Real Estate Agents In San Diego – Insider Tips for Finding a Great Agent

Finding skilled and trustworthy real estate agents in San Diego is no easy task, whether you are buying or selling a home. The task is not made any easier by the myriad of “top real estate agent” awards and stats that many agents advertise. As an experienced agent in San Diego, I will share a comprehensive list of tips and strategies to help you connect with an outstanding agent. Although I am an active agent, this article is written as if I were sharing advice with a close friend or family member looking for an agent that, for whatever reason, I couldn’t help personally. Although I am based in San Diego, the advice here is relevant throughout the country.

real estate agents in san diego

Communication Skills

When I first got into real estate, I researched people’s experiences with agents. The number one complaint about real estate agents was (and still is) poor communication. Many buyers and sellers felt uninformed and out of the loop. For some, this poor communication existed before, during, and after a transaction.

When seeking a real estate agent in San Diego, you will likely want one who communicates with you frequently, clearly, and insightfully. Although no agent can be accessible at all times, there should be minimal to no delay between reaching out to them and getting a response.

Buying or selling a home is a major life event and typically involves substantial amounts of money. If there is any service where one should expect stellar communication, it should be when working with a real estate agent. As you evaluate your options for real estate agents in San Diego, prioritizing an agent with stellar communication can save you a lot of unnecessary stress.

One way to test communication is to simply pay close attention to your initial communications. See how they respond to your initial inquiry. Did several days pass before you received a reply, or did they get back to you immediately? Are their replies thoughtful and clear? Does the agent ask you questions that show they are engaged with you as a person and not just a prospect? If there are any warning signs such as slow replies, unclear communications, etc. in the initial communications, that can be a warning sign of things to come.

Sound Judgment

“Trusted Advisor” is a term that best describes what an ideal real estate agent can be described as. Is the agent you are considering working with someone others would describe as wise? Or, are they someone simply looking for their next paycheck?

Sound judgment is especially critical given the high stakes of real estate. In this high-stakes, high-stress environment, your ideal agent should carefully distill the pros and cons of each situation and advise you according to your best interests.

Every real estate transaction involves numerous decisions and opportunities to navigate new or unusual situations and challenges. One crucial aspect of good judgment is your agent’s experience and expertise.


Real estate agents in San Diego range from brand-new with no experience to agents in the business for several decades with hundreds of deals behind them. Expertise is a broad criterion that touches upon many key areas.

Expertise can include length of time in the business, number of transactions, and specializations in certain types of real estate. Length of time in the business can be helpful but is not definitive. An agent in the business for 20 years doing one transaction a year won’t have nearly the expertise of someone in the business for 5 years doing 10 deals a year. However, the former might have more perspective on varying market cycles.

An agent’s total transaction count is more helpful but also not definitive. An agent cranking through a ton of transactions who isn’t focused on learning from each one may not have the expertise you would hope for. However, typically agents who have numerous transactions behind them are likely to be better equipped to advise their clients.

Specialists in particular types of real estate can be important. There is usually a clear separation between commercial and residential real estate agents in San Diego. For residential agents, some might specialize in the luxury market, while others may focus on residential investment properties (in California, 1-4 units are still considered residential vs commercial).

Some agents also market themselves to specific types of clients (e.g. first-time home buyers, veterans, seniors, relocations, etc.). Be wary of agents touting designations that make them an “expert” in a particular niche of real estate. Those designations can be a sign of expertise, but may also simply represent one class an agent took years ago to be “certified” or “designated.” Another form of expertise relates to agents specializing in particular San Diego neighborhoods.

San Diego Market Knowledge – Do You Need a “Local Expert”

Most real estate agents in San Diego have general knowledge of the various neighborhoods throughout the county. Some rarely conduct business outside a specific neighborhood, and others regularly transact throughout San Diego’s many, unique neighborhoods.

