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Questions to Ask When Interviewing Your Next Real Estate Agent

Written by: Kristy Welsh

Last Updated: August 10, 2017

One of the most complex and significant financial events in peoples' lives is the purchase or sale of a home or investment property. Because of the complexity and importance of this transaction, people typically seek the help of real estate brokers and sales agents when buying or selling real estate.

Real estate brokers and sales agents have a thorough knowledge of the real estate market in their communities. They know which neighborhoods will best fit clients' needs and budgets. They are familiar with local zoning and tax laws and know where to obtain financing for the purchase of property.

How to Find a Licensed Real Estate Agent

With more than half a million real estate agents in the United States, there is bound to be at least one good agent located in your area. But how do you go about finding a needle in a haystack? Real estate professionals come in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, personalities and abilities. They should be licensed by their state, and each state's licensing and education requirements are different. You can use ARELLO, the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials, to check an agent's license. About half of real estate agents belong to the National Association of Realtors; these members call themselves realtors. A realtor is a real estate agent who has earned additional certification from the National Association of Realtors. NAR membership doesn't have to be a deal breaker, but it provides some assurance, since the industry group requires ethics training periodically and members must subscribe to its code of ethics. This includes a comprehensive list containing 17 articles and underlying standards of practice, which establish levels of conduct that are higher than ordinary business practices or those required by law.

Recommended Real Estate Agent

One of the best ways to find an agent is by getting a recommendation from someone you trust. Not only is a friend's experience a reasonable predictor of your satisfaction, but, since an agent's personal network is his lifeblood, he is likely to work harder knowing that a friend or client will hear about his performance. Most real estate agents stay in business because satisfied clients refer them to friends, family, neighbors and coworkers. Ask the people around you who they have used and ask them to describe their experiences with this real estate agent. Successful agents make customer satisfaction their number one priority and put their customers' needs before their own.

Interviewing Your Potential Realtor

If you can't come up with any reasonable prospects through referrals, here are some tips we've composed to help you go through the process of finding them, evaluating them, and deciding which will be the best fit for you.

  • Open Houses.  Look around your neighborhood for signs of an open house, this is the best place to start. You want someone who is familiar with the area you are selling or buying. Walk into open houses and get a feel for the agent and whether you click with them. By going to open houses, you can meet real estate agents in a non-threatening working environment and interact with them. Collect business cards and make notes on them. If you're thinking about selling your home, pay attention to how the agent is showing the home. Does the agent appear polite, informative, and knowledgeable? Is there professional-looking promotional material about the home available? Is the agent interacting with you trying to point out and highlight positive features of the home, or sitting in a corner reading a book?
  • Neighborhood For Sale Signs.  Make a note of agents you see on signs at other homes in the neighborhood as a starting point. The advantage(s) of finding an agent who lives and works near the area you are buying and selling are obvious: more likely knowledge of the neighborhood and local market conditions, convenience to the property (more attention to it's marketing), local business and neighborhood connections, etc. And while the agent with the most signs may be impressive, it isn't a guarantee that you will be getting the attention that you need; he or she may be too busy to be attentive to your listing. The agent who sells listings the fastest might be better for you than the agent with the largest number of "For Sale" signs.
  • Search the Internet.  Online is another place you can find a plethora of real estate agents, but use this as a last resort over the referral and neighborhood method. Choosing one at random is not a wise method; but if you are going to search online, start your search at the National Association of Realtors' (NAR) website; they will have listings of realtors in your area.
  • Interview Prospective Agents. Experts suggest you sit down with at least three prospective realtors, so you can get a feel for them and what they can do for you. Don't be afraid to ask them how well they know your neighborhood and exactly how often you'll hear from them. Ask for references and check them. Evaluate prospective agents based on personality as well; just like in all other walks of life, there will be people you have chemistry with and those you don't. Here are some questions you might ask:
    1. How long have you been practicing real estate? Experience is a valuable asset in many ways, but that's not to say that newly licensed agents can't bring great energy, ideas and willingness to go the extra mile to the table. Much depends on whether they have access to competent mentors and the level of their training; a newer agent may have fewer clients, resulting in more time to concentrate on you. Some agents with 20 years of experience repeat their first year over and over, while other 20-year agents learn something new every year. The moral of our discussion here is to not assume experience is the be-all end all.
    2. Can you provide references? Every agent should be able to provide references from past and present clients. If they are brand new, you can consider previous employers as well. Ask if they mind if you contact these references; if they do, count that agent out.
    3. What is your marketing plan for my home? You'll want a list of the ways that they plan to market and advertise your home such as print ads, internet and online marketing, flyers, postcards and direct mail, community and local newspapers, and publications. Ask for samples of any and all of the marketing materials that they say they will include; assess the quality of their presentation and professionalism.
    4. What is your strategy for finding me a home? You'll want to ask how they will search for your home; on MLS exclusively? Any other methods; do you work with for-sale-by owners? How do you present your offers?
    5. Can you recommend service providers? People who can assist you in obtaining a mortgage, home inspection, and other things you might need to have done to you home. Keep in mind here that an agent should generally recommend more than one provider, and should disclose if they will receive any compensation from the recommended provider.
    6. How will you keep me informed? How frequently and by what method will this realtor keep you up to date on your transaction. Bear in mind, this is not a question with a correct answer, but that one reflects your desires; if you are not a text-er or an email supporter, or fanatically are, the agent should be willing to communicate in the way that you prefer.
    7. What schedule do you plan to work? Select a real estate agent who can work with your schedule, and is flexible. If you can only see homes on evenings and weekends, you won't go very far with an agent who only works days.
    8. Ask to preview documents. Depending on whether you are buying or selling, there are standard forms that you will be asked to sign. These include (but are not limited to) agency disclosure(s), listing agreement, buyer/seller disclosure forms, and purchase contract. A sign of a good real estate agent is a professional who makes forms available to you for preview before you are required to sign them. If at all possible, ask for these documents upfront.
    9. What is your fee? Be aware, all real estate fees are negotiable. Typically, real estate agents charge a customary percentage, which may vary by state or area, from 1 to 4 percent to represent one side of a transaction: a seller or a buyer. A listing agent may charge, for example, 3 percent for them and another 3 percent for the buyer's agent, for a total of 6 percent.
    10. Ask multiple thought questions. Such as, "Why should I choose you over another brokerage?" or "What makes you superior over the competition?"  Be creative and put them on the spot for some answers that might sell them above the competition.
  • Consider doing it yourself, or use a discount brokerage. If you don't mind doing some of the work yourself, consider using discount brokers. Companies like ziprealty.com and help-u-sell offer their own versions of discount services. Discount brokers may be able to plug you into a Multiple Listing Service, and you may be paying less in commissions, but services are limited. So you're unlikely to get any support during the negotiation process.

Buying or selling a home is one of the biggest transactions you'll make. With several million real estate professionals out there, it's not hard to find an agent, the challenge lies in finding a good one.