The search for a Realtor® used to be much less transparent. The options were essentially to attend open houses, ask your friend for a recommendation, or call up a brokerage office. Even in the early days of the internet, it was hard to find reliable data on a real estate agent’s abilities and whether past clients were happy with their services.
But as the 2000s progressed, real estate agent rating sites and online reviews started to crop up and become available. Then, companies like HomeLight made the search for a Realtor even easier and faster by introducing free agent-matching services that elevate top-of-market performers. And winnowing down the agent pool is a critical development; there are over two million active real estate licensees nationwide.
Agent matching programs are quick, accurate, and not to mention totally free to use, providing a 21st-century method to making a very important choice. It may be a no-brainer to use these tools in the year of 2021 and beyond, but to make sure you’ve done your homework, we’ve ranked the main ways to search for a Realtor from best to worst.
Side note: Real estate agent vs. Realtor®
A quick primer: A Realtor® is not exactly the same thing as a real estate agent, though there is a lot of overlap between those two job titles. A real estate agent is someone who’s been licensed by the state to help transact real estate and is usually also a Realtor®, but not always. A Realtor® is a member of the National Association of Realtors® and is almost always also a practicing real estate agent or broker. Real estate agent matching services are able to connect buyers and sellers with agents who have the Realtor® designation as well as those who don’t.
5 ways to find an agent in your area, ranked
Today it’s possible to find an agent online or in-person. Here we rank the approaches from what we believe to be the best to the worst options.
1. Use a free-agent matching service
An online agent matching service goes a step beyond providing a master list of agents for your area.
Here’s a rundown of how it works:
- Fill out a short questionnaire: A digital matching service needs to learn a bit about your situation and preferences to narrow down your agent search, such as your address, property type (single-family, condo, or townhome), value range, and your selling timeline.
- Run a query: From there, an algorithm instantly sifts through a deep database of local agents to surface top candidates with relevant experience for your type of sale.
- Crunch the data: By filtering by stats like how fast an agent sells homes, how much over list price their homes usually sell for, and what types of properties they specialize in, a matching program can surface a handful of qualified agents who check the critical boxes.
- Check reviews: The best programs, such as HomeLight, will also take into account qualitative factors like an agent’s specialties and reviews. For example, we can determine if an agent has waterfront experience if you’re selling a lakefront home or if someone is savvy with investment properties by identifying they’re specializations and certifications.
- Receive your matches: As soon as your matches are ready — you’ll receive communications (often email) — with a list of your recommended agents and a summary of their experience. From there you’ll have the opportunity to interview each agent and determine who you’d like to work with. You can request that each agent provide a comparative market analysis to find out their pricing strategy and hear an initial evaluation of your home.
This process saves you time while leading to a more effective search of the best local agents you can meet with.
You may be wondering, does it really make a difference if you work with a top agent versus one who seems friendly and experienced enough? Having matched over 1 million clients with top agents since we started our agent finder business in 2012, HomeLight can definitively say the answer is yes. According to our transaction data, the top 5% of agents sell homes for as much as 10% more on average.
For these reasons, we give agent-matching services a five-star rating as a method that combines convenience with precision, though we recommend working with an established company such as HomeLight to ensure your matches are legitimate and backed by data.
- Working with an agent-matching service is free, fast, and easy
- Narrow your agent search to top performers only
- Rule out anyone who isn’t directly familiar with your neighborhood
- Receive a handful of matches and pick your favorite
- Get easy access to the agent’s ratings and reviews
- Sell your home faster and for more money
2. Word of mouth
Whether you need a recommendation for a restaurant, dentist, or — since we’re on the topic — real estate agent — there’s something comforting about receiving one from a trusted family member or friend. In 2020, 41% of sellers who used a real estate agent found their agent through a friend or family member, making word of mouth a common way that people connect with agents in their community.
Getting a referral this way is typically a safer bet than doing a random Google search. At the very least, you know that someone in your circle worked with this person and had a good experience.
However, it’d be a fallacy to assume that a great agent match for one person will translate as the best outcome for you. Ideally, your real estate agent hire should be highly individualized.
For one, you’ll be spending a lot of time with this person over the next three to six months. Just because your aunt got along great with this agent, doesn’t mean you will. Beware of personality clashes.
Plus, a custom match could lead to a better sales experience. You want someone who specializes in your price point, property type, and neighborhood. So does the word-of-mouth rec know about the walking trails and coffee shops near your street or buyer trends of the neighborhood? Does their sales record show that they outperform other agents in the area?
You’ll want to vet out these considerations before you take anyone up on a personal referral.
