Selling a home is one of the most important financial transactions in your life. But if it’s your first time selling, or if it’s been a while since you’ve dipped your toes into the deep end of the real estate market pool, you may wonder… where do I begin?
Luckily, you don’t have to dive in alone. This is where enlisting help from a top real estate agent comes in handy. According to HomeLight’s data, the top 5% of real estate agents across the U.S. sell homes for as much as 10% more than the average real estate agent. Based on a median home value of $243,225, that 10% amounts to an extra $24,323!
“This is the biggest asset that most people have. It’s gonna be the biggest sale that they ever have. It’s important that they get the best representation when they’re going to do that,” shares Mark Boyland, a top real estate agent in Scott’s Corner, New York, who’s ranked in the top 1% of real estate agents in the Hudson Gateway Multiple Listing System since 1995.
But with over 1.5 million real estate agents in the U.S., picking the right agent can feel, well, overwhelming. To help simplify the process and guide you through a smooth, profitable, home-selling experience, we’ve vetted expert advice from top real estate professionals and created this 10-step guide to picking your perfect agent.
Step 1: Compare agents online
There’s no shortage of online resources for researching agents. But how can you ensure you’re choosing a top agent?
An easy way to find highly rated agents in your area is HomeLight’s free Agent Match Tool. Our matching platform analyzes over 27 million transactions and considers an agent’s specialties and certifications, their years of experience, and their successful home sales in your neighborhood. Each agent is at the top of their field, so you can be confident that they’ll help you maximize your profit.
Each suggested agent is proven to outperform other agents in their area for properties similar to yours by measurable factors including:
- High volume of home sales in your price range
- High sale-to-list price ratio
- Lower than average days on market
- Top-rated client reviews
Once you’ve selected a few agents online, scope out their website, social media, reviews, property listings, and more to see how they professionally market themselves. Their online presence may also provide a further look into their personality, and show whether they’re using current technology and trends.
For a deeper dive, Google the agent’s name and read additional reviews wherever you can. Notice which positive qualities are mentioned repeatedly and see how the agent responds to any negative reviews.
Step 2: Get referrals from a trusted source
In a 2021 survey, the National Association of Realtors concluded 68% of sellers found their agent through referrals by family and friends, and another 53% stuck with an agent they had previously used when selling or buying a home.
So, do you know of any family, friends, or colleagues who have recently used an agent to successfully sell their house? What about anyone through your social network? Maybe they worked with an agent on your list and you can score a first-hand recommendation.
Step 3: Rule out agents with red flags
The best way to avoid working with a bad real estate agent is to spot any red flags from the get-go. Keep a lookout for these telltale signs:
Limited sales experience or vague results
Choose a real estate agent with a few years of experience and who’s completed a fair number of transactions per year relative to your market.
“You really should be looking for an agent who is doing at least a transaction a week,” says Boyland. “They should be selling 50-plus houses a year because then you know that person has made a serious commitment to real estate. They’re going to have systems in place and are going to have staff. They’re going to have marketing. They’re going to have a budget.”
Mediocre marketing skills
To give your home the attention it deserves, you want an agent who nails marketing. While researching agents, pay close attention to how they market their online listings. According to the NAR, 44% of recent buyers’ first step to the homebuying process was looking for properties online, and 52% of buyers found the home they ended up purchasing on the internet.
“I think the most important things for the home itself are photography and staging,” says Karen Kinder, a top-rated real estate agent with over 20 years of experience helping sellers and buyers throughout the greater Toledo, Ohio, area. Kinder adds that a little staging and professional photography can make a significant difference in leveling up a seller’s home.
When real estate is their side job
A part-time agent may be juggling more responsibilities (like a second job). If you’re hoping to sell quickly, a part-time agent may not have the time availability a full-time agent can provide.
In addition, a part-time agent may lack the experience and skills to land the best price for your home.
Too pushy and has an agenda
“Connecting with your agent is really important as far as, ‘this is someone I feel I can trust,’” says Kinder.
You should never feel uncomfortable working with your agent, and you shouldn’t feel pressured into making a decision.
Unfamiliar with your market
Agents who haven’t sold in the area for long may lack insider knowledge about the surrounding market that seasoned agents can provide. Agents who have sold in the area for a while also usually have connections (reputable inspectors, contractors, etc.)
You need an agent with fine-tuned negotiation skills to be your advocate in price, and in helping you sort through multiple offers on the table.
“Going back and helping the seller select which offer and negotiate with that particular offer is a really important step because there’s so many features in the offers besides just price,” advises Kinder.
These features could include negotiating closing costs, timelines, home warranties, or other stipulations.
You’re sensing lies (or half-truths)
A good real estate agent should never mislead or lie to you, or knowingly hold back information. Even if the agent looks great on paper, if something just doesn’t feel right, it probably won’t get better. Trust your gut!
Overly eager to please
A good agent will be transparent and realistic, offering their professional advice on the best course of action even if it’s not what you were expecting or hoping to hear.
For example, you may have a certain price you’re hoping to list your house for, but that dollar figure is much higher than what the comparable data shows. Some eager-to-please agents will agree to list it that way even though the higher price will delay the sale, and you’ll eventually need to allow the buyer to negotiate down.
An agent who knows the local market can help you decide on a price that’s fair and profitable… yet won’t leave your house sitting on the market for months.
Step 4: Decide what’s important to you before you engage
What do you really want out of a real estate agent? Before setting up interviews, consider what’s most important to you.
Maybe communication is a key factor? Do you prefer to chat on the phone, or text/email? Hoping to sell ASAP? A quick response time might be high on your list. Do you prefer an agent who’ll take the reins through the selling process, or do you want to be more hands-on?
Step 5: Do advance in-person reconnaissance if you can
Try taking a gander through your neighborhood for real estate agents selling in your area. Next, consider which of these agents have “Sold” signs, and which don’t.