Buyers and sellers want an agent with some history of living in San Diego. Insights on area attractions, beaches, commute times, schools, etc. can be invaluable. This familiarity with San Diego benefits buyers in terms of the guidance they receive and benefits sellers because the agent can more effectively sell the property’s benefits to prospective buyers. With San Diego’s many nuanced neighborhoods, how critical is having a local expert or specialist?

The importance of hiring a neighborhood specialist agent depends on several factors:

  • Is the agent ONLY familiar with one neighborhood, or do they have more broad experience across San Diego?
  • How certain a buyer is on what specific neighborhood they want to buy in. Sometimes buyers think they want to buy in one area, but then select a completely different area. In that scenario, buyers usually would not want to switch agents just because they zeroed in on a different area than they initially thought.
  • Is the neighborhood a home is being listed in dominated by one particular agent? Sometimes, sellers feel pressured to use “the” agent for a given area. However, EVERY neighborhood in San Diego has numerous skilled agents serving it. It’s more important to choose an agent who’s a good fit for you than to choose the one who has done the most deals there. Quantity does not always equate to the best results.
  • Are there unique factors to the specific neighborhood that only a local expert will be aware of? Some neighborhoods have unique features, amenities and/or issues that only someone who lives there is likely to be well informed of. If that describes the neighborhood you are absolutely focused on, then someone with local expertise can be an asset.
  • Are you new to San Diego in general? If so, you will likely rely more on an agent’s familiarity with multiple neighborhoods and the benefits of San Diego in general.

Despite all these factors, I believe the overall expertise, skill, and personality compatibility usually outweigh an agent’s expertise in a specific niche location.

The Top Real Estate Agents in San Diego?

top real estate agents in San Diego

As good as some agents are at marketing homes for sale, many are also very focused on marketing themselves. If you peruse the websites, social media and advertising for many agents, chances are, you will find some reference to being a top agent. An entire industry caters to agents’ self-promotion, and “Top Real Estate” awards and related titles are everywhere. Some of these claims come with fine print, others are intentionally ambiguous.

Some of the busiest agents are also some of the least accessible. Agents who handle a high volume of transactions are not necessarily those best equipped to give your purchase or sale the attention it deserves. In reality, “top agent” may not even translate to a high level of production. Instead, it may simply mean an agent applied or even paid to be listed.

Do you even want a “Top Real Estate Agent” or do you want someone who is highly skilled? Sometimes “the best real estate agent in San Diego” is an agent that does not market themselves with similar titles. If an agent is truly a top-producing agent, they may be stretched thin, which can translate to weak communication and inadequate agent attention to your specific listing or purchase. High volume isn’t necessarily correlated with high-quality service. If an agent does a very high volume of transactions, competing demands can result in sub-par service, or they may manage a team.

Solo Agent vs An Agent with a Team

I operate as a solo agent for numerous reasons. I believe it puts me in the best position to help my clients throughout all phases of a real estate search and transaction. Information doesn’t get lost in translation and my clients get highly personalized service.

Early in my career, I had a client who had previously worked with another agent. Out of curiosity, I asked how their experience was. I should also clarify that this client came to me – I did not solicit their business. Their prior agent was a very successful agent who closed many transactions and operated a team.

My client said they would never work with their prior agent again. I asked why and they said every time they called their agent, they spoke with a different team member. They also had to explain who they were on every call. In short, they felt lost in the shuffle, and that little attention or care was being given to them or their transaction.

solo san diego real estate agent or a team

Despite my personal bias/preference for operating solo vs. with a team of agents, there are also many very well-run teams that deliver a high level of service. Sometimes, a solo agent can get tied up with another client, and if you need something immediate, there may be a delay. Although that can happen with teams, too, often, there is someone you can talk with.

If you prefer a highly personalized experience and a single point of contact, a solo agent might be a good choice. If you are more comfortable with multiple agents working on your behalf, a reputable team may be a better fit. Whether you work with a solo agent or a team, their reputation and trustworthiness are of utmost importance.


