Los Altos Real Estate Blog


What criteria do consumers use to choose real estate agents?

Hiring a real estate agent is, for many consumers, a major project that involves more than just picking the first person they meet at an open house.  The decision to hire an agent is rarely taken lightly.  Consumers take a variety of paths to choosing an agent from interviews to referrals.  I'm writing this to the consumers who may be considering who they hire.  There's more to consider than just the obvious classic criteria and I'll tell you why.


Classic Criteria

The traditional criteria used to evaluate agent worthiness are a mix of easily quantifiable data points derived from years of work and sales.  The common criteria are:

  1. Years in the industry
  2. Overall and recent unit sales
  3. Overall and recent dollar sales


A Different Look At Years In The Industry

As a consumer, the first classic criteria - years in the business - seems like a good one because you think hiring a new agent would be a mistake. Perhaps, but consider that a new agent with an MBA probably knows more about business, finance, and negotiation than an agent with 20 years experience who handles no details in their transactions.  The point is that your choice of agent, when considering experience, is better to focus on the necessary skills for the job.

The necessary skills are many but the biggest ones are data analysis (understanding the sales data), contract law (knowing and interpreting contract terms), negotiation tactics, marketing (in general), and customer service.  When you interview an agent, ask them questions that give insight into each of these areas.  You'll find that when they can provide specific details showcasing their expertise in these areas, the years in the industry won't matter.


The Overall Unit And Dollar Sales Gimmick

Regardless of the market you're in, there is probably at least one agent who claims to be "#1" because of how many homes they've sold or the total dollars sold over their careers.  It's a gimmick for the most part.  As a consumer, you've been led to believe that an agent that sells 200 homes a year must be good by default.  How else would so many people list their properties with them?  Well, there's more to it than that.

It is entirely possible that an agent (more likely a team) selling hundreds of homes not only sells them all but does so with excellent customer satisfaction.  Unfortunately, there are also many agents with large scale sales numbers who did so through sales of government or bank owned properties.  Other means of inflating sales figures include:

  • Heavily discounting commissions (buying listings)
  • Reduced services
  • Naturally high-volume markets
  • Dominant advertising

While these may all be perfectly legitimate means of obtaining business, they belie the one criteria you care about - quality.  Take a close look at the sales price to list price ratio and the overall days on market.  Even those have the potential for manipulation but they could indicate how well a buyer's agent gets a discount or a listing agent gets top dollar.  Beyond either of those numbers, you'll want a more objective measure of quality: references.

Most agents will have some number of references and don't bother with the ratings you see on various websites.  Get something that was written by the consumer themselves such as a copy of the letter or email they sent the agent.  A good reference combined with quality metrics should give you insight into how well the agent performs.


Criteria Beyond Statistics

No matter what the numbers, references, recommendations or other data points tell you the agent you choose has to be someone you like.  Get to know them a bit and make sure they're someone you can work with.  While this is a business decision and a business transaction, having a good working relationship will be important.  Keep that in mind as you make your choice.


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 Bryan Robertson, CEO | T: 650.799.9951 | Email: bryan@catarra-re.com | Website: http://www.BryanRobertsonHomes.com |CA BRE# 01191946 | Catarra Real Estate, Inc  | 171 Main St #220 | Los Altos, CA 94022



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Comment balloon 46 commentsBryan Robertson • November 23 2013 09:31AM


Bryan~ looks, ha ha BTW: hope things are well and business a boom-in

Posted by Jon Kolsky, Licensed California Real Estate Broker (Kolsky Realty & Management) about 5 years ago

Well of course!  You'll get plenty of business on good looks.  Me?  Not so much :)

Posted by Bryan Robertson, Broker, Author, Speaker (Intero Real Estate) about 5 years ago

Experience and market knowledge should be the driving factor.

Posted by Kathy Sheehan, Senior Loan Officer (Bay Equity, LLC 770-634-4021) about 5 years ago

Bryan, it has always been my goal to provide good service to my clients. Because of this, I am limited in the number of transactions, I can handle at any given time. I'm not out to be the top listing agent in my area. Instead, I want to be the best agent in my area. That moniker is determined by the number of transactions I do. It's determined by the experience my clients have when working with me.

Posted by Tammie White, Broker, Franklin TN Homes for Sale (Franklin Homes Realty LLC) about 5 years ago

Bryan I find that our clients want, need and prefer a high level of customer service and interaction with myself.  At some point that close interaction got a bit side-tracked due to building a new company serveral years agao but I quickly saw and heard that they wanted me to work with them - not hand them off to an agent even though I knww they'll be well taken care off. Relationships are about trusting that the agent will be the clients wants and needs FIRST and have the skill, knowledge and experience to successfully navigate the buying or selling process.

