How to Choose a Realtor to Sell Your Home

Steve Nicastro

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Steve Nicastro

May 18th, 2022
Updated May 18th, 2022

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✍️ About this guide: Clever interviewed several real estate agents and industry experts to complete our guide, and our advice is based on hundreds of hours of collective research. Here's why you should trust us.

Choosing a realtor to sell your home is one of the biggest financial decisions you'll ever make. Should you go with the agent your neighbor used, pick an agent from an online website, or let your friend help you?

We think you'll get the best results by interviewing 2-3 realtors from a pool of qualified candidates, comparing experience, communication skills, and responsiveness. Agent matching services, like Clever Real Estate, make it easy to connect with experienced listing agents in your area.

We've laid out steps to help you pick the right real estate agent to sell, including how to find and screen agents, and what to expect when an agent visits your home for an interview.


Key Takeaways

  • Agent matching services can connect you to good real estate agents at no cost, so it's your best starting point.
  • Screen realtors online before setting up interviews. Make sure they are full-time, experienced, and highly rated.
  • Meet with your top picks. Agents will tour your home, discuss the local market, their sales strategy and commission rate, and give you a free home value estimate.
  • Only sign a listing agreement if you fully understand the contract, and you're ready to move forward with an agent.

4 steps for choosing a realtor to sell your home

1. Find 2-3 real estate agents from a reputable source

Why it’s important: Starting with a good candidate pool saves you time, and dramatically increases your chances of choosing the right agent. Your goal is to pick the best real estate agent from a short-list of options.

How to do it: The fastest, easiest, and most effective way to find a real estate agent for most sellers is to use a free agent matching service, or to seek referrals from family and friends.

» JUMP: Deep dive on how to find a listing agent

2. Screen listing agents online

Why it’s important: Agents should hit your key criteria to even be worth considering. Pre-screening agents can save yourself (and the agent) a lot of time and hassle if it’s an obvious bad fit.

Where to look: Start with Zillow or Realtor.com, then check out the agent's website and social media pages (dig around to see where the agent is most active).

A simple Google search for their name + "real estate agent" or "realtor" should surface the information you need.

What to look for: Years of experience, recent sales activity, and client reviews are important criteria to screen online.

» JUMP: Deep dive on how to screen a listing agent

3. Set up interviews

Why it’s important: To test the agent's personality, communication style, and responsiveness before committing to an initial meeting.

How to do it: Call the agent to test their responsiveness. Try text or email if they don't answer your call (some agents use those methods more frequently).

What to look for: Is the agent responsive? Realtors aren't always available right away. But any agent who wants your business should get back to you in a timely manner (usually within 24 hours).

4. Host the agent at your house

Why it’s important: The purpose of interviewing real estate agents is to vet the agents experience, skills, and real estate knowledge in-person, and to see if they're a match.

Here's how it might play out:

  • The agent tours your home to view its condition and confirm its key features.
  • They'll recommend any potential pre-listing repairs or improvements to help with the sale.
  • Provide you with a home valuation report.
  • Present you with a detailed marketing plan to get your home sold.
  • Discuss their negotiation skills.
  • Address any of your needs, concerns or questions.

What to look for: The agent should show up prepared with relevant home sale information, provide you with an accurate home valuation report and potential listing price, and show you photos and videos from their current listings.

» JUMP: What to expect during a realtor interview

Still undecided? What to do next

  • Check the agent's real estate license status (it should be active)
  • Read the fine print of the listing agreement carefully, and call an attorney
  • Request the contact info for 5 or so past clients for reference checks
  • Call 1-2 past clients from the list to further vet your options

» JUMP: Back to the top

Choosing a real estate agent: An in-depth guide

Step 1: Find an agent

How you find prospective real estate agents matters. Sourcing is key: For the best outcome, you want to start with a list of strong options.

We think sellers should stick with trustworthy, efficient sourcing strategies. Start with agent matching services, followed by asking family, friends, or neighbors for references.