- Word-of-mouth recommendations can work to find an agent
- Better than randomly picking an agent from an ad you see
- No guarantee that the agent is top of market
- Agent’s expertise may not be tailored to your needs
- May not share your same communication preferences
- One person’s opinion / no objective evaluation of the agent’s performance to go off
3. Attend open houses
Many people selling a home are also purchasing one at the same time, and some are relocating to a home within the same market or city. If you fall into this camp, you may be dropping into open houses on evenings and weekends in addition to preparing to sell your existing residence.
In these scenarios, the agent hosting the open house will be looking to connect with potential clients who haven’t already signed with a real estate agent. They will likely ask you if you’re already working with an agent and offer to provide services for you if you aren’t.
The benefits of this route are convenience (i.e. you’re not going out of your way to meet an agent, but encountering one in a real estate setting) and immediacy. You should be able to gauge the agent’s level of professionalism and communication style on the spot. You’ll have the opportunity to ask questions right then and there and see how well they know the area.
That said, there’s really no rhyme or reason to selecting an agent in an open house environment. You’re not picking them due to their performance or expertise necessarily, but simply because you were in the same place at the same time.
Being there in person, you may feel pressured to make an agreement, whereas when you receive information about an agent online, you can spend some time reviewing their experience before making a decision. For these reasons, we give this method two stars — one less than a word-of-mouth referral.
- You’ll naturally meet agents if you’re attending open houses
- An agent you encounter at an open house may be qualified to list your home, but it’s not a guarantee
- Avoid signing with an agent at an open house on the spot — go home and do some research first
- Not all agents hosting open houses will be top performers or experts in your market
4. Pick an agent from a brokerage you trust
Every market usually has a real estate brand or two that has infiltrated the city to a point of instant recognition. These brands typically dominate for-sale signs from yard to yard and have a distinct color scheme that residents connect with the company.
It may be a local independent brokerage that does the most deals in your neck of the woods, though more than likely you’re familiar with the big box brands the likes of Keller Williams, Coldwell Banker, RE/MAX, or Century 21.
Seeing a certain real estate brand all the time can make it feel like the obvious choice when finding an agent.
While certain brokerages do offer better training and tools to their agents, it doesn’t always translate directly as a better listing experience because real estate agents are independent contractors, not employees.
So, the quality of the service you receive is going to depend more on the individual agent. Focus on what the agent brings to the table, rather than which office they’re part of, as you make your decision.
HomeLight recognizes the importance of the individual relationship between client and agent, and thus we surface the best agents from brokerages large and small across the nation. So going with an agent from your city’s most popular brokerage is a method to find an agent we can give only 2 stars.
- Saturation of certain real estate brands can influence your decision in hiring an agent
- Brokerages oversee agents who have a wide array of experience levels
- Being associated with a recognizable brokerage is no guarantee that an agent will be the best match for you
- Focus on the strengths of the individual agent, rather than the brokerage they work under
5. DIY search online
It’s possible to do a quick Google search for “top real estate agents near me” or to sift through endless names on an Agent Directory provided by sites like Zillow. But you may not be happy with the experience or outcome. Casting such a wide net in your search is risky; remember that there are hundreds if not thousands of real estate agents in your market alone. Whittling that pool down is tough if you don’t have the right filters for sorting.
It’ll also be tough to get the full picture. Let’s say you’re able to see that an agent has a ton of listings, but it’s unclear if any have been within a few-mile radius of your home. In that case, will they bring enough local knowledge to the table? Or what if an agent has an impressive transaction tally — but none happened within the past 12 months? With our Agent Profiles and unique algorithm, HomeLight does this parsing for you and presents you with the exact information you need to make a decision.
We rank this as the worst way to find an agent. One star only!
- Today you can’t measure agent quality based on whether someone has a website; an online presence is table stakes
- Agent directories are not the same as agent-matching services. Without the element of matching, your search will take longer and be error-prone
- With real estate being such a popular business, you’re casting too wide a net with a DIY online search
Good luck in your search for a Realtor®!
Selling a home is no easy task. When you have so much going on, it’s easy to hire the first agent you meet or find on the internet just to check one more step off the list. But now you really have no excuse not to work with someone qualified and perfect for you — since companies like HomeLight can provide tailored and well-research recommendations for free.
And pretty please, don’t end up in a situation where an agent does not know how to close the deal, over prices your home, blows a negotiation, or keeps your home sitting on the market for way too long. We call that a nightmare scenario. So, that said, whenever you’re ready, we’d be happy to connect you with an agent who won’t let you down.
Header Image Source: (Erik Mclean / Unsplash)