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How to Find a Real Estate Agent

When you’re buying or selling a home, finding a real estate agent you trust is one of your most important decisions. After all, they can make or break your home-buying or home-selling experience!

But you really can’t afford to hire an agent who’s winging it. You’ll want a seasoned professional who’ll do the job right. So, let’s go over exactly what to look for in a real estate agent and how to find one.

5 Steps to Find a Great Real Estate Agent

Some parts of the real estate world, like picking out the perfect color scheme and cabinet pulls for a kitchen remodel, are more fun and personal—but finding a real estate agent is more straightforward. To feel confident when it comes to finding the best agent to help you buy or sell your home, follow these five steps:

  1. Learn the basics about real estate agents.
  2. Make sure you’re ready to buy or sell.
  3. Narrow down your requirements.
  4. Ask for referrals.
  5. Interview multiple real estate agents.

Let’s break down each of these steps!

1. Learn the basics about real estate agents.

Before you take any steps to find a real estate agent, you should spend some time learning what to expect from one. That way, you’ll be totally prepared and you won’t run into any surprises along the way. Here are a few important topics to dig into:

What Do Real Estate Agents Do?

Real estate agents do a lot. Think of them first and foremost as your guide through all the complicated tasks that lead up to closing day. Plus, research from the National Association of REALTORS® says you’ll sell your house for more money with an agent than by selling it solo.1

Many real estate agents will help anyone buy or sell a home, but some agents specialize in either buying or selling. Either way, a quality agent will help you out.

For example, a good buyer’s agent will help you…

  • Find a home for sale in your price range
  • Research neighborhoods for best fit
  • Attend open houses and showings
  • Make a competitive offer within your budget
  • Negotiate the contract, handle the home inspection
  • Gather all the paperwork that’s due on closing day

And a good seller’s agent (or listing agent) will…

  • Help you pick the right price for your home
  • Arrange for a home inspection
  • Plan how to stage your home for buyers
  • Create a marketing strategy to find buyers
  • Help you pick the right offer
  • Negotiate the best deal
  • Walk you through the closing paperwork

REALTORS® vs. Real Estate Agents

The word REALTOR® is often mistakenly used to refer to any real estate agent. But not all real estate agents are REALTORS®. REALTORS® are real estate agents who join a professional group called the National Association of REALTORS®, which gives them extra training and tools to do their jobs.

If your real estate agent isn’t a REALTOR®, there’s no reason to freak out. All licensed real estate agents must complete hours of coursework and pass an exam to legally help you buy or sell a home.

The Difference Between a Real Estate Agent and a Broker

A real estate broker is the next level up from an agent. After an agent gets their real estate license, they’re required by the state to work under a broker. A broker (also called an associate broker in some states) manages and mentors new real estate agents—who, in return, pay the broker a fee. Whether you’re buying or selling, you’ll probably communicate mostly with an agent rather than a broker.

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2. Make sure you’re ready to buy or sell.

Next, you need to take some important steps to make sure you’re financially ready to buy or sell. Here’s what that should look like for buyers and sellers:

If You’re Buying:

  • Know how much house you can afford. Set a monthly housing budget that’s no more than 25% of your take-home pay—including principal, interest, property taxes, insurance, and homeowners association (HOA) fees. Our free Mortgage Calculator can help you see which home prices and down payments fit your budget.
  • Save for a down payment. Ideally, you want to save a down payment of at least 20% of the home price to avoid paying for private mortgage insurance (PMI). PMI is insurance that covers your lender (not you) if you stop making mortgage payments. If you’re a first-time home buyer, a smaller down payment of 5–10% is okay too, but you’ll have to pay PMI.
  • Get preapproved for a mortgage. mortgage preapproval speeds up the home-buying process. Your agent can show sellers a letter from your lender saying how much money you can borrow. That lets the seller know you’re serious and that you really can afford their house.

If You’re Selling:

Sellers, to know you’re ready to sell your house with a real estate agent, make sure these things are in order.

  • Make sure you have positive home equity. Basically, you want to make sure you’ll be able to sell your house for enough money to pay off your mortgage, have a big enough down payment for your next house, and pay the commission for your agent and the buyer’s (typically 5–6% of the sales price). To see how much equity you have, subtract the amount you owe on your mortgage from the current value of your home—which you can figure out by getting an appraisal or having an agent compare it to similar houses that sold in your area.
  • Plan for staging and moving expenses. Some people don’t realize that selling your house costs money. Sure, most costs are covered by the money you make from selling it. But you don’t want all that money to go to waste, so make sure you have some money set aside for staging your home, making repairs, and moving to your next house.
  • Know where you’re going to live next. Before you sell your house, you need to know where you’re going to live next! You especially want to be ready in case your home sells quickly. You don’t want to rush into a home you can’t afford or don’t really like just because you didn’t plan ahead. Also, if you’re moving far away, research the cost of living in your new area to make sure you can afford the lifestyle shift.

3. Narrow down your requirements.

There are a ton of agents out there, you guys. And while many of them are awesome at what they do, there are also plenty who aren’t. So, you need to make sure you find one of the good ones by considering things like:

  • Experience: Tons of new agents enter the real estate world each year. And while some of them get the hang of it quickly, that’s not a risk you want to take. That’s why I recommend looking for an agent with multiple years of full-time experience. You don’t want an agent who’s doing this as a side hustle in their spare time.
  • Credentials: Certifications and professional memberships signal that an agent works hard to be the best. You may want to look for an agent with credentials like: CRS (Certified Residential Specialist), ABR® (Accredited Buyer’s Representative), ASR® (Accredited Seller Representative), SRES® (Seniors Real Estate Specialist), or REALTOR®.
  • Familiarity With the Local Market: General real estate experience is good, but your agent also needs experience in your area. If you’re moving to Los Angeles, hiring someone who knows all about real estate in San Diego won’t do you much good. So, look for an agent who has closed a lot of homes in your area.
  • Good Customer Reviews: A real estate agent’s track record of helping previous clients can give you an idea how well they’re likely to perform for you. You want to make sure the agent you choose has a reputation for being excellent—and no, that’s not too much to ask.