1. Agent matching services: Companies like Clever Real Estate learn about your situation and preferences, then match you with top real estate agents from name-brand brokerages (Keller Williams, Century 21, etc) based on your information.

Some companies also provide built-in commission savings, with no negotiating required on your end. For example, Clever pre-negotiates a $3,000 or 1% listing commission rate with agents (instead of the typical 3%).

Agent matching services are free with no obligation. It's at least worth trying out to see if you like any of the agents you're matched up with.

Try Clever's free agent matching service

Connect with top local agents now! Sellers get pre-negotiated discounted rates. Eligible buyers get cash back after closing. It’s 100% free with no obligation.


2. Family and friends: Ask around your personal network for a trustworthy and credible referral source, provided you know someone who recently sold a home in your area.

However, this approach won't net you any commission savings. There's also no guarantee the agent will be a good match (you still need to vet them carefully).

3. DIY online search: You can easily find hundreds of local realtors, and quickly view an agent's recent sales and reviews from past clients on sites like Zillow and Realtor.com.

But online realtor searches can be a hassle with mixed results, so we recommend other options instead.

» MORE: The best ways to find a real estate agent

Step 2: Screen agents before reaching out

  • Gauge whether the agent is full-time, active, experienced, and legit
  • Start with Zillow, you can find most of the info you need there
  • If the agent isn’t on Zillow or their profile is limited, a simple Google search for “their name + real estate agent” should surface the info
  • Check the agent's license to make sure it’s active with no complaints or lawsuits

Screen real estate agents online before contacting them. It prevents you from speaking to or meeting with an agent who isn't a good fit from the start.

Your goal is to pick the best 2-3 agents from a list of solid options. You may need to start with more candidates upfront to get the best results.

Zillow isn't always 100% up-to-date, but it's more user-friendly than competitor sites. It makes it easy to find relevant agent info fast, like recent home sales and customer reviews,.

However, some agents don't maintain, or even have, a Zillow profile. So you may need to do a little Googling to find each agent's personal website or most up-to-date profile.

The same goes for customer reviews. Zoom out a bit and check multiple platforms (Zillow, Google, Facebook, Yelp) to get the full picture.

How to screen realtors online

1. Check full-time vs. part-time status

Minimum: 10-20 deals in past 12 months
Ideal: 20-30 deals in past 12 months
Teams vs. individual agent: Clarify who you will be working with.

Real estate should be the agent's full-time business – not a side-hustle. A full-time agent will likely have more hands-on experience and be more responsive than a part-timer.

How to check it: While agents can lie and claim they are full-time, there are some signs to tell if an agent is truly full-time.

  • Full-time agents should be easier to reach. They usually answer calls and texts during working hours, since you're not competing with a side gig for their attention.
  • Full-timers have likely closed more than 10 deals in the past year or have multiple active listings.
  • The agent has an active social media presence, posting at least once or twice per week.

Teams vs. individual agents

Did you notice an agent with hundreds of home sales in the past year? It likely means they operate under a team structure and have agents working for them.

how to choose a realtor to sell

The lead agent acts as broker, and provides guidance, resources, and referrals to their team members, who actually handle the deals (offers, negotiations, and contracts).

Transactions may only close under the lead agent's name. That's how one agent has 165 sales in the past 12 months (they have 11 team members helping them).

Note: If you interview with a lead agent, you may get handed off to one of their team members. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the team leader is upfront about it - and the agent you get handed off to passes your minimum screening criteria.

2. Make sure the agent is active and successful

Minimum: 2-3 home sales within the past 3 months; 1-2 active listings.
Ideal: 3-4 home sales within the past 3 months; 2-3+ active listings.

Agents with a flurry of recent deals knows how to navigate the rapidly-changing real estate market better than someone who hasn't sold a home in 6 months or longer.