Posted by Anna Banana Kruchten CRB, CRS 602-380-4886, Arizona's Top Banana! (Phoenix Property Shoppe) about 5 years ago

Bryan - Real estate agents do so many things that are far beyond the stats that many claim their superiority too, not to mention that those stats may not be what they seem to be. Consumers need to ask a lot of questions!  SUGGESTED!

Posted by Laura Allen, Lake Tahoe - Truckee Real Estate for Sale TahoeLauraRealEstate.com, Tahoe Real Estate Agent Helping Buyers and Sellers (Coldwell Banker, Tahoe City, CA (530) 414-1260) about 5 years ago

Good Evening Bryan


Thanks to the post and information. Have a great weekend

Posted by Patrick White, Driven to bring New Yorkers home (Home Driven Realty, Inc) about 5 years ago

Bryan, this is great advice.  Oh, and don't forget that new agent energy.  I would never say don't do business with a newbie as long as he or she is being well trained and superviced - usually with an oldie available to step in and help when it's needed.  


Posted by Patricia Kennedy, Home in the Capital (RLAH Real Estate) about 5 years ago


This is certainly a timely topic with what is going on with the AgentMatch controversy. Consumers use a whole host of criteria besides raw sales.


Posted by Richard Iarossi, Crofton MD Real Estate, Annapolis MD Real Estate (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage) about 5 years ago

If the consumer likes and trusts you, everthing else goes out the window.

Eve in Orlando

Posted by Mike & Eve Alexander, Exclusively Representing ONLY Orlando Home Buyers (Buyers Broker of Florida ) about 5 years ago

Bryan, We both know it is all about quality of service.  I could not give the quality of service I provide and do large volumes of transactions.  As the numbers go up the quality typically goes down. Most teams I know of here in the bay area are somewhat broken. No one seems to know anything about the status of the file.  Teams work provided they work like a well-oiled machine.  Congratulations on a well deserved Featured Post.  I so like not seeing the "Advice" post-it.  

Posted by Kathleen Daniels, San Jose Homes for Sale-Probate & Trust Specialist (KD Realty - 408.972.1822) about 5 years ago

Bryan, list price ratio is a very good indicator of an agents ability to properly price a listing.  And I prefer  agent days on market especially if I get the listing after two other agents have failed to sell the property. I was recently hired by a seller whose property had 203 cumulative days on market. After I took the liting the we had an accepted contract in 7 days.

Posted by Nancy Laswick, Your REALTOR® For The Valley Of The Sun (United Real Estate) about 5 years ago

I simply love this post. I'm almost tempted to print it off and include it in my listing presentations and buyer info packets. Excellent.

Posted by Peggy Wester, Real Estate Agent Ozaukee & Washington County (Realty Executives Integrity) about 5 years ago

You are right on, Bryan. This agent rating system that is the talk of the town right now is dangerous. There are "top agents" I would not want to work with because they would make my life miserable. Find someone you feel comfortable with. Check references if you must, but don't assume that numbers are telling you the whole story.

Posted by Jane Peters, Los Angeles real estate concierge services (Home Jane Realty) about 5 years ago

I am finding many consumers who thought hiring the biggest agent or companies that sold the most would get their homes sold are changing their minds after the listing expires. I get more questions about levels of service, feedback, updates and how easy they can reach me. Numbers do not always tell the truth. Great topic and conversation Bryan. congrats on the gold star

Posted by Scott Godzyk, One of Manchester NH's Leading Agents (Godzyk Real Estate Services) about 5 years ago


I have to agree with you that having a strong working relationship is very important in the selection process. Their choice should not be based solely on experience.  This brings me to the world chess championship where Carlsen who is much younger was able to beat Anand. Carlsen beat Anand because of his energy and ability to think outside the box.

Posted by Les & Sarah Oswald, Broker, Realtor and Investor (Realty One Group) about 5 years ago

Bryan, I know we've gotten some business over the years for simply answering the phone.  Sometimes, it's just a matter of being first agent to have a conversation with them and how you can help them.

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 www.LizTour.com) about 5 years ago

The last buyer client who hired me as their broker did so not because she has any idea how long I've been in the business, how many houses I've sold this year or the dollar amount.  She didn't ask any of those questions.  She watched me engage on a community page in my area for a few months then called me.  I think she's really a smart lady.  I haven't sold the most houses or the highest dollar amount, but I will care about her as a client more than the average bear.  Oh and I cared that much my first year as an agent too.

Posted by Tammy Lankford,, Broker GA Lake Sinclair/Eatonton/Milledgeville (Lane Realty Eatonton, GA Lake Sinclair, Milledgeville, 706-485-9668) about 5 years ago

I agree with several above who said if the potential client likes and trusts you you have a good match. Answering the phone, looking them in the eye and answering the questions they have about the process or the current market have sealed the deal at more than one open house for me.  And the relationships go on long after the transaction is closed.  I keep giving of myself throught the year by calling, taking over something I found that I think they would like, or just calling to say Hi, I miss you!

