Real estate agent basics
Real estate agents help people buy and sell homes. Agents educate their clients about current market conditions, guide them through each step of the process and make referrals to other professionals, such as home stagers and real estate attorneys. Most agents can represent buyers or sellers. Their particular titles in a transaction depend on whom they're representing in that sale.
In some cases, an agent can represent both sides in a single transaction, but it's best to have someone who's solely in your corner.
Realtor vs. real estate agent
All real estate agents must be licensed in the states where they work and abide by national and state laws. Realtors are licensed agents who belong to the National Association of Realtors, which has more than 1.5 million members. Members pledge to abide by the association's standards and code of ethics.
» MORE: Tips for first-time home buyers
Difference between a real estate agent and a broker
A real estate broker has received additional training, beyond what agents receive, to get a real estate broker license. Like agents, brokers must complete state-required coursework and pass an exam to get licensed. A broker can oversee other real estate agents, work under a managing broker or operate independently.
How to find and interview real estate agents
Ask friends and colleagues for referrals to find several prospective agents. Look up the agents' websites and online profiles, read about their specialties and experience, and check out customer reviews.
Choose at least three agents to interview and dig into specifics about how they would work with you.
You can also get matched with agents through a lender's real estate agent network or a standalone referral service. Before using one of these options, make sure you understand what they require of agents, how you'll be matched and what happens if you don't like the agent you're paired with.
What buyers and sellers should ask real estate agents
Here are the key things to find out, whether you're buying or selling a home.
Is the agent licensed?
Licensure requires agents to complete a certain amount of coursework and pass an exam. Check your state's real estate commission website to find out if a particular agent is licensed.
Will the agent represent my interests?
You might assume any real estate agent you choose will represent your interests only. But in some cases, real estate agents aren't legally required to represent solely the buyer or the seller in a transaction. For example, a "dual agent" represents both the buyer and the seller in the same deal, and a "transactional agent" works with both sides, but has no fiduciary responsibility to either.
Understanding the nature of the agent's role when working with you is critical. Ask prospective agents if they will represent your interests only through the entire process, and request a written form that discloses the relationship, advises the Consumer Federation of America.