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Referrals are a tricky but vital aspect of the real estate business. On one hand, agents readily welcome recommendations from past clients and other service professionals—but what about agent-to-agent (broker-to-broker) referrals?

Since referral fees are also at play, it’s important to consider incentives and expectations between two agents—and the customer’s experience. No brokerage wants to be associated with an unpleasant customer experience, even if your agent simply placed a buyer or seller with another agent.

There are many ways to improve referral results, even if your brokerage operates within a franchise system with an internal referral network or relocation department. Consider encouraging your agents to take these steps, making any appropriate adjustments to accommodate your company’s policies:

1. Interview the customer.
Speak to the prospective client by phone or in person. If they are a buyer, learn more about their motivations, timing, type of property desired, price range, financing status, etc. In addition to helping you understand the customer’s situation, this will also provide insight into their personality and what type of agent will be the best fit.

2. Identify and research agents.
Designations and certifications are beneficial for spotting agents who have supplemented specific skills. For example, you can use the Find a Buyer’s Rep directory to identify agents who have earned their Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®) designation. Before reaching out, do additional background research. Look for agent profiles, ratings and reviews, listing and sales activity, social media accounts, etc.

3. Interview top prospects.
Once you’ve pinpointed the best candidates, arrange phone interviews. Learn more about their experience in the customer’s desired market. See if they have a pulse on current market dynamics. Find out how their business is structured and who will be working with the client. Also, communicate your expectations in terms of receiving updates before finalizing your decision.

4. Agree on next steps.
Some clients are more hands-on and will prefer to interview your top recommendations before moving forward with the referral. This can work to your advantage since the client assumes responsibility for a final decision. Before providing the client’s contact details, formalize any referral agreements in writing, including compensation. Most state and local REALTOR® associations have standard referral forms—or, rely on the documentation used by your in-brokerage network.

5. Stay engaged.
Do not pass the ball and disappear. Check in with the agent and the customer to see how things are progressing. If the customer has concerns, consider sharing feedback with the agent that will help get the relationship back on track. It takes time and effort to approach referral opportunities this way; however, referral fees should be earned. They should not be viewed as easy, do-nothing income.

Lean on NAR
Agents rely on NAR’s designations and certifications to elevate their skills in various areas of specialization. Many of these programs also offer robust networking forums to share ideas and referrals. For example, ABR® designees routinely exchange referral opportunities in their closed Facebook community. Encourage your agents to join in on the conversation by earning the ABR® designation. Learn more at

Marc D. Gould is senior vice president of Member Development for NAR, overseeing a wide range of professional development programs for REALTORS®, including the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council (REBAC). REBAC is the world’s largest association of real estate professionals focusing specifically on representing the real estate buyer. With more than 30,000 active members, REBAC awards the Accredited Buyer’s Representative (ABR®) designation to REALTORS® who have completed the specialized education and documented experience in working with consumers purchasing a home. To learn more, visit