While most online services that refer real estate agents are free to the consumer, they aren't all equal. Make sure they are referring you to agents with best practices and good reputations. We've put together a list of questions that consumers should have answered before trusting a real estate referral.

Do your agents practice dual agency?

Many real estate agents and brokerages represent both buyers and sellers. This can become a problem if the brokerage or agent represents both the buyer and the seller in the same transaction. The agent will no longer be able to advise you nor negotiate on your behalf, essentially becoming someone who will simply complete paperwork for you yet still collect the full commission payment. Most referral services don't know what type of agency the agents to whom they are referring practice. Homelight even recommends that buyers use an Exclusive Buyer Agent, but they don't have the option to search for one. The referral service should be able to tell you what type of agent they are referring. If not, how do they know they are referring you to a good one?

How do your agents pay to be a part of your service?

Referral fees are standard in the real estate industry and simply considered a marketing cost. Some referral companies, however, operate on a “pay to play” platform meaning that the agent has to pay to become part of the service. For example, Zillow Premiere Agents pay an upfront fee to be listed on the site. If an agent doesn't pay, then the agent is not listed. Contacting that agent is really no different than answering an ad in a newspaper or calling the number shown on a television commercial. In order to have the best agents, the referral service should allow agents to be added to their service for free, only charging a referral fee on closed transactions.

What type of research is done before adding an agent to your service?

Many referral services have the attitude that if the agent is willing to pay them, they will add the agent to their service. At the very least, the service should check the agent's license to see that the agent is current and what, if any, complaints have been filed. Even better, the service will check for reviews of the agent as well as check for any additional certifications or accreditations the agent has.

Is there any criteria the agents must meet in order to remain part of the service?

The referral service should have minimum standards that the agents should meet in order to remain in the service. For example, the service should track whether or not the agent is responsive to the person being referred. The service should also follow up with you to see how happy you are with the agent and have a process in place to remove those agents with whom there are repeated issues. Even better, the service will utilize agents who must adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice above and beyond what their licenses require.

Will the referral service remain with you throughout the process?

What if you hire the agent and something goes wrong a month or two down the road? Are you on your own or will the referral service assist? A good referral service will do more for you than just give you the agent's contact information. The service should answer your questions throughout the process. The service should also contact the agent on your behalf to resolve any issues that arise whether two days after the referral, two months, or even two years. There should also be way to file a complaint about an agent if needed.

How does NAEBA and its referral service answer these questions? See our handy grid that compares the NAEBA Referral Service to other websites that refer or list real estate agents.