Out of all the attributes a real estate agent in San Diego or elsewhere can have, trustworthiness is perhaps the most important one. Even if you have a highly skilled agent with local expertise, none of that may be helpful to you if you can’t trust them to do the right thing and look out for your best interests above their own.

This can come into play in a myriad of ways. Cutting corners on inspections, omitting disclosures that could impact their client, or disclosing information that should be treated confidentially are just a few examples that could occur with an agent who is not trustworthy. While most agents are conscientious and professional, every real estate sale is filled with moments where an agent could misstep and not make their client the top priority.

If you live in a state such as California where dual agency is legal, the agent’s trustworthiness is especially critical. In fact, some of the most trustworthy agents will refuse to engage in dual agency because it can limit their effectiveness for either client.

Negotiations are a crucial aspect of working with an agent. If an agent is not trustworthy and loyal to you, they might prioritize putting a deal together over negotiating the best deal for you.

Negotiation Skills

Negotiation skills for transactions involving hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars are essential for both buyers and sellers. Through skillful negotiation, thousands, tens of thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars can shift to the benefit of one party. Ideally, you want an agent with excellent technical negotiation skills, combined with sage judgment and fierce loyalty to you.

Although you might imagine a cutthroat, aggressive negotiator is best, I believe it’s often a more harmonious negotiation that yields the best results. An agent who negotiates too aggressively can actually do more harm than good by ratcheting up tensions and potentially derailing a transaction. Or, that overly-aggressive approach comes across as unreasonable and the other side doesn’t concede anything. A good negotiator seeks creative solutions that benefit their own client while still providing an appealing outcome to the other party.

Real Estate Agent Reviews

Reading real estate agent reviews can provide insight to those who might hire them. Quality is more important than quantity. Twenty-plus bland “She/he is great!” reviews might not be as helpful as a half dozen in-depth reviews the agent’s clients were inspired to post due to their exceptional service.

Taking the time to read all an agent’s reviews (including any negative ones) can help paint a clearer picture than simply looking at the number of reviews and the star rating. Not all 5-star reviews for real estate agents are created equal.

Real Estate Review Resources


How well-connected your agent is can be vital in three ways:

  1. Their network of prospective buyers and sellers.
  2. Their network of other agents who might have a buyer for your listing, or might have an upcoming listing for you as a buyer.
  3. Their network of inspectors, tradespeople, etc.

Each of these can have profound impacts on a transaction. Connections to prospective buyers and sellers, or the agents representing those parties, can result in a faster and more profitable sale.

Connections to reliable, trustworthy inspectors, tradespeople, etc. are often vitally important. For sellers, those connections can result in quick and well-done pre-listing preparations. For buyers, a good home inspector, sewer inspector, roofer, etc., is essential for gaining a clear understanding of the condition of the home they are purchasing.

The Strength of Their Brokerage

When researching San Diego real estate agents, the strength of a real estate brokerage is an overlooked aspect. Brokerages can provide crucial support for agents and their clients. They can help navigate logistical challenges that arise in escrow and provide access to trusted escrow and title companies via their affiliated businesses.

The power of the brokerage and their respective brand is most relevant when working with a listing agent. In my case, I am affiliated with Sotheby’s International Realty, a brand that has been successfully helping clients worldwide for hundreds of years.

Through our strategic partnerships with media companies and a powerful presence online and on social media, our brokerage helps me maximize the exposure of homes that I list. It also gives me access to a network of thousands of skilled agents in over 70 countries. While brokerage strength is important, an agent’s marketing skills help them leverage the tools of their brokerage to benefit their clients.

Marketing Skills

A real estate agent’s marketing skills are a huge factor for any listing agent. The skillset agents have range from agents that think a few casual photos from their smartphone are sufficient, to truly expert online marketers with the savvy to craft high production value marketing seen on a wide variety of online platforms.

