You’re finally ready to purchase your first home. What an exciting time! But first, you need to figure out how to find a buyer’s agent … and the search process isn’t as easy as you thought it would be. Why are there so many licensed agents? How do you tell the difference between them? It’s one of the biggest financial decisions you’ll make in your lifetime, and when you aren’t sure who’s going to be holding your hand, no wonder so many first-time homebuyers feel daunted.
You need the right person to handle this transaction. It might seem like a good idea to hire someone you know — like a family or friend who happens to have their real estate license — but that decision could be a disaster waiting to happen. You need an experienced and specialized professional: a buyer’s agent.
Working with just any real estate agent isn’t necessarily bad, but there is a difference between a regular agent and an exclusive buyer’s agent.
Oregon agent Ken Mucha, an Accredited Buyer’s Specialist who has worked with over 67% more single-family homes than the average agent in Culver, Oregon, emphasizes the importance of working with an exclusive buyer’s agent.
“I think the critical thing is that they’re more highly specialized and razor-focused in spending time and resources only with buyers to find them their dream home at the best possible price and terms,” says Mucha.
If you’re thinking of buying a home, and especially if you’re a first-time homebuyer, you need a professional who’s willing to jump into the trenches with you. We spoke with the experts and put together this guide on where and how to find a buyer’s agent who has your best interests at heart.
What is a buyer’s agent?
There are two sides to every real estate transaction — the buyer and the seller. Both sides are represented by a real estate agent who is hired to protect the client’s best interests and bound by fiduciary duties.
Some agents work with both buyers and sellers regularly, while others are more specialized and work with only buyers as buyer’s agents, or only sellers as listing agents. The buyer’s agent is a real estate professional who is legally licensed to only represent the buyer, while the listing agent helps the seller.
By using a buyer’s agent, there’s an elimination of conflict of interest, and exclusive buyer’s agents must disclose information to the buyer that affects the buyer’s best interests.
When a buyer and seller use agents at the same real estate brokerage, or the same agent period, this is known as dual agency, which is a common practice among real estate companies in some states, though it isn’t legal everywhere.
The problem with dual agencies
When one agent works for both the buyer and the seller (or two agents from the same brokerage work both sides of the deal) and that agent or brokerage receives commission from both sides of the transaction, however, it becomes a controversial subject. Dual agency is even illegal in several states.
The reason is that dual agency can create a conflict of interest. On one hand, the buyer who wants to pay as little as possible, while the seller wants to set the price of the home as high as possible. If the agent is representing both sides of the deal, whose interests should take precedence when it comes to negotiating price?
There’s also a stronger incentive for the agent to favor the seller in a dual agency situation; after all, the higher the price of the house, the higher the agent’s commission will be.
This is why it’s better to work with an agent who is negotiating on your behalf instead of one who’s laser-focused on getting the deal done and over.
10 ways to find a buyer’s agent
When you start your search for a top buyer’s agent, there are several sources you can use. It might be tempting to hire the first agent you find, but you need someone who has what it takes to get the job done.
Here are 10 different ways to find a buyer’s agent.
1. Use technology
Finding an agent can be overwhelming, but technological advancements have simplified this process. Instead of manually searching for a buyer’s agent, which can generate hundreds of results depending on where you live, technology can help you save time by matching you with qualified agents.
Platforms like HomeLight can evaluate your needs and then use an algorithm to screen the active agents in your area who have helped buyers in similar scenarios get amazing deals on their new house — and match you with them.
Be wary of any platforms that try charging you an upfront fee. Agent-matching platforms shouldn’t charge you anything as a buyer for introducing you to an agent.
2. Use their associations
There are several trustworthy and reliable organizations that have accreditations and certifications for agents who are trained to work with buyers.
The Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council, an official affiliate of The National Association of Realtors® (NAR), accredits agents as Accredited Buyer Representatives. This designation was designed specifically for agents who work directly with buyers.
RealNet Learning Services, a training and education company for residential real estate agents and brokers, offers an independent and nationally recognized Certified Buyer Representative designation to agents who are trained to help buyers in a real estate transaction. Agents who have gone through the Certified Buyer Representative program are up-to-date on current laws, resources, and best practices necessary to represent buyers.
There’s also an association of exclusive buyer’s agents, for agents who only work with buyers, called the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents, a nonprofit organization. NAEBA also offers a Certified Exclusive Buyer Agent (CEBA) credential program, which has been recognized as one of the most difficult certifications to obtain in the real estate industry.
3. Get a referral
You can always ask your friends or family which agents they used to buy their house. Brandi Snowden, Director of Member and Consumer Survey Research at the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), says if you’re looking for a buyer’s agent, the most common way is through referrals. “The top way is through referrals. Through friends, or family, or neighbors,” she says. According to NAR’s 2020 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 40% of buyers in 2020 used an agent who was referred to them.
