While home sellers have become more market savvy than ever thanks to the wealth of information at their fingertips, knowing how to choose a real estate agent can still pose a challenge.
Between recommendations from friends, a family member with a dusty license on the shelf offering to help, and a dizzying array of review websites, it’s difficult to know who to trust with one of the most complex financial decisions of your life.
Smart consumers interview potential real estate agents before they decide which agent they want to hire. Just as you're sizing up the potential for a good fit, the real estate agent will likely be interviewing you, too. Be wary of agents who don't ask you questions and probe for your motivation. You wouldn't work with just any agent off the street, and good agents are selective about their clients, too.
It is crucial to know which questions to ask so your real estate agent can meet your expectations in terms of pricing, timing, and overall experience. Here are 10 good questions to ask about a prospective real estate agent.
1. How Long Have You Been in the Business?
The standard joke is there's nothing wrong with a new agent that a little experience won't fix, but that's not to say that freshly licensed agents can't be good ones. Much depends on the level of their training and whether they have access to competent mentors.
Newer agents tend to have more time to concentrate on you, but he might not have enough time if he's holding down another job because he's just starting out. You can ask about this as well.
There's no bar exam for real estate agents and no school offers a degree in how to handle problems in a transaction. They learn on the job. The more sales an agent has completed, the more she knows. It's even possible that she's taken courses and attended seminars, and it's OK to ask about this, too.
2. What Is Your Average List-Price-To-Sales-Price Ratio?
An agent's average ratio depends on the market. A competent listing agent should have a track record for negotiating sales prices that are very close to list prices, and compared to the average in your local market. Listing agents should have higher ratios that are closer to 100 percent.
You might also want to find out just where most of these homes were located. Is the agent familiar with the area in which you want to buy or where your property is located? This can be an important consideration.
Past performance can be an indicator of future success. But when considering a real estate agent’s professional scoreboard, remember that their stats are relative both to other agents competing for your business as well as the market as a whole.
3. In which areas do you specialize?
Aside from negotiating the best possible price for the sale of your home, perhaps the greatest value a real estate agent can add is their knowledge of the local market. A true neighborhood expert will know about all of the recent transactions that have occurred in your area, why a particular home on your block sold quickly or slowly, in addition to everything that is desirable about your location. This knowledge also enables the agent to properly price your home.
4. How many clients are you representing right now?
It can be tempting to think of choosing a real estate agent as a popularity contest. If everybody else is using the top agent in town, then you should too, right? Not necessarily.
Rather than gauging how popular an agent is, what’s important is to understand the agent’s communication style and availability to ensure that it’s aligned with your expectations.
In many cases, an agent may be part of a larger team. Team size is of particular importance when selling a home. It takes a village to properly market, stage, negotiate, and close a home sale. Before agreeing to work with a listing agent, be sure to get a clear idea of all the players you’ll be working with throughout the process and who you will be communicating with from the team.
Agents who have multiple listings on the market at one time will often have an assistant to manage the day-to-day processes of preparing your home to go to market. Be sure your agent understands your expectations of their involvement.
5. What Is Your Best Marketing Plan or Strategy for My Needs?
As a buyer, you'll need to know how the agent will search for your new home and how many homes he thinks you're likely to see before you find one that you want to buy. Will you be competing against other buyers? How does the agent handle multiple offers?
As a seller, you'll want to know exactly how the agent will sell your home. Where and how often does she advertise? What kind of photography does she offer? Does she market online? What steps will she take to prepare your home for sale?
Most important, ask if there's anything about your home that she thinks might detract from its potential for sale. You could possibly remedy and avert the problem.
6. How Will You Help Me Find Other Professionals?
Your agent should be able to supply you withreferring vendors such as contractors, plumbers, electricians, lawn care, mortgage brokers, home inspectors, and title companies. Let them explain who they work with and why she chooses these particular professionals.
7. How will we communicate, and how often?
"I think most Realtors now email," Manzano said. "I think many now text."
However you prefer to be in touch with your real estate agent, your communication expectations should be set at the beginning.
"How much are we going to be in contact? Are you going to talk to me once a week, or do I list with you and then you disappear?"
Set the expectations now about how and when you want to be updated, and make sure the agents plans align with yours.
8. What Are the Top Three Things That Separate You From Your Competition?
A good agent won't hesitate to answer this question and should be ready to fire off several reasons why he's best suited for the job. Everyone has their own standards, but most consumers say they're looking for agents who say they're honest, trustworthy, assertive, and excellent negotiators.
He might tell you that he's always available by phone or e-mail or that he's a good communicator. He might indicate that he's friendly and able to maintain his sense of humor under trying circumstances—and there will be some.
It all comes down to the characteristics and qualifications that you
9. Will You Please Provide References and Testimonials?
Everybody has references. Even new agents have references from previous employers.
You might not need references if the agent has tons of reviews online. Experienced agents might feel insulted if you ask for references, but a new agent most likely will not.
10. What Haven't I Asked You That I Need to Know?
Pay close attention to how the real estate agent answers this question because there's often something else you might need to know.
You want an agent who will take her time with you to make sure you feel comfortable and secure with her knowledge and experience. She should know how to listen, how to counsel you, and how to ask the right questions to find out what she needs to know to better serve you.