Real Estate Guides

How to find an American realtor

If you plan on buying property in the U.S. you'll want to work with a local real estate agent. Here's why you should rely on an agent referral to find that agent
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Whether you’re a Canadian who wants to buy a vacation home or you’re interested in moving to the United States, the process of buying property in America can actually be quite different than the process of buying property in Canada. The key is to find real estate professionals that can help you each step of the way — and help you see the longer-term, bigger picture, as well. That’s why we compiled this guide on how to find an American realtor if you’re moving to the United States.

Before moving to the United States, the first step is to find an American Realtor. Although you can indeed hunt for one yourself, the two million active real estate agents in the United States might make that decision a touch more challenging. A better option is to ask an agent in your hometown in Canada for a referral.

Rick Metcalfe, a Phoenix, Arizona real estate agent, has sold hundreds of vacation homes and investment properties to Canadians. As a Canadian himself, he built his network in Canada before relocating to the United States. He now receives many referrals from Canadian Realtors. “Buying is easy,” said Metcalfe, who compared the homebuying process to that of buying in another province, but knowing the slight differences, such as what home inspections to pay for (always get a termite inspection), who is responsible for upgrades or repairs and how long a mortgage application will take, will really help your U.S.-property purchase go smoothly.

Why bother getting a referral to an American Realtor?

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So, why should you bother getting a referral from a Canadian real estate agent you trust? Because they have an incentive to give you good advice. In most countries, real estate agents who provide a referral to an out-of-city or out-of-country Realtor will get compensated by the real estate agent they refer you to. Why? Because you are considered a motivated buyer. A motivated buyer is someone who is primed and actively looking — motivated to make a transaction. Since that’s the best type of client for an agent — who makes money only if a person completes a transaction — it’s worth it to the American Realtor to pay a referral fee to your Canadian agent. But before raising the alarm, consider this: That fee ensures that you will get the same quality service as you would if you were working with your trusted Canadian agent. If you trust your hometown real estate professional, then that referral fee helps makes sure you can trust an agent you’ve never met in a city you’ve never bought property in before.

Who ultimately pays the referral fee?

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The good news is that as a buyer, you don’t actually pay anything. Any referral fee that is paid comes from the commission the American Realtor earns off the sale price of the home you purchase.

In America, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) maintains a Code of Ethics for Realtors that stipulates that U.S. agents cannot accept referral compensation without a client’s consent. Why? Because as a client, you need to know who has a vested interest in the transaction. You need to know that your Canadian realtor is putting their reputation on the line by referring you to their U.S. colleague — and you need to know that this U.S. colleague values this referral enough to compensate your Canadian Realtor. You also need to know if any referral fee is paid by the home inspector or mortgage broker or anyone else involved in the real estate process. In this situation, each professional needs to be most concerned with helping you make the best financial decision — not worried about losing future business if they end up scuppering a deal.

Keep in mind, referral fees are standard practice across North America and the world. While the fee itself isn’t standard — there is no set percentage or set dollar amount — the practice of paying a fee is common. Typically most jurisdictions will follow a custom practice. In most places in America, agents will pay 20% to 30% of the total commission to the Canadian agent you referred our business.

Alyssa Davies
Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is a personal finance blogger who focuses on mixing finances with laughter. Through her blog, Mixed Up Money, she helps people relate, learn and become inspired. She recently joined Zolo as the content specialist and brings her passion for property and smart money matters to this growing brand.