Once you get a good sense of what you're looking for, your next step should be to connect with a real estate agent or broker.
How do you decide who to choose? Ideally you'll want to find a real estate professional who is familiar with your target area, well-versed in evaluating properties, and skilled at negotiating purchase contracts.

Keep in mind:

The 80/20 ratio--a general understanding among real estate brokers that 20 percent of agents sell 80 percent of the properties. Which also means that 80 percent of real estate agents are only selling 20 percent of the properties.

Understand the Different Types of Agents

There are different kinds of agents, including those who work part-time, active agents, and inactive agents. Part-time agents are prevalent in real estate, and they usually consist of people who have retired from a previous career and are now trying to make some extra money.
Inactive agents, who can also be part-timers, are typically individuals who were familiar with the industry and are on the job as much to find bargains for themselves as they are to assist you.
These types of agents can be very helpful, and many do provide excellent service. Your best option, however, is to go with an active agent, someone who is personally invested in helping you find your perfect home at your perfect price.
An active agent will:
  • Be able to give you numerous references of buyers he or she closed with in the past few months ?
  • Stay on top of all new listings
  • Have unique knowledge about the local area
  • Remain committed to finding you the best deal

Movoto's Buyer Tip:

If you get an agent recommendation from a friend who recently bought a home, it's a positive sign that the agent could be a good option. However, it's also a possibility that your friend found his or her new home quickly or the agent's success was coincidental. Following through with the suggestion is a smart idea, but be aware that it is not a guaranteed match.

Where to Choose an Agent

Many online brokerages such as Movoto and similar sites have agent databases within their websites. Through these, you can search for an agent with good reviews and contact them to learn more. Asking colleagues and friends is another way to come across a prospective agent.

What to Do If No One Has Any Recommendations

If you don't know anyone who can recommend an agent and can't find good reviews online for anyone near you, an alternative might be to walk into a local office. Pick an office that advertises often and holds promotions for its agents--this office will likely be the one where agents are most active and work hard for a chance to win that sponsored trip to Hawaii.
To find the most active agent in this office, you can simply walk in off the street. Don't accept the first agent that greets you, though. Instead scan the walls for "Agent of the Month" awards or the like.
Typically the most recent Agent of the Month has been so for a number of consecutive months, meaning he or she is the most active agent in the office. This is the individual you want to work with.
  • If you don't see any awards to go off of, ask to see the broker and firmly state that you will be purchasing a home soon and want to work with the company's best agent. If by some chance the broker does not give you this information, move on to a new company and try again.

The Difference Between an Agent and a Broker

Both a real estate agent and a broker can help you with your search for a house. The main difference comes from their education level: a broker is typically more experienced and more educated because he or she is required to complete additional coursework.
To become certified, a real estate agent must complete a set amount of classes and pass an exam. A broker will have completed an additional amount of coursework and passed a broker's exam. This extra work enables a broker to do a number of things that real estate agents cannot, including:
  • Perform house evaluations
  • Own and operate a real estate company, also known as a brokerage
  • Employ real estate agents
The other central disparity between an agent and broker is that when you put your home on the market, you do so with a broker. If you need to sell your old home while looking for a new one, you'll end up working with a broker anyway. Yet an agent could be a better individual to guide you in your search simply because that's one of the agent's sole roles, while a broker has responsibilities and obligations to attend to for his or her office.
The bottom line:
Brokers and agents will perform virtually the same functions while working with you to find a home. What it really comes down to is who you're more comfortable working with, because in the end you'll have to work with a broker regardless in order to complete the transaction.

What to Ask Your Agent or Broker

There are five important questions that you should ask an agent or broker before hiring them in order to get a better idea of how good of a fit they will be for you.
1.How long have you been full time? You want an agent who has had at least five years of experience, as well as someone who devotes more than half of their time to the job.
2.How many transactions did you complete in the past year? An agent without many recent transactions could be a sign that he or she is not fully committed to the client or not as experienced.
3.What style of home do you typically work with? If the agent is more familiar with condos and townhouses and you want a single-family home, he or she might not be the best person for you.
4.What neighborhoods or area are you most familiar with? Ideally you want to work with someone who knows your desired neighborhood well. If he or she knows little about the area you're looking at, it's likely that he or she won't be able to accurately answer your questions or secure the best possible deal.
5.How much time and effort will you will you devote to me? The best agent is the one who remains busy helping you and other customers, but commits more than enough time toward your specific home search.

What's the Deal With Using More Than One Agent?

The best way to approach working with agents is to stick with one at a time. It's perfectly fine to move on to a new agent if you begin to work with someone and you don't mesh well or the agent pressures you into buying a home. But don't double dip in the agent pool.
Working with a single agent at a time is in your best interest, because if he or she knows you are loyal, he or she will be more likely to keep your needs at the forefront of the search. If you do decide to look for a new agent, tell your old agent and be honest about why you want to leave. Then update your new agent about properties you've already seen and where you are in the search.
Movoto's Buyer Tip:
As far as franchise real estate companies go, don't pick an agent based on what company he or she works for. A franchise company is often made up of individually owned offices, so each branch will be different--even if the franchise has a certain reputation. You should be more concerned with the individual than the company, because he or she is who you'll be dealing with and relying on.

Other Agent Terms You Should Know

While you're on the hunt for the perfect agent or broker, it's likely that you'll come across a number of unfamiliar terms relating to agents. Here are some of the most popular agent-related phrases:
  • Seller's agent: An agent who represents the seller and must notify him or her of any detail of benefit, even if it adversely affects you, the buyer.
  • Dual agent: This is an agent who represents the buyer and seller in the same transaction, which could lead to a conflict of interest since it's virtually impossible to represent the best interests of both sides.
  • Nonagent: An agent who works neither for the buyer nor the seller, but instead functions as a go-between for the two parties and helps finalize the deal.
  • Buyer's agent: This agent only represents you and is legally bound to put your interests above all else.
  • Exclusive buyer's agent: An agent who does not take listings and only represents buyers.
  • Discount broker: A discount broker provides you with a list of properties for sale, which you then research and check out own your own. The term discount is applied on the basis that the broker does less work and thus theo retically costs you less.
  • Commission: This is the (sometimes negotiable) amount paid to agents for their services, usually from the pro ceeds of the sale.
Once you've accumulated a list (or at least a better idea) of what you seek from your home, you can use the Movoto Basic Search or Custom Search tool to input a price range, a neighborhood or county, a property size, and more to find houses that fit your qualifications.


Tips & Traps When Buying a Home: 4th Edition, by Robert Irwin
Home Buying Guide for Dummies: 3rd Edition, by Ray Brown and Eric Tyson
100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask, by Ilyce R. Glink