Screen agents with at least 2 home sales within the past 3 months, and at least 1 active listing. Home sales data and active listings make it easy to vet this information.

How to check it: Start with Zillow or Realtor.com to check the agent's transaction history and to see how long it took each home to go under contract.

ZIllow provides the addresses of every home sale, the date of the sale, closing price, and who the agent represented (buyer or seller).
Pick a realtor to sell your home

This image shows an agent has sold a ton of homes over their career (1,474 sales). But they've also sold 5 homes over the past month.

Click each Zillow listing to see how long it took the homes to sell. Listings shouldn't be sitting out there for several months in a seller's market (unless the home has obvious defects holding it back from selling.)

Scroll down to "price history" to view when the home was listed, if any price drops occurred, when it went under contract, and when it sold.
how to choose a realtor to sell

3. Check the agent's experience level

Minimum: 2-3 years of experience
Ideal: 4-10+ years of experience

What makes an experienced agent? There's no hard rule. But a recent study by Clever Real Estate found that 72% of sellers prefer a listing agent with at least 4 years of experience.

Why experience matters: New agents can learn how to sell homes by shadowing top agents or "faking it 'til they make it." But there's no substitute for real-world experience.

Realtors with at least 3-4 years of full-time experience have likely helped dozens of clients sell homes. They know to navigate through the various challenges that arise during the home sales process.

How to check it: You can check the agent's years of experience on the agent's Zillow profile under "About Us."

pick a realtor to sell

A super-experienced agent (5+ years) isn't automatically the best real estate agent for you.

Newer agents might know how to leverage social media channels and digital advertising better than experienced agents. Online channels can help maximize your home's visibility, attracting more qualified buyers.

Newer agents may also be more flexible on commission rates than an experienced agent, as they tend to care more about building up their business and reputation vs. earning a one-time paycheck.

If you decide to work with a newer real estate agent, make sure they fully understand your local market, and can lean on their broker-in-charge for help, if needed.

For experienced agents, express any concerns you might have about their busy schedule. You want someone who hustles hard to get your home sold, instead of sitting back and relying on their network to solicit offers.

4. Make sure the agent’s experience is relevant

Minimum: 2-3 recent deals in your area, price range, and property type
Ideal: 2-3 recent deals and 2-3 active listings in your area, price range, and property type

Experience matters, but the real estate agent also needs to have experience relevant to your situation. Here's what to consider:

  • Local sales: At least 2-3 sales in your area within the past few months shows the agent knows your local market well. A local real estate agent has developed strategies to market homes to prospective buyers, and knows how to best shoot photos and videos to attract more showings.
  • Sellers over buyers: Stick with a listing agent over a buyer's agent. Buyer clients come with entirely different responsibilities and challenges. It's okay if the agent helps buyers occasionally, but more than 50% of their business is a red flag.
  • Similar price: Selling a $250,000 home attracts a different type of buyer and comes with unique challenges compared to a $1 million home. The agent's past sales and current listings should be in your price range, or at least in the ballpark.
  • Same property type: Past sales and current listings should be the same property type as yours. Avoid hiring an agent who sells mostly condos if you're selling a waterfront single-family home, for example.

How to check it: Zillow is the best first stop, mainly because it makes it so easy to find the information you need quickly.
choose a realtor to sell your home

On the agent's profile page, view the transaction map to see where most of the agent's sales occurred (yellow dots).

Click each home to view sale price and property type. You can also view the agent's active listings (red dots).

5. Make sure the agent has some marketing chops

Check an agent's online presence and marketing skills once you've narrowed down your top candidates.

The agent's pictures should look polished and professional, with an emphasis on wide-angle shots with good lighting (they make you feel like you're already inside (or outside) of the home).