4. Ask for referrals.

Okay, now you know who you’re looking for—time to start searching! The best place to start your search is getting referrals.

Find a trusted real estate agent we recommend in your area.

Not too long ago, that meant asking friends, neighbors or relatives for their recommendations. These days, though, you can use the internet to expand your search for referrals. By searching for local agents online, you can get great referrals and learn a ton about the pros in your area.

Another great option is using a referral program that vets agents for you. But you don’t just want to use the first program that pops up on a Google search—that’s a recipe for winding up with an amateur agent who simply paid for a spot on an online list. Instead, make sure you use a service that holds the agents they send you to a super high standard.

For example, the pros in our RamseyTrusted referral program didn’t get to join our network just by filling out a form and paying a fee. Nope, they’ve earned the right to be called RamseyTrusted by meeting qualifications like having several years of full-time experience and closing a high volume of home deals in their local area.

Best of all, connecting with a RamseyTrusted pro in your local area is free!

5. Interview multiple real estate agents.

Once you have some referrals, you need to interview multiple agents. Yep—I said interview. Now, I know this may push you outside of your comfort zone just a little bit, but it’s super important. Interviewing potential agents is how you make sure they meet the requirements you set in step 3.

And remember guys, this is a big deal! You want a true professional on your side, and so you’ve got to set the bar high. To get you started, here are some interview questions to ask:

  • How long have you been a full-time agent in this market?
  • How many homes do you close on per year?
  • How will you help me buy or sell a home in this market?
  • How will you communicate with me, and who’ll be my primary contact?
  • What sets you apart from other real estate agents?
  • What’s your commission fee?
  • Do I have to sign a contract with you, and can I cancel without a penalty?
  • Who can I contact for a reference? (Be sure to get previous clients on this list.)
  • How do you set realistic expectations for your clients?

Asking questions like these sends the message you’re serious about finding a real estate agent you trust. And the ones who aren’t worth your time will often back out on their own before you even have a chance to hire them. Great agents, on the other hand, will patiently and thoroughly answer your questions.

The Bottom Line

Chances are, you already know a few real estate agents who’d be happy to help you buy or sell a home. But with so much money on the line, it’s important to find the best agent for you.

That’s why you want to put in the work it takes to get the best of the best on your side. It will take more time and effort, but it will be so worth it, you guys! Don’t settle when you’re choosing an agent.


Next Steps

  • Find the RamseyTrusted pro(s) in your area.
  • Interview the agents you get matched with.
  • Choose the one that’s right for you, and get to house hunting!
Find an Agent

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, real estate agent fees are included in home closing costs. The commission fees are typically 6% of the home price. This commission is split in half—3% for the seller’s agent and 3% for the buyer’s agent. It’s common for the seller to pay for both agent commissions. In other words, working with an agent is usually free for the buyer—woo-hoo!

Most real estate agents are easily reached by phone or email. Our Endorsed Local Providers (ELP) program makes it super simple to find real estate agents who are RamseyTrusted and highly qualified to serve you with excellence. All you have to do is share some info about your home purchase or home sale, and then we’ll send you top agents in your area who you can trust. Hop on a call to ask the agents a few interview questions so you can choose the one you like best.

Yes, in most cases, you can switch real estate agents. The only time this gets tricky is if you’ve signed an agreement to work with the agent for a period of time. If the time period hasn’t ended yet and you changed real estate agents, that’d violate the agreement. But if you have a really good reason for ending the agreement early, talk it out with the agent. A good agent will likely let you break the contract in order to maintain a solid reputation in the community.

Yes, you’re allowed to negotiate the real estate agent commission. Keep in mind, commission fees are usually 6% of the home price. So if you’re going to try and knock them down in price, make sure you do your research and have a specific reason why. You’ll want to ask any questions you have about the commission early in the process before you sign any legal documents agreeing to pay your agent a specific amount.

Simply put, real estate agents help you buy or sell a house. The best ones work in real estate every single day as their full-time job. If you’re selling your home, a seller’s agent (also known as a listing agent) should help you with a bunch of things, like deciding on the right price for your home, arranging for a home inspection and guiding you on what to fix, planning how to stage your home for buyers, creating a marketing strategy to find buyers, helping you pick the right offer, negotiating the best deal, and walking you through the closing paperwork.

If you’re buying a house, a buyer’s agent should help you find a home for sale in your price range, research neighborhoods for best fit, attend open houses and showings, make a competitive offer within your budget, negotiate the contract, handle the home inspection, and gather all the paperwork due on closing day.

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Rachel Cruze

About the author

Rachel Cruze

Rachel Cruze is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, financial expert, host of The Rachel Cruze Show, and co-host of Smart Money Happy Hour. Rachel writes and speaks on personal finance, budgeting, investing and money trends. As a co-host of The Ramsey Show, America’s second-largest talk radio show, Rachel reaches millions of weekly listeners with her personal finance advice. She’s appeared on Good Morning America and Fox News and been featured in TIME, REAL SIMPLE and Women’s Health, among others. Through her shows, books, syndicated columns and speaking events, Rachel shares fun, practical ways to take control of your money and create a life you love. Learn More.

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