The New Investor’s Guide to Hiring a Real Estate Agent

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After over 30 years in the real estate industry, I’ve seen how a real estate agent can make or break a deal, regardless of whether you’re buying or selling. Of course, you need them not only to understand what you’re looking to do, but also to be your ally in making sure the deal goes through.

Recently, one of my employees was looking to purchase an investment property. Let’s just say the real estate agent wasn’t exactly the greatest, and it ended up being a much more difficult experience than it needed to be.

So, it really got me thinking, what should someone new to real estate investing be looking for in a real estate agent?


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When it comes to selling real estate, there are so many different types of agents and areas of expertise.

For me, I’ve been a licensed Realtor®, a Certified Residential Specialist (CRS), a Graduate of Realtors Institute (GRI), and an assistant manager who trained other agents and took all of my broker credits. I’ve also been a property manager and a partner in a title company, while specializing in investment real estate and owning several rental properties.

But there’s more to it than that. Let’s start with areas of expertise and designations.

There are many agents who sell everything from cemetery lots to marinas. Today, everyone is a specialist. In the residential real estate arena, there are people who specialize in first-time homebuyers, veterans, investors, senior citizens, vacation homes, REOs (bank owned property), and luxury homes. Some are rental agents and property managers. Some prefer commercial apartment buildings, office space, condos, mobile home parks, storage centers, and industrial space, to name a few.

Related: How to Become a Real Estate Agent: The Ultimate Guide

So, if you’re in the market to purchase, you really need the type of agent whose expertise fits what you’re looking for.

Usually, you’ll want a buyer’s agent to represent you and your interests.

[Buyer’s agent: A real estate agent who represents only the buyer of a property in a real estate transaction.]

If you’re trying to sell real estate, the type of agent you’ll need to interview for the job will depend on what you’re trying to sell. Remember, you wouldn’t hire an agent who specializes in vacation homes to represent you in selling an REO the same way you don’t want a brain surgeon to operate on your foot.

Also, notice I said interview. Don’t be afraid to interview several agents as well. This is very important whether you’re hiring a buyer’s agent or a seller’s agent.

[Seller’s agent: A real estate agent who represents only the seller of a property in a real estate transaction.]

Other to-dos are to check their background, experience level, any recommendations from satisfied past clients, along with their particular area of expertise. Be sure to see what designations they have, if any, as well.


So, what does all this alphabet soup after an agent’s name really mean?

Well, that depends. For example, an agent must complete so many hours of education and a certain number of transactions before he/she can become a CRS (see requirements here).

It’s good to remember that in real estate sales, like many other sales positions, 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. It’s also important to note that CRSs tend to earn more money on average and are in the top 3 percentile of all real estate agents in the country.

But there are many other designations, too, like ABR (Accredited Buyers Representative), CPM (Certified Property Manager), CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member), etc. Also, an appraiser may have any of the following: MAI, SRA, SRPA, SREA or RM designations.

Remember, real estate agents aggressively market themselves and their companies, so they all love to brag about something, but designations are only one of the ways to determine knowledge and experience level. You also want someone who is a good communicator and who will be patient in explaining all the necessary details of your upcoming transaction and processes.



Keep in mind, commissions are negotiable, and there are many agents today who even charge flat fees and “no-frills” levels of service. But be very, very careful because you quite often get what you pay for, which in some cases could mean lousy service from a lousy agent who doesn’t want to put in much effort working for you.

Today, at my firm, we literally sell hundreds of properties, and we’re dealing with a lot of agents. Yet we never even ask for as much as a referral fee. I want them to do a decent job for us more than I want the fee. Sure, there are times when an agent may have to take a short sale rate once in a while, but I never want them to have to pay a referral fee on top of that, too.

Length of Service

Most real estate agents require listing contracts for their services, and these can range anywhere from 3 to 12 months. It’s definitely something to be aware of.

Also, make sure that you are shown the comps (comparable properties) that are not only on the market today, but have sold in close proximity in the last 6 to 12 months.

Related: The Step-by-Step Guide to Finding an Investment-Savvy Real Estate Agent

If the agent is requesting a year contract, you can still opt for shorter terms, especially since you can always extend the contract. But you can also switch when the contract has matured if an agent just isn’t getting the job done.



Besides knowing what type of agent you want to hire and for how much, as well as how long you want to try them out for, you still want someone with a good reputation, who you feel comfortable with and feel you can trust. After all, for many folks, this may be a very large asset or investment that they’re trying to buy or sell.

