How to find the best real estate agent in your area

Buying or selling a home is no small feat, and it’s one of the biggest financial decisions of your life. That’s why finding a real estate agent with experience to guide you through the process is key.

There’s no shortage of real estate agents vying for the job via online ads, postcards and yard signs, but with so many professionals to choose from, finding the right one can feel overwhelming. Follow these tips on how to find a real estate agent to make sure you hire the perfect pro:

1. Talk to a lender before you hire a real estate agent

Sometimes home shoppers hire a real estate agent and dive into their home search before they ever talk to a lender. Most experts recommend that you talk to a lender first to learn how much you can afford.

2. Get referrals for real estate agent from your network

Ask friends and family members if they can recommend a real estate agent with whom they’ve had a good experience. Ideally, you’ll want someone with experience working with clients who are similar to you. The needs of first-time buyers, for example, are different than those of repeat buyers or homeowners who are looking to downsize.

Look for a real estate agent who is a Realtor with a capital R. That means they’re a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and have formally agreed to abide by the group’s code of ethics. Some Realtors also have certifications to show that they’ve completed training in a certain area of real estate.

3. Research potential real estate agents

Start by examining their online presence. Check their websites and active social media accounts they use to promote their listings. Take a look at their online reviews as well. Don’t worry about one or two negative reviews, but more than that could be a red flag.

Check with your state’s real estate regulator to find out whether an agent you’re considering is licensed or has any disciplinary actions. Vet candidates you’re interviewing on your local Better Business Bureau’s website to see if they’ve received any complaints.

4. Go with your gut

Just as important as the knowledge and experience an agent brings is their ability to guide you smoothly through the process. Above all, go with an agent you trust and will feel comfortable with if the road to closing gets a little bumpy.

5. Take a close look with real eastate agent at your contract

Your contract should spell out all of the terms to which you’ve already agreed, including the real estate comission. Traditionally, the seller pays 6 percent of the sales price of the home for real estate commissions, with half going to their own real estate agent and half going to the buyer’s agent. The commission rate is negotiable, however, with the average commission actually landing closer to 5 percent in recent years.

Another factor to look at: The length of the contract itself. Look for a contract limited to six months or less. In a competitive seller’s market, it can take less than 30 days to sell a home, according to NAR. If your contract is much longer than that and you still haven’t sold your home in a reasonable time frame, you want to be able to switch to another agent. Similarly, if as a buyer you haven’t found the home you want within a few months, it’s helpful to keep your options open.

Compromise is important when determining your moving date. Buyers generally might be expected to give the sellers 7 to 10 days to vacate the home after the closing date. Sellers may want more time in the home, but they can compromise by securing a place to stay for the short-term while they finalize their own situation.