How To Find The Best REALTOR® In San Diego

Amy Ruiz - Keller Williams Realty - San Diego, CA

When you’re ready to buy or sell a home in San Diego, how do you find the best REALTOR® to work with to obtain your goal?

I’ve been frequently seeing ads on TV lately from Real Estate referral websites, promising to find you the best real estate agent in your neighborhood. The “testimonials” by presumably real customers state that the agent they found on that website sold their home for above the asking price in a matter of days. Is that possible or accurate?

Advertising Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

Sure, the commercials and testimonials can be possible or accurate. However, it doesn’t tell the whole story! It all depends on the current market conditions in the city you live. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that the agent they selected from the website was any better overall than other agents not listed on the site.

With low inventory (not many homes for sale at any given time) and more buyers than sellers, it’s a seller’s market.  That’s how it’s been for a long time now in San Diego, so many homes on the market can and do sell quickly and above asking price anyway, no matter who the agent is.

Of course it also depends on the condition of the home as well, and if there are multiple buyers making offers at the same time. In that situation and presuming the home for sale is in decent shape and priced well to begin with, the seller is going to be in the drivers seat and it will most likely sell fast, often for more than the asking price as buyers have to increase their offers to be competitive. That’s just supply and demand at work. So while some agents and referral sites would like you to think it’s all about them, there’s more to how much your home will sell for and how quickly than just the agent, and specifically just the agents the referral sites are recommending to you.

How The Referral Sites and Apps Work

So how do the real estate referral sites and apps work; who do they determine to be the best agent to help you? According to one site, they analyze millions of home sales across the country to find the best performing agents in your area. While I’m not disputing that they actually do use their computers and algorithms to analyze millions of transactions across the country, I am saying that using a computer or data-driven approach or “artificial intelligence” to choose who to represent you when buying or selling your home isn’t necessarily the best way.

Statistics Alone Don’t Tell the Whole Story

As with any profession, whether real estate, sports or anything else, statistics don’t make the professional. The professional makes the statistics. It’s who they are, what they do and how they go about doing it that actually matters. Sales statistics are only a small part of the overall picture when rating an agent that is best qualified or suited to help you buy or sell a home.

It would be a mistake to only look at statistics to figure out who will be a good fit to work with you and help you have the best home buying or selling experience. It’s also irrelevant how many millions of transactions or agents these sites analyze across the country. You only care about agents in your local area, period! The numbers they crunch are also only a part of how they determine who to recommend to you. While it might sound good in the commercials, there is one little detail they are not telling you about how they choose the best agent…

The Rest of the Story

What the referral sites don’t say in the consumer marketing is that the only agents they recommend are those that pay to get on their list. Simply put, one way or another (directly or indirectly), the agent pays the company a referral fee to be listed on the site! Whether it’s a flat fee per month or often a referral fee percentage (commonly 25% or more of the agents commission in whatever house they help you buy or sell), those are the only agents that they will show you. So while they might say their recommendations are unbiased and that their agents don’t pay to be listed on the site, can they really be unbiased when the site will only show you agents that are willing to pay them a referral fee?

There’s nothing wrong with agents paying other licensed agents or company a referral fee or percentage. It’s common practice in the industry and is completely legal. Since the referral sites don’t charge the customer any money, they have to generate income from somewhere or they wouldn’t stay in business. I’m good with that also as there’s nothing shady about it and it’s legal. There’s also nothing wrong with agents wanting to be listed on the site and paying a referral fee to help get new clients.

Because real estate agents only get paid when they actually close on a transaction, they are basically unemployed (no salary to count on like an employee) between each client or transaction. Add in the competition of thousands of other local agents competing for your business, and it can be a tough way to earn a living. That’s why referrals are so important to agents, no matter where they come from. So the referral websites are not bad in general, they help the people employed at that company as well as the agents they refer home buyers and sellers to. They just might not be the best source for a consumer to find the right agent that will work well with them.

