How to Choose a Realtor (First-Time Home Buyer)

Are you about to enter the real estate market? If you have enough for a down payment and are ready to choose your first home, it’s time to hire a real estate agent who can guide you through the home-buying process.

The right realtor will help you choose the perfect home, find the best mortgage, and save you time, effort, and money (even as a first-timer).

So, how do you choose real estate professionals and which questions do you ask? Should you reach out to a broker or an agent first? What makes a good Realtor? We’ll give you a first-time buyer’s guide to finding agents.

Real Estate Agents vs Realtors vs Brokers

Although the terms get used interchangeably, Realtors, real estate agents, and brokers aren’t the same.

Real Estate Agent

A real estate agent is a licensed professional trained to guide people when it comes to selling and buying homes. They may also act as a listing agent, which means they represent the property’s seller and the listing.

Not to mention, they take care of the home-ownership transactions on behalf of their client. So, they’ll find local listings, pick ones that accommodate your needs, and coordinate negotiations and paperwork.


The term is trademarked, which is why it’s often capitalized. By October 2021, there were 1,564,547 registered realtors. A realtor is a real estate agent who happens to be a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), which makes them follow a detailed code of ethics promoting fair and honest services.

To elaborate, they “shall avoid exaggeration, misrepresentation, or concealment of pertinent facts relating to the property or the transaction” and “shall be honest and truthful in their real estate communications and shall present a true picture in their advertising, marketing, and other representations.” So, working with a Realtor gives you added security.

Realtor titles can be given not only to residential and commercial agents but also to property managers, salespeople, property managers, counselors, appraisers, and other professionals in the housing market.


These real estate professionals have continued their studies and earned a real estate broker license, so they have agents working for them. They help them with writing, editing, and submitting property contracts and multiple offers for clients. They’re classified into associate brokers, managing brokers, and principal/designated brokers.

Can You Buy a House Without a Realtor?

Yes, you can purchase a property without one, and some buyers do so to save money. However, we don’t recommend that for first-time buyers because there are many ins and outs to the buying process that they don’t know. Agents will let you in on them and stop you from making common mistakes.

As for the fees, sellers typically pay real estate commissions, so why should home buyers skip hiring an agent? This fee is 6% of the home’s sale price on average. It’s taken out of the seller’s proceeds and evenly divided between the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent.

When Should I Contact a Realtor?

You might wonder if you should contact a mortgage lender or a Realtor first. We recommend you start with finding a lender, completing the paperwork, and obtaining a preapproval letter, which is a preliminary approval of a mortgage loan.

The lender will determine your limit based on your monthly income, current employment and how long you’ve kept it, outstanding debt, and other financial indicators.

Many agents won’t work with you unless you have a preapproved letter. With it, you can contact an agent, as it’ll confirm that you’re a serious buyer. Not to mention, a preapproval includes a maximum loan amount, which gives your agent an understanding of your budget. This way, they’ll only consider houses you can afford.

Nonetheless, first-time home buyers can get overwhelmed and not know where to start with the process, in which case they can hire a Realtor to help them with everything starting from the preapproval letter and involved paperwork.

Step-by-Step Guide to Choosing a Realtor

Let’s walk you through the Realtor search process to get you started with the home purchase.

1. Conduct a Thorough Search

You can start with a preliminary search for a real estate agent licensed by the National Association of Realtors. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth; ask your relatives, friends, and colleague to recommend you good ones.

Then, take your search online, and read Realtor reviews on Zillow or similar websites. Consider their number of homes sold, purchase price range, client reviews, and years of experience. Does this Realtor have a good track record?

The National Association of Realtors states that over half of first-time buyers hire a Realtor through a friend, and two-thirds only reached out to a single agent before hiring them. Don’t settle for the first solid option you find.

But limit your choices, and create a list of your top Realtors, which should have at least two. Then, contact the ones you select via phone, email, text, social media, or else (depending on the agent). Some real estate websites support emails!

2. Meet With the Realtors

You’ll meet with your top realtors to determine the best fit for you. According to the agent with McEnearney Associates in McLean, VA, Mark Moffatt, “Finding a Realtor is not hard, but finding one that is best suited for you and your purchase is a challenge.”