  • The curb view shot of a house: Is the entire house in the photo? Does it look sunny outside (preferred lighting), or cloudy?
  • Kitchen photos that grab your attention: Good lighting, wide– angle shots should give a complete view of the cabinets, appliances, and countertops.
  • Full pictures of the bedrooms and closets: You can get a sense of how large each room is from the photos.
  • Important neighborhood features or amenities: Does the agent include photos of shared boat dock, dog park, neighborhood playground, swimming pool?
  • Wide-angle shots of the property: Photos make it easy to answer common buyer questions, like "can I fit my boat in the driveway?" Or "is there enough room to put a pool in the backyard?"
  • No thumbs, or reflections of the photographer, in any photo, which takes attention away from the house and looks amateurish.

How to check it: The agent should bring marketing examples to the listing presentation, but you can dig around online at active and past listings by searching through Zillow or Realtor.com.

6. Make sure the agent is legit and highly rated

Minimum: The agent has an active real estate license in good standing
Ideal: Active license, glowing customer reviews across the board, and numerous certifications

There are two primary ways to vet a real estate agent: Look up the status of their real estate license, and view online customer reviews.

Clever's Role of the Realtor survey found that 76% of home sellers feel it's "very important" to personally verify the realtor's license before meeting with them. Thankfully, it's very quick and easy to check an agent's license status.

How to check it: View your state's real estate commission website and search by name or license number to see if the agent's license is active and in good standing.

For example, the South Carolina real estate commission website posts whether the license is active, suspended, or inactive, as well as any board disciplinary actions.

realtor license check

Read online reviews: A good real estate agent has a lot of positive reviews. You can find public reviews from past clients easily on sites like Zillow, Google, Facebook, and Yelp.

But interpreting reviews can be tricky. Most sellers who leave a realtor review were satisfied with their agent, as agent's often solicit reviews if they think their client had a positive experience.

You can find negative reviews if you look hard enough. While 1-2 bad reviews isn't much to worry about, several in a short timeframe (2-3 within a few weeks) is concerning.

Zillow makes it easy to find past client reviews on its agent finder webpage.

Dig deeper to see what the reviews are saying about the agent. It's a red flag if you see recurring themes throughout the bad reviews.

It's also smart to consider reviews from multiple sources to get a more accurate picture – besides Zillow, Google, and Facebook, check out Yelp and Realtor.com.

7. Vet the agent's social media skills

Social media is a great place to attract qualified buyers for your home.

But not every real estate agent invests their time in social media: 23% of realtors don't use platforms like Facebook and Instagram to market homes and themselves, and only 57% of realtors use those platforms daily.[1]

How to check it: Check out each agent's social media pages to see how many people liked or shared recent posts.

You can also check if the agent markets home with 3D tours and videos: Real estate listings with videos get 5-times more inquiries than those without. [1]

Step 3: Set up interviews

After screening agents, it's time to call your top picks to set up interviews with agents.

During your initial phone call, the agent will ask you several questions, like why you need to sell, your timeframe for moving, and your home's key information to create a comparative market analysis (CMA).

Mention any major upgrades or renovations you've made to the home since buying it, and confirm the home's square footage, bedrooms, and bathrooms, for a more accurate CMA.

After setting the appointment, the agent calls you ahead of time to confirm and nail down the details of your meeting (which should take 1-2 hours).

What happens when the agent arrives? Here's how the process typically plays out.

1. Tour the interior and exterior of the house

The agent arrives, introduces themselves, and asks for a tour of your home.

During the walk-through, call out any notable features, repairs, or improvements you've made since buying it.

What to expect: The agent should listen carefully, take notes, and provide sound advice. It's a warning sign if they seem distracted with work calls, or generally uninterested, or dismissive, of any concerns you surface.

Key questions to ask: Mention any major issues you've had with your home, and ask if you should make any pre-listing repairs or improvements to your house (paint, flooring repair, etc).

» LEARN: Should you get a pre-listing inspection?

2. Discuss market trends

The house tour is complete, and the agent sits down with you to discuss the local housing market and your home's valuation.

What to expect: Important state, city, and local housing data, like the number of recent home sales in your area, active listings, and average days on market.