I’m simply saying that when they only recommend agents that sign up to be listed on the referral site, you could be missing out on a great agent that isn’t listed on the site and could actually be a better fit working with you. For example, there are many thousands of agents in San Diego, but the referral sites are most likely only going to show you the top 3 agents in their database based only on the agents who have signed up to be listed, and the sales statistics of those agents. I’ll say it again, sales statistics only tell a part of the story about what makes a good agent!

Agent Experience Counts

As I’ve already covered, any competent agent can sell a home for above listing price in a short time, when the local housing inventory is low and it’s a seller’s market. It’s not only the agents listed on the referral site that can accomplish the same thing.

What any artificial intelligence can’t analyze are important qualifications like an agents negotiating skills, or their personality and ability to work well with all others involved in the transaction. To successfully close the transaction on a home sale, most of the hard work and skills required happen after an offer is accepted.

Listing a home to be sold, showing the buyers property and both agents negotiating on the offer and advising their clients is only the first part. Just as important if not more is all the contingencies that commonly go along with offers; the home inspection, request for repairs, the buyers loan, closing dates and many other things that offers can be contingent on.

Marketing Contradiction?

The referral sites also seem to contradict themselves. On the page for home sellers, they’ll imply that their agents will sell your home faster and for more money than agents not listed on their site. On the page for home buyers, they’ll say that their agents can save you thousands on your home purchase. Is that even possible, for a seller to get the best price for their home while the buyer saves thousands of dollars, all in the same transaction?

Maybe they’re assuming that a transaction will never include both buyers and sellers agents that they recommended, and that only agents listed on their site are competent? Tell me if my logic isn’t correct, but it doesn’t seem like you can have it both ways. For the seller to get the best price, it’s not likely that the buyer is also going to save thousands of dollars. How are they going to save thousands of dollars? They don’t really say, which doesn’t surprise me.

Again, it also depends on the local market. If you’re in a sellers market with a decent home that is priced well, the buyers aren’t likely to get their offer accepted if they submit a low-ball offer to try and save thousands of dollars, especially when the seller receives multiple offers.

The Bottom Line

To recap, real estate referral websites and apps aren’t necessarily bad or the wrong way to go when looking for an agent to help you buy or sell a home. It’s possible that you may actually find a good agent that you’re happy with. I also agree with some of what they say about what makes a good agent. It’s just not in the referral company’s best interest to tell the whole story in their marketing, that’s just how advertising works.

My Recommendations

Like most professions, not all real estate agents are created equal. Some are good, some are very good, and some are just terrible and shouldn’t even be in the business. Based on my experience of observing Amy helping clients buy and sell homes in San Diego for over 12 years now, I’ve seen all types. Hopefully with a little research on your part, you’ll select one of the very good agents and have as good a home buying or selling experience as possible.

First, I would suggest talking to your friends and family who have bought or sold a home in San Diego. Here’s some questions you should ask them…

  • Were they happy overall with their agent, meaning they would use them again?
  • Was the agent always available to them and return phone calls, texts or emails in a reasonable amount of time?
  • Was the agent competent in negotiating all the details of the transaction?
  • Was the agent patient with them and always take as much time as needed to explain things, and in a way that they could understand?
  • Does that agent stay in touch and offer advice when requested, long after the transaction completed?
  • Can they still call and ask their agent real estate questions years later, and is that agent happy to take their call 7 days a week (even when out of town) and spend time helping them if they’re not currently buying or selling their home?

Amy does all of the above and more, which is why she is successful and her past clients trust her and are very happy to refer their friends and family to her. Following are more qualities that I think are important to look for in a real estate agent and questions you should ask when interviewing potential agents.

Full Time Agent
There are thousands of real estate agents in San Diego. However, not all of them work at it full-time. While it might be possible to close a real estate transaction when an agent only works part-time at real estate, it’s not in your best interest and probably won’t give you the best experience buying or selling your home. You want an agent who is dedicated to helping you 7 days a week. If they need to be of town during your transaction, will they still take your calls, or do they have a competent team member to assist you while they are away? Real Estate transactions are complicated and the market doesn’t wait for part-timers who can only help you on their days off or when they’re in town.