Posted by Evelyn Johnston, The People You Know, Like and Trust! (Friends & Neighbors Real Estate) about 5 years ago

Find someone you like and trust who has recently had a real estate transaction. Get their opinion. Getting referred by your friends is one of the best ways to choose an agent.

Posted by Margaret Rome, Baltimore Maryland, Sell Your Home With Margaret Rome ( HomeRome Realty 410-530-2400) about 5 years ago

you raise a lot of good points.  Looks like NAR is not taking these things into consideration with their new rateting system.

Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) about 5 years ago

Bryan- The first part of your post- I wish that was really true: 

"Hiring a real estate agent is, for many consumers, a major project that involves more than just picking the first person they meet at an open house.  The decision to hire an agent is rarely taken lightly."

We find that many homeowners especially of higher end homes list with their friends. They list with the people they are friends with. Down here, every other person you meet has a RE license. A lot of people list with the person they go riding horses with. We rarely are the first agent to list- we wait until their 'friend' could not sell their house and go after it when it is 'expired'. 


Posted by Katerina Gasset, Get It Done For Me Virtual Services (Get It Done For Me Virtual Services ) about 5 years ago

Hi Bryan,

Great points on your post!  I get various responses when I ask people why they choose me, but referrals from previous 'satisfied' clients are a big part of the choice.  Best of GREAT success to you always!

Posted by Jordon Wheeler, J W Group Real Estate Sales and Service (The Jordon Wheeler Group) about 5 years ago

Bryan, A M E N !!  I see team leaders who never do anything with a transaction and then they land the listings because of their years of experience and massive volume of sales.  Little do the sellers know that their sales numbers reflect the 25 agents that they have on their team, nor the fact that THEY are simply not doing a single task within the transaction - especially picking up their phone and communicating once they land the listing.  It's truly so sad for those clients - it's never a pleasant experience.  And, in MHO, you're correct, someone with a business degree who has NEVER sold a home would be a better choice for this buyer who just happened to ask all the wrong questions!

Posted by Debe Maxwell, CRS, Charlotte Homes for Sale - Charlotte Neighborhoods (www.iCharlotteHomes.com | The Maxwell House Group | RE/MAX Executive | (704) 491-3310) about 5 years ago
As a feng shui consultant I've wondered myself.
Posted by Laura Cerrano, Certified Feng Shui Expert, Speaker & Researcher (Feng Shui Manhattan Long Island) about 5 years ago

Referrals are a major reason for many of my clients.   They listen to others who have had previous experience with the agent.

Posted by DEANNA EARLY - - ( NMLS # 268590 ), Highest Ranked Mortgage Loan Originator Virginia (American National Bank and Trust) about 5 years ago

I found it's more about the rapport. Most clients have read my blog and understand that I know the market and the area extremely well. I can't remember the last time a buyer or seller asked me how many homes I've sold or how long I've been in the business. My presentations provide a very thorough background on the area and the process and from that everything else they need to know is evident.

Posted by Aaron Hofmann, aka Mr. Smyrna Vinings (Atlanta Communities) about 5 years ago

Congratulations on the featured post. I hope consumers will read it and choose their agent carefully.

Posted by Gita Bantwal, REALTOR,ABR,CRS,SRES,GRI - Bucks County & Philadel (RE/MAX Centre Realtors) about 5 years ago

Great suggestions... home sellers are more used to interviewing multiple agents these days, but many buyers don't think about doing it. Part of the problem might be that they really don't always understand what we bring to the table besides our ability to unlock doors for them. It's on us, as real estate professionals, to educate them.

Posted by Nina Hollander, Your Charlotte/Ballantyne/Waxhaw/Fort Mill Realtor (Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage ) about 5 years ago

Laura has developed a stutter. Like a doctor, lawyer, is the fit a good one for both. Interview, but before that google the agents and see how they do their job. It is not a cake walk, popularity content. It is about how they do the job as you look in as a buyer. What is your reaction and where are the differences? Marketing, not all do it to the same fire in your belly, full throttle high RPM degree for exposure.

Posted by Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573, Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker (MOOERS REALTY) about 5 years ago

This is so true - there's more to it than the number of homes sold.  The other things is data can be manipulated easily -- someone who states they are number 1 in their area, could mean they sold the most homes on their street over the last six months.  It's true (oh, only one home sold?).  But totally useless info.


Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (Grand Lux Realty, Monroe NY, 914-419-0270, kat@thehousekat.com) about 5 years ago

The personality of the agent, and their overall capabilities have to be a fit with the client or the relationship will never be a positive.

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) about 5 years ago

Bryan, this is excellent advice. All buyers and sellers should read this post prior to finding an agent.

