Finding a buyer's agent without a recommendation?
March 4, 2016 3:07 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are starting the home-buying process, and we'd like a good buyer's agent to help us find a place. After polling friends, family, and co-workers, though, it turns out nobody we know has a real estate agent in our area they can recommend. There's hundreds of agents around here; what can we do to help narrow down a search?

Online listings in our area show hundreds of local agents, and their reviews on Trulia,, Yelp, etc. are so uniformly positive that they don't actually help narrow things down much. Are there other discriminators we can be looking at? Should we just start cold-calling?

If you do have recommendations for agents in the San Gabriel Valley, I'd certainly take 'em over Mefi Mail, too.
posted by Upton O'Good to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Visit lots of open houses, even of houses that are not necessarily your style or in your price range. It gives you good background info on home buying, and a chance to meet a bunch of different real estate agents. You're likely to meet some that you get along with well and who seem to "get" what you're looking for. Grab business cards, research them after, then call one that stands out to you to set up a meeting.

Just be careful at open houses that you don't unintentionally make someone think they're definitely going to be your agent. There's this thing where they say, "Oh, I can sign you up to see the MLS listings" and then somehow they think that when you agree to it you are now their client.
posted by dayintoday at 3:12 PM on March 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

We got our fantastic agent through a referral from our banker, when we went in to get our pre-approval paperwork. He had a few recommendations, and we picked the guy with the same name as my husband. I'd talked to a couple of other agents on the phone, and didn't get a good feeling from them. The guy we ended up using, we hit it off right away.

Agreed with dayintoday -- you can go around and look at open houses in the area you're interested in. You'll meet a lot of agents that make your skin crawl, and who will want to sign on as your agent on the spot, but you'll probably also find a couple who you like.

And yeah, every single agent you talk to will want to immediately set you up with some MLS listings. I was very clear with all of them that I'd be happy to take a look at what listings they put together before making a decision on an agent -- making sure they knew that I was treating this as their audition for the job. And it was kind of hilarious how most of them managed to screw up the MLS search they set up (wrong area, houses with things I definitely didn't want, wrong number of floors, etc.).
posted by themissy at 3:28 PM on March 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you have Redfin in your area, it will show who the buyer's agent was on sales. You might look at agents who have represented a lot of buyers in the areas you're interested in. (Other sites may show that as well, I'm not sure, but Redfin definitely does).
posted by primethyme at 3:30 PM on March 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

For example, here's a Redfin link for 6 months of sales in Pasadena. If you click on a listing, it will show the name and agency of both the seller's and buyer's agent.
posted by primethyme at 3:32 PM on March 4, 2016

Have you tried their national organization NAEBA? That's what I used to find one. Good luck!
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 3:53 PM on March 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Memailed you.
posted by karbonokapi at 3:59 PM on March 4, 2016

We found our buyers' agent at an open house as someone upthread recommended. I just observed her talking to visitors and was impressed by her warmth, practicality, and no-pressure manner. A couple months later, I called her up and she found our next home.
posted by Elsie at 4:16 PM on March 4, 2016

Your mortgage lender might play matchmaker for you; we used an agent through our lender's referral program and earned a small rebate after we closed.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:27 PM on March 4, 2016

You don't even have to go to just open houses, you can contact realtors after looking at the MLS via and make appointments to go see houses you're interested in. That's another way to meet them. Just remember that they are the seller's agent and never sign anything with them to be a dual agent or don't let them make you sign something before they show you the house.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 4:39 PM on March 4, 2016

Unless you think having a buyer's agent gets you first dibs in a hot seller's market, I don't know why you'd put yourself at a disadvantage by getting an agent. I've bought four homes in my life and lost one in a bidding war. The lesson I learned was that the seller's broker becomes your biggest advocate if everyone else shows up with an agent of their own because you allow them to double their commission.
posted by Dragonness at 4:41 PM on March 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

The other good thing about not having an agent of your own is that the buyer's broker may help bridge the gap between your lowball offer and the lowest amount the seller is willing to take by foregoing a part of their commission in order to make the sale. That's what happened with the last place I bought.
posted by Dragonness at 4:45 PM on March 4, 2016

I'm not an expert in this, but there is a legal concept called "procuring cause" in real estate, which to my understanding means that generally the agent who first showed you (or told you) about the house gets the commission. So I'm not sure it's safe to go talk to a seller's agent directly (or get listings from an agent at an open house) and then expect another agent to represent you on that purchase. They tend to be worried that they won't get paid. Again, I'm neither a lawyer nor an expert, but I have run into an issue along these lines once and that's how it was explained to me.

I don't really want to go down the "why do you need an agent?" path since these threads always seem to devolve into an argument over that, between people who are convinced that an agent is a waste of money, and people who see value in them. I'll leave it at saying, I see a lot of value in having an agent, especially if I'm buying in an area I'm not super familiar with...
posted by primethyme at 4:48 PM on March 4, 2016

Call a few and interview them. Ask what they bring to the table. Go with the one you like most.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:06 PM on March 4, 2016

I would ask them what are the standard clauses they put in an offer. It should be written so that you have a couple different ways of getting out of the offer if things develop that make you uneasy.
posted by betsybetsy at 9:34 PM on March 4, 2016

Thanks, folks! Lots of good options; I've marked a few as best for things I'll try and follow up on.
posted by Upton O'Good at 9:07 AM on March 5, 2016

Just be very careful to read anything they want you to sign before getting started (or ever, really). Avoid signing exclusive agreements if you can in your state. I went through 3 agents looking for my current house. The first one wanted to slide in an agreement during our first sit-down at the office. It was presented as "just a formality for the office" kind of thing, and it was as we were all standing up to go. So there was some expectation I would, I don't know, just read the title and skim, or take their word for it that it was "standard" or something?

Turns out it included stuff like any house I buy for [long time like 18 months, can't remember exactly] entitled that agent to a commission whether they helped or not. The agent played dumb and had to go get a "team member" from the office to explain that it was "just legal language" that "everyone" signed. I wouldn't sign it, and it turned out it wasn't required, it was optional.

Good thing, because I ended up firing that crappy used-car salesman of an agent within a month.
posted by ctmf at 12:18 PM on March 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

In addition to the advice above, when you interview agents, ask how many sales they closed in the last year. You want someone with experience and connections, not someone just starting out. You will quickly figure out what is a reasonable number for your market.
posted by metahawk at 7:23 PM on March 5, 2016

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