How to choose a real estate agentRecently I chatted with a lovely woman who is looking to sell her home outside of Silicon Valley and purchase a replacement one here in the San Jose area.  She has met a lot of real estate agents whom she likes.  They all appear competent, experienced, and trustworthy.  Since she is comfortable with all of them, how is she going to be able to pick just one to list her home and one to buy the new one here?

This does happen sometimes!

I have a few suggestions.

  1. Ask where these agents have been working with buyers and sellers.  It is NOT necessary that the agent be experienced in one particular subdivision or small neighborhood, but it is helpful if he or she has sold in the zip code where you want to buy or sell.  Give priority to sales in the same zip code or general area.  You can ask for a list of their sales.  This is easy for them to generate from the MLS.
  2. Is the agent active in your home type and price point?  This matters too!
  3. Did you get the agent’s name via a reference from someone you trust?   Is that person making the referral either in the business or is that person a past client of the one being referred? If so, give priority!
  4. Where does the Realtor’s client base come from?  Repeat and referral business is a good sign.  There are agents who just churn through business or who get a lot from marketing (ads in the paper, postcards etc.) but whose clients don’t come back for more.  That’s a clue or red flag – pay attention.
  5. Does the agent make ongoing training a priority?  Taking the time and spending the money on classes, with or without a designation, means that you have a true professional who’s dedicated to doing his or her best.  That would rank high in my book!
  6. What is the plan?  A listing agent will have a marketing plan. A buyer’s agent may be watching the mls diligently, but may also be networking and doing other things to find the ideal home.  Ask what will be done if he or she is hired.

A few common mistakes I see that I would like to caution against:

  1. Please be careful of fast talkers who cannot back up promises with any kind of proof (such as testimonials from happy clients)
  2. Hiring the #1 sales person may seem like a good idea (more sales, more experience, right?) but sometimes that person is stretched too thin to stay on top of all of it.   So ask about systems, the team, etc. to make sure you understand who will do what if you hire that person or team.
  3. Hiring a friend or relative: sometimes consumers will automatically choose OR automatically rule out friends and family.  Either extreme can be a mistake.  Instead, do a little digging.  Realize that some relationships will do fine if the business layer is added, some will actually deepen, and some may be damaged.  Don’t assume that it’s always or never a bad idea to hire the friend or relative.  (“Easy answers” can get anyone into trouble.)

You can go crazy with interviewing too many people, but it is wise to talk to 3-4 or maybe even 5 agents, from different companies, to get an idea of the services offered and so on.   If you overwork it, you may get stuck on Step Number 1 and never advance to your goal of buying or selling, or find yourself doing more of the work than is needed since you are unable to find a real estate professional upon whom you can rely.  Be careful not to over-analyze.  In most cases, you can move ahead with an agent and if it doesn’t work, change course later.  With a listing, you may have to wait awhile (though many people, myself included, offer an “easy exit” listing agreement).  It’s simpler to switch buyer’s agents, most of the time.




  • Mary Pope-Handy

    Silicon Valley Realtor, selling homes in Los Gatos, Saratoga, San Jose, Silicon Valley, and nearby since 1993. Prolific blogger with a network of sites.

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