So, how do you ensure that a Realtor is best suited for you? Here are some questions to ask a potential Realtor in these interviews:

  • Are you familiar with the area you want a home in? Such experience will give them a good idea of the suitable expectations, current market trends, and home price ranges. The Realtor might be relatively new to the business, but if they’ve lived in the neighborhood their whole life, this gives them an edge over other agents.
  • How often will you update me? You should be in the know about the home search, so ask how often the Realtor is willing to update you.
  • Are you a full-time agent? A real estate professional might be a full-timer or a part-timer, the latter not necessarily being a deal breaker. However, it affects their availability when it comes to answering questions and responding to concerns. Also, ask them about their exact work hours, and make sure you’re free in some of them in case you want to check out a property.
  • Are you a dual agent? As we’ve mentioned, agents can legally represent both buyer’s agent and seller’s agent under some laws. You want to ensure your agent isn’t representing both parties, as that creates a conflict of interest.
  • How much experience do you have? You want a seasoned agent, which means they should have no less than a year or two of experience.
  • Do you work alone or with a team? If response time is a priority to you, hiring a team will appeal to you. They’ll increase your chances of securing the perfect property. Otherwise, solo-run agents can take more time to respond because they’re working with other clients.
  • Do you have upcoming vacations? Are they taking time off soon? If so, do they have a backup to help you close a deal if you find the perfect property during their vacation?

By asking these questions and learning about the buyer’s agents, you can compare them and make an informed decision. The right decision can save you tons of thousands of dollars and get you your perfect home.

3. Select a Realtor

Now that you’ve collected all the information you need, you can decide which buyer’s agent will stir you in the right direction of the home-buying process. Once you commit to a Realtor, you’ll sign a contract preventing you from working with other agents. This way, they know their work won’t go to waste.

Tips for First-Time Buyers

As a first-time buyer, you might find the home-buying process intimidating, so we’ll give you some tips and tricks to get you started in the housing market.

Research First-Time Homebuyers Programs

We suggest you do a local search for first-time homebuyer programs in your area. Your agent can look into the market to explore such options. These programs enhance your buying power with a reduced down payment or government-backed mortgage program. So, look into these programs, down payment assistance grants, and borrowing and savings-match options.

Specify the Home Features You Want

Your Realtor will benefit from a detailed description of your dream home, as it’ll help them know what to look for.

For instance, how big of a house do you need? What bathroom or kitchen layout do you want? Do you expect the kitchen to come with its appliances? Being specific about your expectations will help Realtors narrow down options from online listings. Not to mention, they’ll be able to tell you which expectations are within your budget.


First-timers can get stuck in the dilemma of finding the dream home, but compromise is important. After deciding on the description of your perfect house, determine what is a priority and what isn’t, and communicate that with your agent.

Most home buyers want a particular price, location, and size, but they’re usually only able to secure two. If that’s what your agent is presenting you, you should consider taking the win.

Learn About Tax Credit

First-time buyers can get access to several tax breaks. Mortgage interest deduction, mortgage credit certification, and more may help you save money (depending on your location).


What Do You Say When You Reach Out to a Realtor?

It isn’t merely about what questions you’ll ask them but what information you’ll give them. Introduce yourself, and tell them you’re looking to purchase a residential property in a specific area. Also, specify how many rooms you want. Finally, you should tell them how much you’re preapproved for in terms of a home loan, and show them your letter.

Should a First-Time Home Buyer Use an Agent or a Broker?

You can either work with an agent or mortgage broker. Both can get licensed and become Realtors, and both can help first-time home buyers purchase a property. Regardless of your choice, you want to choose a top-notch professional and cooperate with them to get the best property in your local housing market.

What Are the Main Criteria of a Quality Real Estate Agent?

The main criteria first home buyers should look for are experience and local market knowledge. With these pillars, they’ll be knowledgeable about property value and comparative market analysis. Aside from knowledge, you want a Realtor who’s supportive and easy to work with. After all, interpersonal skills matter, so make sure you feel comfortable with them.

Final Verdict

Overall, a Realtor is a member of NAR. As real estate agents, they abide by a strict code of ethics that protects home buyers. To pick the best agent, a first-time buyer should ask around for referrals and conduct a thorough online search.

Then, first-timers can create a list of the top candidates and interview them. They should ask them tons of questions to estimate their experience, availability, interpersonal skills, and more. With this input, you can make the right decision, which will eventually lead you to secure the most competitive property in the local market.

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