Producing the best real estate agent referrals

© 2015 Richard Montgomery

Reader Question: A close family member wants us to produce the best real estate agent referrals for them to pick a real estate agent. Their house has been for sale on-and-off for several years. They blame themselves for poor agent choices, but we are suspicious they may be the cause rather than the agents. They have a history of alienating family members as well. We want to help, but don’t want to be blamed for referring a poor agent. How does one make a good real estate agent referral?   Mary S.

Monty’s Answer: Your concern about making a referral is well founded. The only way to know for certain how a real estate agent performs is to work with them. The process of referring real estate agents or any other service provider requiring a license is similar. This referral process works with real estate agents, physicians, insurance agents, auto mechanics, attorneys or any other service providers, of which there are dozens of business categories. In all of the above-referenced occupations, some individuals are very good, some are average and some should not be practicing.

No one wants to make a referral to a real estate agent that is not competent to practice.

You can be protected in this situation:

  1. Provide three referrals – not one.
  2. If you have a real estate person you have worked with that you believe can handle your family members, by all means share their name.
  3. If you do not have your agent’s name, then be certain to have agent names from three other home sellers you have spoken to, so you have a total of three referrals.
  4. When sharing the referrals distinguish the agent(s) you have worked with from the agents you have heard good things about from sellers who have used them.
  5. By sharing three referrals, you are not “steering” to one agent, but providing your family member a choice.
  6. Recommend they interview all three agents, and then choose. Every seller preparing to sell a property should go through this process.
  7. Vet your referrals. The process of identifying good agents takes work, but doing the work to check them out combined with multiple referrals will reduce the odds of your family member blaming you for poor results.

Drilling down on the phone calls

The key is to contact respected people you know that have sold their homes in the past year or two. Ask them if they were satisfied with their agent, and then just listen. Some will have very positive comments, and others may not have too much to say, or would rather not comment. It is not a good sign with no comment.

As they respond, listen carefully to the reason the referrer hired the agent. If they picked the agent because they were a neighbor, a nice person, a relative or a member of the referrer’s bowling team, it is no indication they are proficient. Follow up with a couple of questions, ” Can you give me an example of what impressed you about them?” Or, “Beside the fact they are a nice person, did you think they were a good negotiator?” You want to hear an example that sounds like the extra mile; ” She brought the papers to our house on a Sunday night because the rate lock was expiring the next day.” While the anecdote does not guarantee it will go smoothly, it is certainly a better indicator about how they work than being on the same bowling team or a “nice person.”

Why should you care?

The value of speaking with a home seller who worked with the agent makes them a witness. While some witnesses are better than others, talking with a witness is as close as you can get without you having worked with the agent. Taking the time to search for referrals in this fashion is doing the best you can do.

There is an article titled “Finding the right real estate agent” you can share with them that offers a list of questions designed to determine the agents they are interviewing are a good fit. You can find it at

Lastly, if this sounds like too much work, just say “no.” There is no harm in excusing yourself by stating, “We do not know any real estate agents to recommend to you.” You will be safer being criticized for not cooperating when they needed you than you would be if you give them just one name, or any name that you have not vetted.