Tips & Advice

How 5 Canadians chose their real estate agent

You need a real estate agent who can advocate for your wants and needs as a homebuyer – so, how can you find the perfect one?
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As a first-time homebuyer, you want the experience of buying a property to be smooth. One good strategy is to work with a real estate agent. The key is to find a Realtor who is willing to work for you. With over 100,000 agents available across Canada, it can be a saturated market to attempt to navigate. 

Thing is I found my real estate agent by complete accident. It started as a casual coffee meeting at Tim Horton’s. We were meeting to discuss some interview questions I had for a story I was writing. The conversation flowed, and it felt like I was catching up with someone I’d known for years. Two short weeks later, when I found out I would need to buy a home, I immediately knew who to call. Without hesitation, I called my agent and they agreed to help me and family to house hunt. 

Not everyone gets so lucky. For those looking for a cheat sheet on how to find a great agent, consider the following characteristics for finding the right real estate agent: excellent listening skills, a strong network and knowledge of the community you plan to buy in. 

As tempting as it may be to go with a friend or family member recommendation, consider doing a bit more research and taking a bit more time when choosing an agent. 

To try and find some great examples of how others have found their Realtor, we talked to five Canadians about their experience and asked them the key factors that helped them decide.

#1. Danielle D’ornellas, condo owner, Toronto

first-time homebuyer
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It was a record-breaking year for real estate in Toronto, Ontario in 2016 when D’ornellas decided she wanted to enter the housing market. At that time, the average cost of a home was $730,000. D’ornellas knew that she and her partner could afford either a below-average fixer-upper in an okay location or a beautiful condo downtown. The choice was obvious. They bought a two-bedroom condo right by the University of Toronto. 

Where did you start to search for a real estate agent?

The moment she started to entertain buying a home, D’ornellas reached out to family members to tell them the exciting news. Their first instinct was to offer up previous real estate agents they had worked with, but D’ornellas wasn’t so sure. 

“It had been a while since any of my family had bought, so I wasn’t sure if their past agents would understand the current market.” Instead, she turned to her connections.

Did you interview any real estate agents?

Rather than interview multiple agents, D’ornellas started to chat with a coworker who she worked with part-time that had his license and worked for Real Estate Homeward Brokerage. 

“We’d chat about the real estate market at work all the time,” says D’ornellas. Through conversation, she realized he had worked with tonnes of clients like her, who just wanted a chance to break into the market. “He made the idea of buying way less overwhelming than it seemed.” 

Where did you find your chosen real estate agent?

To confirm her friend was a good fit, she and her partner went to view two listings with him before heading to a coffee shop to discuss the viewings. “We ended up staying and chatting for over an hour,” says D’ornellas. Not only did the conversation flow, but he seemed to understand what they were looking for, so they decided to go for it.

Why did you choose your real estate agent?

D’ornellas knew a couple of friends who had previously worked with this real estate agent, so she asked them for references. They had nothing but good things to say, which made the decision an easy one. “I can get overly excited about things,” joked D’ornellas. Knowing she could be an emotional buyer, D’ornellas knew she needed a level-headed agent. He was just that.

What would you recommend a first-time homebuyer consider based on your experience?

D’ornellas recommends first-time homebuyers to be honest about their needs and wants. She shared that sometimes, you won’t find out what’s truly important until you start to look around. “I stopped thinking about what I thought I should have and started thinking about what I need.”

#2. Cory Cheyne, detached homeowner, Saskatoon

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In 2018, Cheyne was about to move across the country to attend post-secondary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. For four years, he had saved all of his money to make the transition smooth. After looking at the price to rent in comparison to buy, it seemed to make more sense to purchase a property close to campus. 

Where did you start to search for a real estate agent?

At first, Cheyne opted to look for real estate agents online. 

“I looked at a blend of reviews and then called and chatted with them to get a feel,” says Cheyne. He spoke to two agents and felt that even though he had pre-approval, neither agent was willing to answer his questions. 

“I understand they probably have a lot of clients,” says Cheyne. “But for a prospective buyer, they could have been a little more open or sent some new listings every few weeks.”

Did you interview any real estate agents?

Cheyne attended an event in Kelowna, British Columbia shortly before he moved, and coincidentally met two real estate agents who were from Saskatoon. “They were friendly, gave me their card and sent me listings like I expected the others to do,” Cheyne says.

Where did you find your chosen real estate agent?

The agents were the owners of the Coldwell Banker Signature. Cheyne says that they were always willing to put in the extra work and send a host of options to look at whenever he asked. 

Why did you choose your real estate agent?

“They worked seamlessly to work around my schedule regardless of the time of day,” says Cheyne. Together, they looked at a dozen houses, and Cheyne zoned in on two properties. 

What would you recommend a first-time homebuyer consider based on your experience?

Cheyne says that you’ll be able to tell very quickly if it’s an impatient agent by their body language and work ethic. 

“If they’re not on the same page, I would find another agent and would feel no obligation to tell them why,” says Cheyne. “It’s such a saturated profession, and I have no time for impersonal, unpleasant professionals.”

#3. Meghan Vallis, vacation condo owner, Vancouver

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For Vallis, living in a major city like Vancouver can be a costly expense. For her, the rent vs. buy argument consistently ends in the decision to continue renting. So, instead of purchasing a property in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, she and her partner opted to buy a vacation property in Sun Peaks, British Columbia. This way, they could rent the home out when they weren’t on holiday themselves and still pay the mortgage.

