How to Find a Realtor in the Digital World

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Home sellers seem always on the hunt to find a Realtor. The most popular way to find a Realtor used to be via referrals, but that method seems to be losing ground because you're relying on only one neighbor or friend's opinion. And every sales situation can be vastly different.

It can be frustrating to comb through profiles of Realtors after Realtors with very little discerning qualities to help you make a choice, apart from smiling faces.

This is why some Realtors will show you photographs of their pets, in hopes you will identify with a love for animals and choose that Realtor. You would probably not choose any other professional in that manner, and it's not necessarily a good idea to rely on that approach to help you find a Realtor.

Tips for Qualifying Realtors

For starters, decide whether you want to find a listing agent or a selling agent. A listing agent represents the seller. A selling agent represents the buyer. You'll want different characteristics in an agent who specializes in sole representation of sellers, for example, over an agent who works as an exclusive buyer's agent. Many clients today look for a specialized agent and pass by an agent who might work in dual agency. Further, dual agency is not legal in every state in America for a reason.

You might hire a listing agent to list your home and a different agent to help you to buy a home.

Or, the listing agent might be the team leader of a real estate team. His or her agents on the team could very well be buyer's specialists. The concept of real estate teams across the country is very popular.

Choosing Specialists as a Realtor

That's not to say you cannot hire the same agent to represent both the listing and the purchase of a new home because it is allowed.

Just that you might want to consider specialization to better fulfill your own needs. Specialists will say it is difficult to excel at both jobs because each requires different strengths and skill sets. Ordinary agents will say it is not. You decide.

The trend is tipping toward specialists and for good reason. The attributes used to sell homes are very different from those used to assist buyers with buying a home.

Using Websites to Find a Realtor

The second question is where do you find a Realtor who will work well with you? Realtors are people as well as professionals engaged in real estate. You want a person you respect and can get along with. You can ask friends or relatives for a referral but that experience is likely to be limited to one time with one person. Although, referrals are better than plucking a Realtor at random off the street.

Most people today search for a Realtor online. There are a few tried and true ways to do this. Here are a few:

  • Figure out which are the top brokerages in town, visit a brokerage's website, and sort through the agents.
  • Search terms on Google. For example, if you were looking for a Sacramento Realtor, you might insert the words "Sacramento realtor" into Google to see what comes up. First, will be the Ads. These are individuals and companies that pay Google for their ad to appear at the top. It doesn't mean they are the top agents.
  • The next few results will be occupied by Realtor.com. However, because this is a trade association for Realtors, the website will not offer rankings and its lineup has no bearing on which agents sell the most homes or possess the most experience. Realtor.com does not want to alienate any of its members. This seems to be a hard way to find a Realtor.
  • Local websites. You may also find individual real estate brokerages ranking in the top results, but as a general rule, you won't find much distinction on those website among agents. Try instead to find individual agent websites and click on those. Once you find a Realtor's website, look for the license number of the agent and check it against the public records to figure out how long that agent has been in business. This is useful if you do not want to work with a brand new agent. Also, check to see if the agent writes a blog and read it.
  • Zillow profiles are set up by individual agents. There is a distinction between agents who pay Zillow for "premier" placement and agents who do not. Make sure you look at the city or county where you want to find a Realtor. Then you can check how many sales the agent has done and read independent reviews. Anybody can post a review on Zillow, even a person who is not a client of the Realtor. Agents complain that some bad reviews are posted by anonymous people the Realtor does not know. Also, some top producer Realtors are not listed on Zillow.
  • Yelp is another good place to find a Realtor online. Although if you do not find an agent you expect to find on Yelp, it does not mean there is a problem. Agents often ask their clients to post reviews online, and there is a limit to how many places online an agent will ask a client to post. Also, Yelp tends to be one of those places where it's a lot more fun to complain than to compliment. How often have you said to yourself, This is so fabulous I have to post it on Yelp, versus, this makes me so mad, I can't wait to warn everybody on Yelp?
  • Google Plus allows people to review Realtors, too. Again, you may need to differentiate between real clients who actually completed a transaction with a Realtor vs online trolls who find a Realtor's name and blast the poor agent without true cause.
  • Websites that advertise Best or Top Realtors lists. These could very well be the wave of the future. These particular websites use software that comb Multiple Listing Service systems nationwide to extract only the top producers, the agents with the most production or largest number of sales. Their premise is agents cost about the same, why not hire the best? Also, Realtors are generally required to pay a referral fee, which could amount to as much as 25 percent to 35 percent of their income, to that referring website. Some top producer agents refuse to participate.
  • MLS Top Producer lists. Almost every major city has an MLS for Realtors. Each MLS, in conjunction with a local trade association for Realtors, maintains a list of top performers; however, realize that for some cities, criteria for top performers can be subjective. Where I sell, a top producer needs to sell only 8 homes a year, with sales volume totaling $4.5 million. Further, our major newspapers and magazines jump on this as an advertising opportunity and charge Realtors to place their photo and bio in a Top Producer advertising section. Not every top producer likes to get shaken down like this. So the magazine and newspaper lists are not all-inclusive.

In closing, after you find a Realtor, verify the facts. Go to online state licensing departments to check whether the agent has complaints filed against her if there has been any disciplinary action, and to find out how long she has been in the business. Put that Realtor's name into Google to find other websites online such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Active Rain, among a few. Try to determine whether your personalities match and if the agent is genuine.

Remember, every Realtor has the ability to look spectacular online. Practice due diligence.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, CalBRE #00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.