What to look for: Data from legit sources, like the MLS and the National Association of Realtors (NAR). A clear explanation of the current housing market, and how it impacts your home sale.

  1. What are homes selling for in my neighborhood? Have local housing prices gone up more or less than the state and city average?

  2. How fast are homes selling? What's a reasonable timeframe to get offers and go under contract, and how long does it typically take to close in our market?

  3. Are there any homes like mine for sale? Active listings will be your competition, so you'll want to dig into the photos and listing details for ideas on how to beat them.

  4. How fast have your past three listings sold? Learn days on market for recent sales, home sale prices vs. the initial list price, and how their performance compares to the typical agent in your area.

  5. What strategies do you have in place to sell my house fast and for the highest price possible?

3. Price your home

Now it's time to zoom in to discuss your home's valuation.

The agent pulls out their CMA to give you an estimate of your home's fair value and discuss a fair listing price. They'll explain the pros and cons of listing your house at various price points.

The agent should also talk you through the best strategy based on your goals and personal situation.

Finally, the agent might also provide you with a seller net sheet: a one-page doc providing an estimate of what you may walk away with in a sale after factoring in all sale costs.

If you disagree with your agent's CMA valuation, it could make sense to get a second opinion from another agent, or invest in a pre-listing appraisal.

4. Discuss sales strategy

The agent talks you through how the listing process typically plays out from start to finish, and sells you on their marketing strategy before asking you to sign with them.

A good agent has a plan to line up max showings before your listing goes live, and provides examples of their professional photos and video. A sales or marketing strategy usually includes:

  • A pre-listing checklist: A one-page doc providing advice on how to get your home decluttered and showing ready.
  • Advertising & marketing plans: Where your home listing will appear (online websites, MLS, yard signs, social media, newspapers, etc). Who the agent hires to shoot professional photos and videos for your listing.
  • Open houses: If the agent plans to host one, and strategies to attract a crowd.
  • Extra features: If it's necessary to pay for add-ons, like home staging, aerial photography, and 3D virtual tours.

You'll also discuss how much notice you need before buyers arrive at your home for showings, how they'll gain access to the property, and if pets will be moved.

Finally, the agent pulls out a copy of an exclusive listing agreement, goes over their commission rate and the terms of the agreement, and asks you if you'd like to sign.

Pro Tip
Check your state's average commission rate to see if each agent's quoted rate is in-line with your state's average. Keep in mind that agent matching services like Clever can potentially help you cut down that rate – it might be worth checking to see if you like a different agent who charges less.

Step 4. After the interview

If the agent has done a great job and they're a good match, then you may want to sign. But if you're on the fence, consider asking the agent for references to call, and meet with other agents.

You can ask the agent for the contact information of past seller clients (5-10) and call 1-2 from the list.

  • How would you rate the agent's overall performance (scale of 1-10) and why?
  • How long did it take your home to sell, and did you get what you asked for?
  • Was the agent easy to reach, and did they keep you informed?
  • What stood out most about the agent when working with them?
  • Is there anything you wish the agent had done differently, or better?
  • Would you use this agent again (why or why not?)

📝 Final step: The listing agreement

The listing agreement is a legally binding contract giving the agent an exclusive right to sell your home. Once you and the agent or broker signs the agreement, it becomes official.

A listing agreement typically includes:

  • The length of the agreement
  • What's expected of you and the agent
  • Your home's listing price
  • The agent's commission rate
  • When your home will go live

The contract length is negotiable between the agent and seller, and can range from 30 days to 6 months or longer. However, you may be able to get out of the contract early without penalty (language on how to do that should be included in the contract).

Pricing and terms you discussed at your interview should match up with what appears on the listing agreement.

The agreement also states any items included in your real estate transaction, such as appliances, fixtures (ceiling fans, built-in cabinets, etc), and additional property.