If you come across an open house, use it as an opportunity to look inside and chat with the agent. How do they make you, a potential buyer, feel? Are they personable? Professional? Do they know a lot about the home they’re selling? Would you want them to sell your home?
Step 6: Interview at least three real estate agents to get the real deal
Online research is incredibly useful, but the best way to choose a real estate agent is to speak to them directly. Through conversation, you can get a feel for important qualitative qualities like honesty and friendliness, as well as a sense of chemistry between your personalities and communication styles.
When preparing for interviews, write out questions addressing your biggest concerns. Then set up a quick 15-minute phone call or in-person interview. In the interview, you can open the conversation by covering the basics about your home, including:
- Specific location
- Square footage
- Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
- Condition (briefly touch on recent remodels, necessary repairs)
- Unique features such as large acreage, pool, guest house, finished basement, etc.
Once you’ve hit the facts, share your aim for your home sale. Let the agent know if you need to sell your home in a specific timeframe or for an absolute minimum amount. From there, lead into your interview questions. Here are six to get you started:
How long have you been working as a real estate agent?
“Experience is really important,” advises Kinder. “There are bumps in the road occasionally that you have to get through, and as a real estate agent you have to know how to guide your people through that.”
Ideally, you want to partner with a real estate agent who has at least five years of experience selling homes. In this span, an agent will have deepened their understanding of the local market, encountered a range of unique situations, built a strong network, and developed effective selling strategies.
How well do you know the area?
Real estate is hyper-local. You want an agent who knows what it takes to compete for buyers’ attention in your market. The agent should tackle this question confidently and should be able to point out homes they’ve sold in your neighborhood or surrounding area.
What sets you apart as an agent?
This is an excellent question to see how the real estate agent is as a salesperson. This is their opportunity to give you an elevator pitch on why you should choose them over other agents.
How many clients do you represent at one time?
You’re listening for a Goldilocks response: too many clients and they won’t dedicate enough time to your home sale; while too few is a red flag.
What does your fee include, and is it flexible?
Some agents include the cost of services like moving and staging in their fee. In HomeLight’s Top Agent Insights: Q1 2019 Report, 75% of agents surveyed stated they’ve provided sellers with complimentary staging services. This added perk may just tip a tie-breaker situation.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge to selling my home?
This question tests for an agent’s honesty and humility. If your home is decked with popcorn ceilings and golden oak and the agent doesn’t address the remodeled competition, they may just be trying to flatter you.
Check out more agent interview questions and agent hiring tips here.
Step 7: Identify relevant certifications and specialties
Always ensure the agent you select has an active real estate license from your state of residence. You can perform a search on your candidate’s licenses through Arello, a real estate license verification database.
Next, cross-check the numbers with your state’s licensing division online to see when the license was issued and if there are any temporary suspensions or complaints on file. (All the agents in the HomeLight network that we’d connect you with must carry an active real estate license for their state).
Some real estate agents may also complete additional training to specialize in a particular transaction type. Keep an eye out for these certifications if they apply to your situation:
- Certified Residential Specialist (CRS): To become a CRS, real estate agents must meet minimum professional requirements, complete 16 to 30 hours of education, and take two-hour refresher courses each year after their certificate is granted.
- Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES): SRES agents complete a two-day training course on senior financing options, retirement planning, and communication to better serve the needs of retirement-aged homeowners.
- Seller Representative Specialist (SRS): To obtain an SRS certificate, real estate agents complete a two-day course on how to best protect sellers’ interest in transactions.
- Military Relocation Professional (MRP): These agents complete a one-day training course and two-hour webinar addressing relocating military families’ needs, timetables, and stressors.
Step 8: Ask the agent to share their selling strategy
Do you and the agent see eye-to-eye on selling strategy? To find out, consider asking the agent how they plan to market your property, what their estimated timelines are, and how they plan to conduct open houses.
Step 9: Review our “Final Agent Selection” checklist
Think you’ve found your agent? Do a final once-over to make sure your agent checks all the boxes.
Final Agent Selection Checklist For Home Sellers:
[ ] Is the agent licensed in my state?
[ ] Does the agent have additional training and/or certifications that could be beneficial for my circumstances?
[ ] Am I comfortable with the agent’s communication style?
[ ] Does the agent appear to have integrity, professionalism, and overall friendliness?
[ ] Are they familiar with my neighborhood and local community?
[ ] Does the agent have experience with my specific selling circumstances and needs?
[ ] Do they have a positive reputation in the community and online?
[ ] Has the agent built a professional local network if we need contractors?
[ ] Do they have proven and recent results? (sale-to-list price ratio and average days on market)
[ ] Are they an experienced negotiator?
[ ] Did the agent answer my questions clearly and to my satisfaction?
[ ] Did the agent give me an up-front quote in writing?
Step 10: Select your agent and sell your home
You’ve researched top agents online and through HomeLight’s free Agent Match Tool. You’ve compiled a list of names, interviewed at least three agents, and last but not least — ran through the final agent selection checklist. But maybe you’re still on the fence about which agent to choose. Kinder’s advice? Go with the person you trust.
“This is someone who’s going to come into your home,” says Kinder. “They’re going to help you with the biggest sale you’ve ever had, and you want to make sure that it’s somebody you’re confident with.”
And remember, if there comes a time along the home-selling path when you’re not 100% confident your agent is performing as expected or promised, don’t hesitate to take action.
“You have a contract with that particular real estate company, and that’s something you’ll have to review with the agent, the broker, and if all else fails — you may need to contact an attorney,” advises Kinder.
In the end, it’s your property you’re selling. You shouldn’t settle for anything less than the best.
Header Image Source: (Stanislav Kondratiev / Unsplash)