Posted by Michael Setunsky, Your Commercial Real Estate Link to Northern VA about 5 years ago
Great point there is so much more to consider then volume and dollars sold. Have a great Sunday
Posted by Kim Boekholder Utah Real Estate, Broker, Results Real Estate (Results Real Estate 801.580.5624) about 5 years ago


According to NAR's 2012 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, two-thirds of both only interviewed one agent. So it really comes down to who gets to them first, stays in touch and buillds a relationship. Those who generate leads and follow-up are going to win the majority of the time. 

Posted by Bill and MaryAnn Wagner, Jersey Shore and South Jersey Real Estate (Wagner Real Estate Group) about 5 years ago

I'm embarrassed to say this, but when I went looking for my first home, I picked the first real estate agent in my area that I saw. I didn't look into any of the things you mentioned here. We were not the best match (different personalities) but in the end, we got the job done. Sellers/Buyers would be wise to bookmark this info for later use!!


Posted by Suzanne Otto, Your Montgomery County PA home stager (Six Twenty Designs) about 5 years ago


I am all over the Internet and my clients good mouth me constantly...Anyone that wants over analyze has my sympathy but not my services. What people should be looking for is a "results" agent for that is what really matters

Posted by Richie Alan Naggar, agent & author (people first...then business Ran Right Realty ) about 5 years ago

Bill - Yeah, I've seen that stat and it's a shame really but hard to fight facts. Those who do interview need some help.


All - Thanks for the comments and reblogs on this.  To those who would like to use this article in printed form, please send me a request and I'll be happy to approve it.

Posted by Bryan Robertson, Broker, Author, Speaker (Intero Real Estate) about 5 years ago

Bryan - Unfortunately, I will have to agree with Katerina #22 that many people don't do much diligence when hiring an agent.  If memory serves me right, some huge percentage of people end up hiring the first agent they speak with.  I wish that people would spend more time at this step, because a poor decision here is likely to lead to a less than stellar experience for them.  Ask an agent for testimonials, references, and some recent clients to call/email to ask questions... this is where you can separate the wheat from the chaff.

I agree with you 100% on the last paragraph "Criteria Beyond Statistics" because this is wear the rubber hits the road and most people will be able to find a truly suitable agent help them.

Posted by AJ Heidmann ~ CRS, YOUR Alexandria & Arlington, VA Real Estate Expert (McEnearney Associates, Inc.) about 5 years ago

I think the biggest for me is gelling the rest seems to come naturally

Posted by Charles Stallions, 800-309-3414 - Pensacola, Pace or Gulf Breeze, Fl. (Charles Stallions Real Estate Services ) about 5 years ago

I struggle with do I want to be the first agent or the third agent? I think everybody wants to be the third agent. Maybe a better question to ask is how many agents do you need to sell your home? LOL.

As for DOM, the market generates that number. You could look at some DOM for some short sales, and you'd faint. And you could be looking at an excellent short sale agent.

Consumers should pick an agent they like and trust and want to work with for the long haul. Experience counts.


Posted by Elizabeth Weintraub Sacramento Real Estate Agent, Top 1% of Lyon Agents, Put 40 years of experience to work for you (Lyon Real Estate) about 5 years ago

Good post - to me, the experience and dollar sales are second to personality. I need to know I can work with someone and that I trust them.

Posted by Wayne and Jean Marie Zuhl, The Last Names You'll Ever Need in Real Estate (Samsel & Associates) about 5 years ago

Since most people don't buy or sell a house that frequently, they are simply unaware of not only how important an agent can be but how different we all can be. The Halo effect can be very powerful. I think this post could be applied to more than just real estate. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Jeff Fritzson: Frisco Real Estate Pro, Your Success is My Focus! (Jeff Fritzson Real Estate, Ebby Halliday Realtors) about 5 years ago

Heavy, heavy marketing seems to make all the difference. If your name appears all over a neighborhood, people naturally assume that you're the best.

Posted by Jill Sackler, LI South Shore Real Estate - Broker Associate (Charles Rutenberg Realty Inc. 516-575-7500) about 5 years ago

I thought this was a great post. Good real information on choosing a Realtor. I've worked with agents who have been in the business for 20 years and wonder how anyone hired them. Customer service is my focus. If you stink as an agent how do you expect to get referrals.

Posted by Mike Baltierra, Full Service at Your Service Realtor-Corona CA (Rise Realty ) about 5 years ago

I once knew an agent that got into the business her husband was rich so she had 5 billboards, 20 park benches full page ad in the paper every single week this before she sold her first home. I remember going on a listing appointment and the seller saying that she had to be successful with all tha advertising. YOU THINK

Posted by Charles Stallions, 800-309-3414 - Pensacola, Pace or Gulf Breeze, Fl. (Charles Stallions Real Estate Services ) about 5 years ago

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