Ask the agent for clarification or reach out to a real estate attorney if you have any questions regarding the listing agreement.

» JUMP: Back to the top

Why you should trust us

Clever has helped thousands of home sellers choose the right realtor. We strive to deliver objective advice that we'd give to our friends and family, and follow ourselves. You can learn more about Clever and our editorial policy here.

Our guide represents hundreds of hours of research and interviews with real estate agents, investors, and home sellers.

We spoke to Bill Donius, former CEO of Pulaski Bank and NY Times best-selling author (who happens to serve on Clever's board of advisors). Donius has sold numerous homes and spent many years working with agents and brokerages as a loan office and mortgage executive.

We also studied research from the National Association of Realtors 2021 Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends report.

About the author

Steve Nicastro is a real estate agent and investor based in Charleston, South Carolina. While working as a full-time agent in 2020-21, he closed 19 transactions totaling $6 million in volume, assisting both buyers and sellers.

Before working in real estate, Steve spent more than 6 years on NerdWallet's content team as a personal finance writer, where his work was published at USA Today, The Associated Press, and US News, among other publications.

Realtor license check

Visit the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials (Arello) website for a national search, or view your state's local department website below.

State
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» JUMP: Back to the top

Choosing a realtor to sell FAQs

Ideally, at least 3 months prior to target list date, and at least 4 months prior to when you need to close on the sale, although it depends on how long it takes homes to close in your market. You'll need time to prep and make any necessary repairs or improvements, put your belongings in storage, and get the house show-ready.

If your timing is more flexible, 6 months or longer can be a smart timeframe. It gives you plenty of time to find and compare agents, spread out prep work, and plan the ideal time to hit the market for the best results.

The fastest, easiest, and most cost-effective way to find top-producing realtors is through a free agent-matching service like Clever, which recommends local agents from top brokerages. You can also ask family and friends for recommendations, or find a realtor online, but these approaches take longer and don't provide built-in savings.

Realtor commission varies by market. Clever surveyed realtors from across the country, and found the average realtor commission is 5.49%, which covers both the listing agent and the buyer's agent commission. That figure does not include closing costs, which can add up to 1% to 3% of the sale price. However, agent matching services like Clever offer pre-negotiated discounts on listing commission.

We interviewed numerous licensed realtors and investors, who agreed on the certain qualities to look for in a listing agent:

Full-time and committed: Selling houses is the agent's livelihood, not their side hustle, and the agent helps more sellers than buyer clients.

Experienced: The agent closes a minimum of 10 transactions per year with at least 2-3 years of experience, as it shows the agent is active and successful.

Responsive and accessible: The agent is easy to get a hold of at nearly any time of day. Real estate is a 24/7 job for full-time agents.

Pulse on the local market: The agent has a firm grasp of neighborhoods and recent developments, and knows what buyers are looking for in your market.

Well-connected: A strong network of contractors, inspectors, and lawyers helps get your home sold.

As a home seller, there are certain things you want to avoid telling your listing agent, including the following:

You won't sell to a certain type of buyer: Sellers are federally prohibited from discriminating against prospective buyers based on race, sex, religion, and other protected classes.

You won't disclose your home's issues: If you know of an issue or defect that could negatively impact your home's value, state law probably requires you to disclose it – so it's best to avoid hiding any known defects from your agent.

You want to list at a sky-high price: Listing at too high of a price puts your home at risk of sitting on the market longer (or not selling at all). Agents may still want to win your listing, but may focus their efforts on other clients with better near-term prospects, which could hurt your listing.

You're getting advice from another agent: It's best not to go behind your agent's back if you've agreed to work with them. If you're unhappy with their service, you can ask to work with another agent from their brokerage, or cancel your listing (then hire another agent).

Related links

ARTICLE SOURCES
[1]

National Association of Realtors. "National Association of Realtors: Real Estate in a Digital Age." Page(s) "". Accessed April 19, 2022. Updated September, 01, 2021.

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