I leverage the power of property videos, no matter what price point a listing is at. Video is vitally important for capturing the attention of prospective home buyers. When done well, it also helps buyers form a connection with a property – something that is essential for motivating a buyer to purchase.

Here’s an example of a recent property listing video. This home sold for over the list price after less than a week on the market.

Although video is a huge priority, so is exceptional photography. Photos are typically what buyers first engage with during a property search. When browsing homes, buyers often make split-second decisions based on a single photo.

Even with many agents utilizing AI tools like Chat GPT to write their listing descriptions, copywriting is another important tool in an agent’s marketing arsenal. Writing compelling content that helps sell the home can definitely influence prospective buyers. A skilled agent will also be able to identify and focus on the strongest aspects of a home most likely to attract a buyer.

Successful marketing also involves the skills to advise on pre-listing home preparations and bringing in resources like professional home stagers. Once all that amazing material is put together, the agent should ideally get it in front of the largest pool of likely potential buyers.

Tech Savvy

As in the rest of the world, technology has been evolving very quickly in real estate. A good agent will have identified the best technological tools to benefit both themselves and their clients.

Tech savvy is also important for communication. If your preferred communication method is typically text and your agent insists on calling, the relationship can get pretty frustrating quickly. Skilled agents should be able to nimbly navigate the myriad of communication options out there and pivot to their clients’ preferences as well.


Creativity is one trait you will not see in many articles about real estate agents. However, it’s a crucial skill.

On the listing side creativity is essential in the effective marketing of your home. A creative agent can help your property stand out in a sea of other properties. How your home is presented and how engaging the marketing collateral is around your home can have substantial impacts on what you ultimately net from your sale.

From a transactional perspective, creativity is often needed to successfully navigate what can be complex situations, personalities and interests. A creative agent is less likely to get a deal bogged down in an impasse. Creative agents also have the mindset to foresee different scenarios and take steps to help their clients avoid more perilous outcomes.


Lastly, personality is very important as you evaluate real estate agents in San Diego. This is true both from the standpoint of your connection to the agent, but also in terms of how the agent interacts with other agents, potential buyers, etc.

Whether the agent is assisting you with buying and/or selling, consider this question, “Is this person someone I would want to enter into a business partnership with?” Depending on market conditions, you might work with your agent for many months, or even years in the case of multiple transactions, or very high-end listings that can take longer to sell. Although the agent doesn’t need to become your best friend, they probably should be someone you like, respect, value the opinion of, and generally like spending time with.

Invest Time and Effort into Your Real Estate Agent Search

All too often decisions on selecting a real estate agent are made based on a loose social connection. “My co-worker’s cousin’s sister-in-law bought a home a couple years ago and liked their agent” doesn’t usually translate to a carefully-vetted agent.

It’s worth investing a little time asking close friends and family for real estate agent referrals, researching online (which you’re doing right now!), and evaluating real estate agent reviews.

Selling or Buying a Home in San Diego?

If you are considering buying or selling a home in San Diego and are looking for solid, conscientious advice from an experienced agent, please consider me a resource. Please reach out to me if you would like to discuss your real estate goals and plans.

Selling or Buying a Home Outside of San Diego?

Even if you are not in San Diego, I regularly refer people to outstanding Sotheby’s International Realty agents as a free courtesy, whether you are an existing client of mine or not. Our network encompasses 25,000+ sales associates in 1,000 offices throughout 70+ countries. Please let me know if I might be able to assist you with a real estate agent referral.

marc lyman

About Marc Lyman

Marc Lyman gets results and his proven track record and client reviews leave little doubt. Marc grew up in Silicon Valley and graduated from UC San Diego in 1995 with a BA in Political Science and a minor in Psychology. Marc is known for his exemplary marketing, uncompromising ethics, and professionalism. His proactive approach helps ensure smooth transactions, with your interests always first and foremost. Marc's tenacious attitude, strong background in deal-making, and seasoned negotiation skills are tempered with a strategic, personable, and diplomatic approach. Contact Marc to facilitate your real estate success!