What First-Time Homebuyers Should Look for in a Real Estate Agent

Choosing the best one involves more than just asking around

Real estate agent showing a house
Photo:

Hispanolistic / Getty Images

Purchasing a home can be a daunting experience, especially if you’ve never done it before. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, a real estate professional can serve as your guide throughout the process, from start to finish. When you work with a real estate agent, they can help you compare homes, choose one that best meets your needs, negotiate a reasonable price, and navigate all the paperwork. Here’s what to look for when searching for the real estate agent who's right for you.

Key Takeaways

  • You can find a good real estate agent by consulting friends and family, searching the internet, looking at contact information on “For Sale” signs in your target neighborhoods, and attending open houses.
  • Look for a real estate agent who is licensed, is a good communicator, knows your target area, and has experience selling the types of homes you want to buy.
  • Interview three or four agents before making your choice, specifically seeking out those with experience guiding first-time homebuyers.

How To Find a Potential Real Estate Agent

When you’re a first-time homebuyer looking for a real estate agent, the first place to start is your friends, family members, and acquaintances. People you know can be valuable sources of referrals, especially if they’ve recently purchased a home. Ask recent homebuyers about their experiences with their agents. Were they satisfied with the service they received? Would they use that agent again?

Of course, your search shouldn’t end there. A second good resource is the internet. Use a search engine to find real estate agencies, then phone those agencies to get referrals to agents. If you’re seeking out a Realtor—these agents are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR)—you can use the National Association of Realtors’ lookup tool.

Another way to find an agent is to drive around the neighborhoods you’re interested in and contact the individuals whose names appear on “For Sale” signs. You can also meet agents by visiting open houses in neighborhoods where you want to buy.

Once you’ve done your research, you should have a list of three or four possible agents. If you want to learn more about them, look for reviews on social media sites such as Facebook and Yelp, and on real estate sites such as Zillow and Realtor.com, specifically looking for those who have helped guide first-time homebuyers in the past.

Note

While online reviews can be helpful, they’re not always objective. Many are overly positive since they've been solicited directly by agents from their customers.

What To Look for in a Real Estate Agent

To find a good real estate agent, you need to know what characteristics are important. Here are some qualities to look for:

  • Active license and in good standing: You can check the status of an agent’s license at your state’s real estate regulatory department.
  • Experienced at working as a real estate agent for homebuyers: As a first-time homebuyer, you need someone experienced in all phases of the homebuying process.
  • Knowledgeable about your target areas: The agent should have experience working in the geographic area that interests you. They should know the neighborhoods, its price ranges (both listing and sales), and the types of homes that are available.
  • Good communication skills: Your agent should be a good communicator. They should listen to you and understand what you’re looking for.
  • Membership to a homebuyer search service such as the Multiple Listing Service: Your agent needs a source of the latest listings.

Note

Get prequalified by a lender before you start looking for a real estate agent. A prequalification letter states that the lender will extend you a certain loan amount if your offer is accepted by the seller.

What To Say When Contacting a Real Estate Agent

Now it’s time to conduct some interviews. Make a list of the questions you want to ask so your interviews are consistent.

Questions to Ask Prospective Agents

  1. How long have you worked as a real estate agent? Do you hold any specific designations?
  2. What neighborhoods do you focus on?
  3. Do you have experience buying the type of property I’m looking for?
  4. Do you work often with first-time homebuyers?
  5. Do you work alone or as part of a team?
  6. How often will you send me listings?
  7. What’s your strategy for helping me find the right home?
  8. Can you provide references?
  9. Why should I hire you rather than someone else?

Note

When seeking out a real estate agent, there’s often strength in numbers. A team arrangement may offer you more flexibility since more agents will be available to show you properties.

Sample Email

One way to connect with an agent for the first time is to send an email introducing yourself and outlining what you’re looking for. Your email should be short and sweet. Here’s an example:

My name is Maria Wannahome, and my husband and I are first-time homebuyers. We’re looking for a three- or four-bedroom house for us and our two children, ages 8 and 11, in the Eastbrook or Westtown neighborhoods of Happytown. We got your name from our friend Jim Hasahome, who said you did a great job helping him with his search last year. 

We’d love to meet with you in person. We’re available any evening after 6 p.m. on weekdays and between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekends. Our contact information is below. We hope to hear from you soon.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What should a real estate agent tell a first-time homebuyer about a home?

Your real estate agent should walk you through each property and point out its positive and negative features. If there are red flags, such as water stains on the ceiling, the agent should point them out. Your real estate agent should also serve as your step-by-step guide, from exploring first-time homebuyer programs to helping you navigate the purchasing process from the first offer through closing day.

How much commission does a real estate agent make?

A real estate commission is typically 5%-6% of the home sales price. It’s paid by the seller, and is usually split between the two agents (the buyer’s and the seller’s).

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Sources
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Association of Realtors. “When Is a Real Estate Agent a REALTOR?

  2. Consumer Federation of America. "Choosing a Real Estate Agent: An Evaluation of Information Sources About Quality of Service," Page 5.

  3. California Desert Association of Realtors. “How To Choose the Right Realtor for You?

  4. Hudson River Community Credit Union. "Complete Guide to the First-Time Homebuying Process."

  5. ​​Consumer Federation of America. "The Relationship of Residential Real Estate to Industry Structure and Culture," Page 3.

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