Personality Compatibility
Do you want an agent to only tell you what you want to hear, or would it be better for them to be honest, even if it’s not necessarily to your benefit? Your agent should listen to your wants and needs, and then give you the best options available based on that. A good agent will also suggest things that you might not have thought of. You should feel comfortable working with them over the phone and in person. If that changes at any time and you’re not happy, you should be able to have that conversation with them to put things right again, or move on to another agent.

A good and ethical agent won’t hold you to an exclusive buyers agent agreement with them. If it turns out that you and your agent aren’t working well together, it’s in both parties interest to let go and move on. Nobody wins if everyone is not happy.

A good agent needs to be knowledgable with real estate contracts. That might seem obvious, but unfortunately not all agents are. There is a lot of paperwork and contracts that go along with a real estate transaction, involving hundreds of thousands of dollars. Make sure you feel comfortable that your agent is not only savvy with contracts, but also continually goes to real estate classes to keep up with changes in the law and contracts that happen frequently. While there is no contract-savvy certification for agents, hopefully you’ll get a good feel about their contract knowledge by how they answer the question.

Detail Oriented
Details matter in real estate. Some agents don’t pay close enough attention and miss simple or even obvious things in the offers and contracts during the transaction. I’ve seen it happen more than once, where the agent on the other side of Amy’s transaction was either just not a very good agent or wasn’t detail oriented, which ended up badly for them and their clients.

In one case being asleep at the wheel during negotiations and counter offers ended up with the sellers side getting $5000 less than what they thought they were getting (and Amy’s buyer clients saving $5000), even though both the listing agent and the sellers read and signed off (agreeing) on every page of the contract. Details matter in real estate negotiation and contracts!

Local Reputation with Other Agents
While there are too many real estate agents in San Diego for them to all know each other, the successful agents often have more than one transaction with each other over the years. This is where working with an agent with a good reputation (or at least not a bad one) will be in your favor, especially if you’re a home buyer.

If your agent doesn’t have a good reputation, it might negatively affect you when submitting your offer to buy a home, especially when there are multiple offers involved. This can be true whether the home seller is an individual or an investor that rehabs (or flips) homes for a living. Nobody wants to work with a bad agent, especially if it could jeopardize the transaction from closing.

Besides being a naturally happy person, Amy is a true professional. It doesn’t matter if the agent or others involved on the other side of the transaction are being easy or difficult to work with, Amy is always courteous and respectful to everyone. She is also very thorough and goes the distance to work out all the details until everyone is in agreement and the deal successfully closes.

Those stellar qualities have helped Amy’s buyer clients get their offers accepted time and again over competing offers, especially when purchasing one of San Diego’s many investor-owned homes. The seller (investor in this case) knows that Amy will be professional and dilligent throughout the transaction to have a successful closing.

The benefits of an agent’s good reputation can also extend to the buyer when it’s time to request repairs during the transaction. Amy is often able to get many and sometimes all of the requested repairs approved for her buyers, where a lesser agent or one that doesn’t have a solid reputation might not be able to. While there are no guarantees and every transaction is different, an agents experience and good reputation can make a positive difference in the outcome.

Choose Wisely

Whether you decide on a personal referral or choose to go with an agent listed on a referral website or app, there is no way to be sure that everything will go smoothly with your transaction. With the complications of negotiations and amount paperwork that goes with them, most real estate transactions have some bumps in the road along the way. It’s all in how well your agent deals with the issues that come up that matter.

If you do your research and go with an agent you feel comfortable with, you’ll have the best chance of having a good home buying or selling experience.

If you would like to consider having Amy represent you with your most important transaction of buying or selling a home in San Diego, give her a call. I’ve been hanging out with her virtually every day since 1999, so I know her very well. She is genuinely an awesome person, an excellent REALTOR® and would be happy to meet with you so you can decide for yourself if she is the right person to work with you!

Amy Ruiz - Keller Williams Realty San Diego


Call Amy Today!


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