How to choose a real estate agent


How can you tell whether a real estate agent is honest and trustworthy...or not so much? Author and CNN financial editor Gerri Willis tells you what to look for when choosing a real estate agent.

How to choose a real estate agent

If you are in the market for a home, either buying or selling, you may be in need of a good real estate agent. But how can you tell if a person is honest? Here are some answers to some of your key questions:

Is it important to interview potential real estate agents?

  • Yes. You really need to interview agents face to face because you don’t know which ones are really going to be a good fit for you without sitting down and talking to them.
  • To find some agents it’s a good idea to talk to friends in the area—people who can tell you who is really good and in touch with the market.

What kinds of questions should I ask?

  • Find out if they are actively working in the neighborhood in which you are interested. Ideally it’s best to find an experienced agent who actually lives in the neighborhood in which you are trying to buy or sell.
  • Working with an agent who lives close to you enables him or her to easily get to your house to show it on a moment’s notice.
  • Also, they will naturally know all the ins and outs of the neighborhood, which helps both on the buying and selling side.
  • If you are selling find out if the agent has a record of selling the kind of house you have.
  • If you are buying, you need to probe to find out specifically if they have houses that are in the price range you can afford.

What are some responsibilities of an agent?

  • If the agent is selling your house, he or she should help you with the entire process, not just the closing.
  • Your agent should be full service, helping you get your house ready to be sold. Sometimes that involves staging your home.
  • The agent should share every offer that comes in on your house, letting you know which offers are represented by qualified buyers and which ones are not.

What are some qualities of a good agent?

  • Look for someone who has been in the market for at least eight years. That means they’ve had experience in a down market—they’ll know what to expect and how to manage the selling or buying of your home.
  • Additionally, it is important that your agent be web savvy because in selling or buying a home the web is key these days.

What is the role of a home inspector?

  • The home inspector is the most important person to the buyer. Unfortunately, though, most people don’t spend a lot of time researching their home inspector and instead take the recommendation of their real estate agent, which isn’t always a good idea. Here’s why: although your agent works for you, he or she has an incentive to move your sale along. They know, and may recommend, inspectors that move quickly.
  • As a buyer you need to work with a home inspector who is very thorough—someone who will have your interests at heart.
  • Ideally, your inspector should spend at least two hours looking at absolutely everything having to do with the house—the roof, the foundation, the plumbing, the electricity, etc.—this person should be working for you, not your agent.



ROBYN: I’m Robyn Moreno for If you’re in the housing market as either a buyer or a seller, you may be looking for a good real estate agent. But how can you tell if a person is honest? Here to help us tell the honest brokers from the potentially shady ones, is Gerri Willis. She is CNN’s personal Finance Editor and author of Home Rich: Increasing the Value of the Biggest Investment of Your Life. Welcome Gerri, how are you?

GERRI:  Hi Robyn.

ROBYN:  Why is it important to one, interview these real estate agents and two, what questions should I be asking?

GERRI: You’ve absolutely got to interview these agents. Because you don’t know who’s going to work with you unless you really sit down face-to-face. Look: get some suggestions from friends and relatives, people in the area who can tell you who’s really good, who’s in touch with the market. And then sit down and grill them. You have to ask them questions to find out, are they active in the market you’re interested in, the neighborhood you’re interested in, and then do they sell the kinds of houses you’re interested in? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been lined up with an agent who is actually selling gabillion dollar houses when I’m not buying a gabillion dollar house. You really need to find a match in terms of price tag. Now a great way to go after this is to think about is the agent active in the neighborhood I’m interested in. If I’m selling my home, are they active in my neighborhood? Look: if you find a really good agent who lives three blocks from you, if you’re trying to sell this house, they can be over to your house pronto to help you sell. They can show your house any hour, they’re available all the time. They know all the ins and outs of the neighborhood. It’s a real help if you’re looking to sell.

ROBYN:  What are the responsibilities of an agent?

GERRI: Well, they’re supposed to give you all the information you can. Look, if you’re a seller, they’re supposed to tell you every offer that comes in on your house, if people are qualified. You know, sometimes I think people worry, am I getting all the information I should from your agent. They’re not supposed to let anything hang back. These folks are going to help you do everything, soup to nuts. They’re going to help you stage your home. You know, they’re used to the entire process, you know, they’re not just there for the close or just there to land the contract. They have to help you get the house ready for sale as well. 

ROBYN:  Are there really some signs of a good agent, some things I should be looking for?

GERRI: Well your agent should be web-savvy; you’re probably going to have to put your house on the web to sell it. They’ve got to know the technical aspects of their job, as well as having great personal communication skills. You know, you’re looking for somebody who can really do it all, and you’ll only really know that if you sit down with them and talk to them one-on-one.

ROBYN:  What about some flags of one that’s really bad, or maybe just unscrupulous?

GERRI: Well, I think you really want to think about, is this person doing it full-time. There are lots of newbie’s in the industry; they came in during the boom, who really don’t have a lot of experience. I think right now you should be looking for somebody who’s been in the marketplace for at least eight years. That means they’ve had experience in a down market, so they know what to expect right now.

ROBYN: What is the role of a home inspector, and why do you say that one should not be so closely aligned with your agent?

GERRI:  Hey, look. The home inspector is probably the person who is most important to the process of buying for the buyer, and the person who gets the least investigation by the buyer. Typically, people simply just take the recommendation of their real estate agent. Well I have to tell you, a lot of these inspectors are really close to the real estate industry, they know what inspectors do their inspections really quickly, and those are the people they’re going to recommend. You want somebody who’s going to have your interests at heart, who’s going to spend a long two hours looking at absolutely everything having to do with the house, the roof, the, the basement, the foundation, the plumbing, the electricity, and make sure everything works properly. This person has to work for you, not the real estate agent.

ROBYN:  Gerri Willis, thank you so much. Great information on how to find the best real estate agent for you.

GERRI: My pleasure.

ROBYN:  I’m Robyn Moreno for

meet theexpert
  • Gerri Willis

    Gerri Willis Author and Fox Financial Correspondent Gerri Willis is the host of The Willis Report, a primetime program on Fox Business Network. She's the author of two business books, “The Smart Money Guide to Real Estate Investing” and “Home Rich.” more about this expert »

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