommendations?  Try to put the agents in order from top to bottom.

Now you want to interview at least three agents face to face in the house you plan to list.  Suzanne Dickson, who has been in the industry for thirteen years, is a broker with Windermere Realty Partners in Portland, Oregon.  She thinks it is important to talk to three agents because it “will help you to learn more about the personality of each Realtor as well as how comfortable you are with their suggestions.”

When calling to set up your interviews, if an agent doesn’t respond to you promptly, you should consider this a red flag and probably move down your list to the next one.

While you are talking to the Realtor, pay close attention and take good mental notes because right after they leave you are going to want to write down your impressions in your notebook.  Was the agent on time?  How did they present themselves?  Did they know what they were talking about, and did they answer all of your questions?  Write down what you liked and didn’t like.  Again, give the Realtor a letter grade this time based on appearance, presentation, and knowledge.

When you are talking to the agents, keep in mind that you are interviewing them.  Imagine that they are applying for a job.  What makes them uniquely qualified to sell your house?  Make sure they are in touch with the local market, know it well, and can communicate their experience and expertise.

According to Dickson you want to find out how long the Realtor has been in business and make sure that selling real estate is their full time job not something they do on the side.  Be weary of an agent that is too green.  The sale of your house should not be a training ground.  At the same time, someone who has been at it too long could be complacent, set in their ways, and unwilling to adjust to changing times and new technologies.  You are going to have to use your best judgment.

Dickson also recommends finding out how many homes the agent sold the previous year, and how the market time for those homes compares to the average “days on market” for similar homes in your area.  Dickson suggests asking how close the actual sales prices were to the original listing price.

Questions to Ask

It is also important to find out how the Realtor is going to market your home. Dickson says to, “Make sure the agent is going to create a personalized marketing plan that will maximize exposure of your home to potential buyers.” You also might want to find out if the Realtor is willing to put their marketing plans in writing.

Dickson also notes that a good Realtor will stay educated, current, and in tune with the ever changing world of mortgage financing. “There are many programs available to help promote a property to buyers varying from interest rate buy downs to down payment assistance programs. Utilizing those resources and being familiar with them is often the difference as to whether a buyer is able qualify [for a mortgage] or not.”

Dickson also says to find out about the Realtor’s organization. Does the company have a good support system in place to assist with transaction coordination, technology, and access to resources? It could be a red flag if a Realtor works alone with no assistant or support staff.

You also want to find out what the Realtor charges for their services. Ask about commissions and fees. Make sure you completely understand this part of the process. Understand your rights and obligations. Ask for a copy of the contract or “listing agreement”. Read it. Know that it has legal ramifications. Consult an attorney if you have questions.

It is okay to negotiate the commission rate. Keep in mind though that it could be a red flag if a Realtor is immediately willing to slash their commission. Sometimes it is true that you get what you pay for. Also, ask for references of people whose houses that they have sold recently.

Each Realtor should bring examples of marketing pieces that they have put together for other listings. You should also ask them to walk-through the house and make any suggestions that they feel would help get the house into “showing condition”.

Ask about the showing process. Who takes the appointments? How does the Realtor gather feedback after the showing?

"I will get you a gazillion dollars for this house!"

A good Realtor will show up to your house prepared. They should have done their homework and provide you with recent sales of comparable houses in the area. Be weary of a Realtor who tries to “buy your listing” which means someone who falsely inflates their estimation of the value of the home in order to impress you in order to get your business. Be realistic. As a homeowner, you should already have a good ballpark idea of what your home is worth. Remember you want honesty from your Realtor. You are hiring someone for his or her expertise and candor. You want someone who is willing to look you in the eye and tell you what they think. Not someone who just tells you what you want to hear.

After interviewing three Realtors, you should have a feel for who you think is right for you. If you are still not sure, go back to your list and continue interviewing.

Choosing the Right Realtor

When you have finally narrowed it down and have found the Realtor who you think is right for you, there are still a couple of things to do before signing a contract.

Check the references that the Realtor gave you.  Do they hold up?  Verify as much information that you can.  Finally, just to make sure you did not miss anything, call the local Board of Realtors, State Real Estate Commission, and/or the local Better Business Bureau, and ask if the Realtor you are considering has had any complaints and/or judgments filed against them.

Assuming no red flags pops-up from your calls, then contact the Realtor and tell them that you would like to set up another appointment to go over the paperwork.  As part of the agreement, you may want to ask the Realtor to put their marketing plan in writing.  You should also establish how much communication you expect from the Realtor once the listing goes active.  It is not unreasonable to expect the Realtor to communicate with you either via phone or e-mail at minimum once a week with updates regarding marketing efforts, showings, and feedback.  The Realtor should also keep an eye out for any new listings that come on the market in the neighborhood or any price adjustments of current listings.


Choosing the right Realtor is one of the most important decisions that you can make.  Do your homework, your due diligence, and don’t cut corners.  If you follow the steps, you will likely find a great Realtor to help you sell your house, which in the long run can make a difference of thousands of extra dollars in your pocket.


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