Where did you start to search for a real estate agent?

Vallis did the majority of her search online. She Googled where to find agents in the ski town, and found that there were only two real estate brokerages available, ReMax and Sotheby’s, which made the decision less strenuous. 

Did you interview any real estate agents?

Instead of interviewing agents, Vallis emailed both brokerages, and only one replied. “I had a quick phone chat and then was put on the property email notification list,” says Vallis. 

Where did you find your chosen real estate agent?

The response came from ReMax, so she chose the available agent. As Sun Peaks is five hours away, Vallis didn’t meet her agent in person for several months. 

Why did you choose your real estate agent?

“It came down to the fact that they responded to my email and took us seriously,” says Vallis. A small ski town that wasn’t immune to the craziness of the Vancouver real estate market, Vallis says that properties often sold in days. She chose her agent because she needed to find someone available to get her transaction done. Once she found a property she loved, she ended up having to find an agent from the other brokerage, as ReMax was representing the seller on the property they finally purchased. (There are rules about dual-agency in British Columbia that prevent one agent or one brokerage from working on both sides of the purchase.)

What would you recommend a first-time homebuyer consider based on your experience?

“Never forget that agents are salespeople who will make a commission off of you,” says Vallis. “The more you spend, the more they get paid.” Although there is nothing wrong with that, Vallis says it’s important to note because, sadly, not everyone will care about you. 

#4. Maria Smith, investment property owner, Edmonton

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Smith is no stranger to buying homes, as she now owns her property, as well as nine investment properties across Edmonton, Alberta. In her experience, the hardest part is finding the perfect real estate agent to represent you and your needs as a buyer.

Where did you start to search for a real estate agent?

During her first homebuying experience, Smith and her partner used a family friend who had been recommended to them. After that, they changed their process and started to ask their network for agents who had experience with investment properties. Smith says word of mouth makes more sense because you get real information and both the good and the bad side of each experience.

Did you interview any real estate agents?

Smith and her partner set up multiple interviews where they would go for coffee with each real estate agent to get to know them better. 

“We had specific questions and wanted to see their products and what they specialized in,” says Smith. “We knew this would be the best way to see who would be the best fit and who had the product we were looking for.” 

Where did you find your chosen real estate agent?

They found their agents through their friend group, who were also real estate investors. From there, they hired a few different agents until they found the agent they currently work with.

Why did you choose your real estate agent?

At first, Smith chose agents based on specific properties that they had. Now, they decide to work with an agent who is a better fit personality-wise. 

“He got back to us in a more timely manner and was willing to discuss the products we were looking for,” says Smith. “We had a good relationship.”

What would you recommend a first-time homebuyer consider based on your experience?

Smith offers two parcels of wisdom to first-time homebuyers. 

  1. Don’t be scared to ask questions. 
  2. Don’t feel like you need to go with a family friend. 

“So many people just go with the first real estate agent, and that might not be the right fit,” says Smith. “If they aren’t doing all they can, look for someone else.” 

#5. Stephen Weyman, detached homeowner, Moncton

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Weyman and his partner purchased their detached home in Moncton, New Brunswick. When they began their search for a Realtor, the couple wanted a buyer-focused agent who could help them save money. 

Where did you start to search for a real estate agent?

Weyman did what most people do as they start to hunt for a real estate agent and went straight to Google. He searched using popular keywords, and eventually stumbled across a real estate agent who also blogged about the trends and statistics that Weyman was also interested in.

Where did you find your chosen real estate agent?

After chatting with the real estate agent who ran the blog, that agent referred Weyman to another agent who had similar experiences to his, and Weyman was on board.

Did you interview any real estate agents?

One phone call interview was all it took for Weyman and his partner to hire their selected agent. “We asked a bunch of questions and had a good feeling,” says Weyman. From there, what happened next was beyond what the couple had anticipated. 

Why did you choose your real estate agent?

Weyman knew their chosen agent represented their rights as a buyer and was going to do whatever they needed to score the best possible price. 

“He showed us 30 houses inside a month,” says Weyman. “Through all of that, he was never pushy.”

What would you recommend a first-time homebuyer consider based on your experience?

Weyman kept his advice short, but sweet: find someone who represents you as a buyer.

In short, the most valuable deciding factors for homebuyers were a robust network, a good personal connection, and a solid understanding of your wants and needs as a buyer. You need an agent who can advocate for you, and who can make a sometimes difficult process easy. 

When I bought my first home, my real estate agents — I worked with a husband and wife team from Zolo — helped walk me through every single stage of the process and advised me on what was best for our needs. We appreciated their honest opinion and desire to ensure we were happy with the decisions made. 

An agent should make your experience one to remember for a good reason – not bad. Don’t be afraid to interview, ask questions and speak with references. A home is not an overnight decision or a small purchase. You deserve the best of the best. 

Alyssa Davies
Alyssa Davies

Alyssa is an award-winning personal finance blogger and founder of MixedUpMoney.com. She writes about being a mom, overcoming personal debts, and how to get away with affording your ridiculously expensive latte habit. A new homeowner, Alyssa brings her real-life knowledge of the Canadian real estate market and smart money matters to this growing brand.

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