So, if you’re a newbie to real estate investing, maybe some of these tips will help you find the right real estate agent for your deal. Maybe some folks in the BiggerPockets community can chime in, too.

What do you look for when hiring an agent?

Leave a comment below!

About Author

Dave Van Horn

Since 2007, Dave Van Horn has served as president and CEO of PPR The Note Co., a holding company that manages several funds that buy, sell, and hold residential mortgages nationwide. Dave’s expertise is derived from over 30 years of residential and commercial real estate experience as a licensed Realtor, a real estate investor, and a fundraiser. As the latter, Dave has raised over $100 million in both notes and commercial real estate. In addition to his investments and role as CEO, Dave’s biggest passion is to teach others how to share, build, and preserve wealth. He authored Real Estate Note Investing, an introduction to the note investing business, helping investors enter the “other side” of the real estate business.


  1. Roy N.

    Contracting with an agents on selling seems to be universal. Not so with buyers agents: we have never entered a contract with a buyers agent. We will typically work with a specific agent, or set of agents (different specializations), in a given market, but they earn our business through performance, not through captivation.

  2. Patrick Desjardins

    Good stuff. I looked up the CRS list in my market and most of them are well known agents in the top 20%. I do notice though that only one of them is known to work with investors and the others are regular agents.

    I’ve been trying to improve my process for finding agents, especially in other states. I know a lot of people go with the agent who did the BPO but in my limited experience those are usually fringe low volume agents.

    I’ve had moderate success tracking down REO agents working with Fannie Mae homes but again, a lot of the time it’s the typical solo agent with no team that doesn’t return calls.


    • Dave Van Horn

      Hi Patrick,
      You’re correct. Only a very small percentage of agents are knowledgeable investor-only agents. It really comes down to having the right agent for the right property doing the right tasks.

      Finding the right agent is the hardest part, and there’s no real quick fix for it. Although, there are resources like and, which may be helpful.

      Sometimes, providing some kind of incentive could help motivate the agent as well, such as assuring the REO agent that after you fix up the property you’ll give them the listing for the flip, offering to use them for property management, etc. Whatever it is, it just might help to offer them something extra.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Mindy Jensen

    Dave! Such great information in this article!

    In my state of Colorado, the Buyers Agency contract can be terminated by mutual agreement of the two parties. I would not want to sign a 12 month contract with an agent, even before I was an agent. A LOT can happen in a year…

    I would add another thing: DON’T get your agent from a sign. My sister (who knows I work here, am an agent, have been investing forever, etc…) wanted to sell her house so she copied the number down from the next real estate sign she drove by. DISASTER!!! She just canceled the whole thing 2 days ago, after putting up with ridiculousness for over 6 months with this agent. Sigh…

    Those flat fee agents have their place, but my experience was they do not perform well at all. If you don’t know what you are doing, they aren’t the agents you’re looking for.

    • Dave Van Horn

      Hi Mindy,
      Thank you for your comment & positive feedback. At our company, we usually list REOs with agents for approx. 30-90 days. With this type of asset, I’d personally never go over 6 months.
      I also agree that with a flat fee agent, you need to have more knowledge of what you’re doing when you go into it, or it may not end well.

  4. Douglas Skipworth

    As any experienced investor knows, real estate is a team sport. Personally, I believe real estate agents can be great team members since their sole job is to help people buy and sell property.

    I have used several listing agents and buyers agents over the years because the relationships and the deals they bring are worth far more than the minimal commissions they earn. Good agents are worth their weight in gold.

    When selecting an agent, I would use all of the criteria above. When selecting an agent to “partner” with for the long term, I would add personal chemistry to the list. You definitely want your key team members to “get” each other.

    Another good article, Dave. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Dave Van Horn

      I agree. It’s hard to work with an agent you don’t like, don’t bond with, etc. If there’s a personality conflict, it’s going to be a difficult transaction. Plus, they’re not going to go the extra mile for you. You want someone who’s fully committed to getting the job done.

  5. Alexander Ball

    I’m in the process of selling my house, and upgrading to a multifamily house hacking situation. My agent told me that my idea for contacting off-market owners of property that is distressed and owned by absentee owners is not probably going to work out, that they are constantly being hounded by banks and buyers and will typically reply with anger.

    Is this a fair response, do buyers typically not have agents contact off market house owners? Is this an attempt to avoid the work involved with working with an investor, or an honest answer to prepare me for investing.

    I really like the gentleman I met and had over to my house, so I wan’t to give him the benefit of the doubt about this. What do you think? I am just concerned that I will find someone who doesn’t think the extra work that comes from working with someone who is making a purchase on an analytical level versus an emotional one.