Make sure you follow up with questions about what their experience was like with the agent. If they’re willing to share more information, such as loan type and down payment size, this will be even more beneficial.
You can also ask for agent referrals through the neighborhood social networking app NextDoor or on Facebook groups. A quick warning — you may get some unsolicited requests by agents to represent you after they see your post on social media.
4. Ask your lender or loan originator
Have you been preapproved for a home mortgage loan? Good job!
Knowing whether to speak to your lender or agent first can be a bit of a chicken or egg situation; however, your lender might have agents that they’ve worked with before whom they’d gladly recommend.
5. Do some driving where you want to buy
Do some driving around the area where you want to purchase a home and take note of any signs in yards. Which agents and which brokerages are on them?
Keep in mind that the agents you see on these signs are all listing agents, working with sellers, and they might not represent buyers at all. If you see a house you like, you’re better off not calling the agent on that particular house’s sign at all and seeking other representation to avoid a dual agency situation.
6. Dig into online reviews
Consumers increasingly use reviews from other consumers to influence their purchasing decisions. One bad review is enough to impact a business’ sales. In the real estate industry, reviews matter just as much.
Yelp, Facebook, and other platforms will have reviews for local agents. Do some research and see what other people are saying.
7. Find a brokerage first and ask them to help you out
Start with the brokerage first and look from there. Are there any brokerages in the local community? Is there a real estate business that supports community causes that are important to you?
Call two or three brokerage firms and ask to speak with the managing broker. Give them necessary information, such as:
- Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or a previous homeowner
- What kind of house you are looking for and your preferred neighborhoods
- Your price range
Ask for the names of a few buyer’s agents who best meet your needs.
8. Browse social media
Time to do a little digging! We mentioned NextDoor and Facebook groups, but you can use other social media platforms to find a buyer’s agent.
NAR reported that more than 74% of agents use social media for professional use. Agents interact with their audience and potential clients through social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even Pinterest, TikTok, and Clubhouse. You can narrow down your search by location through these platforms to find active agents in your area.
9. Use an online directory
An online directory is another great resource for finding buyer’s agents. Real estate listing portals will sometimes include an agent directory that you can browse. (HomeLight has one, too!)
Some portals are pay-to-play and agents can pay money to be bumped to the top of the directory list. Keep this in mind when doing your initial research.
10. Follow the ads
Still at a loss? Agents sometimes advertise their services online. Agents can run promotional ads through social media. Listing sites may also show agent ads by location when you browse homes for sale.
What happens after you find an agent?
You finally found a prospective buyer’s agent, so what now? You need to make sure this agent fits your needs, so it’s time to start asking questions to find out a little more about them.
“The majority of all buyers, and also first-time buyers, only interviewed one agent,” says Snowden. However, buyers should ideally interview a few agents to make a comparison and find the best match.
“When you’re interviewing agents, you definitely want to interview two or three,” says Mucha.
“When you’re talking to them, you want to ask yourself if they’re able to answer most of the questions that you’re asking.”
Ask the right questions
Make sure you’re evaluating them not just based on how many buyers like you they’ve helped, but also how you’ll feel about being in close contact with them for several months.
“Multiple things that I would recommend would be an agent who’s driven and determined, who shows excitement when they’re talking,” says Mucha.
He also recommends finding an agent who’s willing to give you their honest opinion, someone who has a vast knowledge of the neighborhood, and someone with a positive web presence. And most importantly — someone who gets results.
Here are some questions that you should ask your prospective agent:
- How long have you been an agent?
- How many homes do you help buyers purchase each year?
- Do you work full-time or part-time as a buyer’s agent?
- How many clients do you have now?
- What is the average length of time you work with buyers?
- Can I see your real estate license?
- Do you have any certifications or designations?
- Do you have references I can contact?
- Have you helped buyers in the same areas and within my same price range?
- How do you help buyers compete in this market?
- Do I need to sign a buyer broker agreement?
- How does your commission work?
Mucha also suggests paying attention to whether the prospective agent is listening more or talking more.
“I think it’s critical that you find somebody who is going to listen to your wants and needs more than just try to talk over you and just state how good they are,” he advises.
Work with your agent to find your dream home
If you find that you’re unhappy with your agent but you signed a buyer broker agreement, some may allow for conditional or unconditional termination. You may also terminate the contract if the agent breached contract terms or you can terminate with permission from your agent.
“Wait to sign the agreement until [you] know that they’re a really good fit, or find a buyer’s agent that doesn’t require [that you] sign an agreement,” says Mucha.
Now comes the fun part: working with your agent to find your dream home. However, it still requires a lot of work, and you need to tell your agent what you want. You need to make it clear how often you hope to communicate, your budget, your timeline, and any potential obstacles.
If you find an agent who gives you honest and realistic answers and makes you feel confident about your house hunting journey, these are good indicators that you’re on the right track!
Header Image Source: (Jalen Hueser / Unsplash)