    • Dave Van Horn

      Hi Alexander,

      That response is not out of the ordinary. I think what you need to do is find a Real Estate Agent that is geared towards working with investors. I would suggest trying to find a Realtor here on BP or at a local REIA meeting.


  6. Matt Sicignano

    I would like to add one thing to your excellent article based on my recent experience trying to find an agent to unwind some of my properties. If you’re a seller, one of the things that differentiate a top performer from a mediocre agent is a marketing plan. I was an agent and broker in the boom years of early 2000 and back then, “getting” the listing almost guaranteed a commission. Even so, my marketing plan was extensive, time based , measurable and comprehensive. It took about 15 minutes to go through the steps and was perfected when competition was fierce. Even when the market co-operated and almost guaranteed a fast sale (and at that time it did!) it still gave me a competitive advantage over agents who did not take the time or effort to have a plan. I assumed the marketing efforts now would be even more sophisticated and comprehensive. Imagine my surprise when in this era, my questions about marketing nine times out of ten were answered with “well, we put it in FMLS and on the internet. What? Is this 1985? If that’s all you get-run. That may have worked in the boom years, but its hopelessly outdated now, and a sign of a “list ’em and forget ’em” agent.

  7. Great article!Find out new home is difficult task for buyer , so I think better to hire real estate agent who make your work easy and find out great home for you.I am agree with Patrick only small percentage of agents are knowledgeable only.

  8. Thanks for sharing some tips for hiring a real estate agent. You make a good point about how important it is to hire someone with the right expertise. It makes sense that you will need to know what kind of real estate you are looking for. My husband and I are thinking about buying a new house, so I hope we can find a good agent who knows a lot about the local market.

  9. You have some good guidelines for hiring a good real estate agent. I definitely agree that looking at their expertise is an important part of this decision. Like you said, with so many different branches, it\’s important to find someone who specializes in what you need.

  10. Thanks for the great article. You mentioned that you should choose a real estate agent that is certified and has had proper education and training. With an investment as big as a house, you would definitely want the person helping you buy it to really know what they are doing, to ensure you get the home you really want for your family. Makes sense that you would want to work with a qualified professional.

  11. I like your advice to look for someone that has expertise to help you. My brother is trying to invest in real estate, but I don’t know much about his research. Really, he just needs the help of an agent. Do you have any other tips about finding a good real estate agent?

  12. Dave, I like the idea to consider a real estate agent’s length of service before hiring them. My wife and I need to move very quickly and we have been trying to find our dream home. I hope that we can find a real estate agent that could best understand our needs.

  13. That\’s a good point you make about how you\’ll want to be sure to hire an agent who has a good reputation and who works well with others. I\’ve heard that many agents will take the time out of their busy schedules to call their clients regularly to keep them updated with the market for their home. I\’ll be sure to keep these great traits in mind as my wife and I try to find a real estate agent to help us sell our home fast.

  14. My wife and I have been looking for homes for sale in a few different areas for quite a while now, and I would love to have the help from a realtor. I like that you talked about different realtors having different areas of expertise. I’ll have to make a few phone calls and see what realtor we can find with specific experience buying or selling homes in the areas we want to live in! Thanks for your help!

  15. You made a good point about everyone being a specialist these days. I can see how using someone who has experience working with other investors would be a good option for someone looking to begin investing in real estate. It would be very important for me to find an agent that I got along well with so I would be comfortable accepting their advice.

  16. I found it interesting how the article mentions that finding a real estate agent with a good reputation is also an important factor to take into consideration. I have heard that asking for references from an agent’s past clients could be a good way to get an idea of what to expect overall during the buying/selling process while working with that real estate agent. I’d imagine it would also help you feel a lot more comfortable entrusting a valuable asset like a home to someone you don’t know very well.

  17. My husband and I are trying to sell our old home, and we are thinking how to go about hiring a good real estate service to help us with it. I like that you mentioned looking for a real estate agent whose expertise fits what we are looking for. We’ll consider your suggestion on interviewing several agents as well so as to find the right real estate services for our needs. Thanks!

  18. I truly agree with the way you said that aside from knowing who to hire and how much they charge, it is also very important that we choose to work with a real estate agent who makes us feel comfortable and whom we can trust. Trust is a very important thing for my parents, so I bet they’ll agree with what you said. We’re looking for a new home this spring because our old home originally belongs to my aunt, and she’s returning to the US next year. Thanks a lot! I’ll make sure to let my parents know.

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