10 Essential Questions for Choosing a Real Estate Agent
Here's what you need to ask to make sure your agent is the right fit for you.
Aerial view of housing development near San Marcos, Texas(iStockPhoto)
Whether you’re embarking on your first real estate transaction or you're a seasoned veteran, having the right real estate agent is crucial to a smooth process. But with over 2 million agents in the U.S. alone, how are you expected to find the right one for you?
Start by asking friends and family for referrals in your target area. Find out about their experiences and, hopefully, you will find a name that keeps coming up. Once you have a couple names, call the agents and set up a time to go over some basic, but absolutely essential questions.
[See: 10 Tips to Sell Your Home Fast.]
How long have you been selling real estate?
This question is key because it can lead to so much more than simply a number of years. While it is true that experience doesn’t necessarily equal success, real estate is a commission-based business and it would be very difficult for an agent to survive for a long time providing awful service. An agent who has seen many different situations is less likely to be rattled should any bumps be encountered down the road.
What is your average number of clients?
Or if you really want to be blunt: Do you, and will you, have enough time for me? No one wants to feel as if they’re thrown to the wayside while their agent is working with dozens of other clients. If your agent is working with a high volume of clients, find out how he or she plans to remedy the situation should you need additional support. Does she have other team members who can help? Does she have a licensed assistant who can offer advice?
What is your ratio of buyers to sellers?
As you talk with agents, you will find many work with primarily buyers or sellers. On many teams, there are designated buyer agents and listing agents. While it’s good to know one thing very well, this can also lead to a limited perspective. How well can your agent be expected to know what a seller may be thinking if he’s only worked with buyers, or vice versa? Not only that, but should you be looking to sell your current house and buy another, the transactions will be much more seamless should one agent be able to oversee the entire process.
What area do you cover?
You will likely encounter agents who are neighborhood experts and others who will travel halfway across the country to make a sale. It’s best to find someone in the middle. The internet now allows agents a better understanding of a larger territory, but doesn’t mean they can cover an entire state while maintaining intimate knowledge of local markets. And when working with that “neighborhood expert," they may try too hard to fit you into a shoe that doesn’t fit. Find someone who works both in and around your main area of interest.
[See: The Best Apps for House Hunting.]
Are you part of a team?
Working with a team can have many benefits, but the relationship you will have with the other members should be clarified from the get-go. Within a team, its members will have a wider level of experience and you will often find one has more intimate knowledge of specific situations than another. However, it should be disclosed up front if the team plans for you to work with one agent the duration of the transaction, or if you will be meeting with different people at different times. You shouldn’t expect to work with just one agent, only to find you’re passed around at every step along the way.
Are you equipped to handle my unique situation?
Are you a long-term investor, first-time homebuyer, house flipper, or selling an estate? These are just a few of the unique scenarios you may find yourself and you don’t want an agent who has little to no experience in your specific area. Don’t be fooled by someone who answers the question with, “Don’t worry, I’ve dealt with this before.” Ask the agent what unique issues could arise and how she would handle them.
What type of communication should I expect from you?
At this point, you should already notice if you and the agent understand how each other communicates. Equally important, this should be where you both set expectations for how often you should be updated, the best methods to use and who all needs to be kept in the loop. These should be determined by what makes you, as the client, feel most comfortable.
Do you have a recommended vendors list?
An experienced agent will have developed trusted relationships with other industry professionals over a long period of time. From lenders and title companies to contractors and inspectors, your agent should be able to refer you to multiple sources so you can ultimately determine who works best for you. These should be recommendations, nothing more – the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act gives you the right to choose who you work with every step of the way.
Can I have the contact information for three references?
While an agent should be able to accurately judge the customer service provided, no one can better say than his past clients. Obviously, agents won’t be handing out information for clients who hated them, so take what they say with a grain of salt. Ask specific, open-end questions based on your priorities.
What questions do you have for me?
This is the most important question you will ask. The true determination of a person’s mindset and priorities is exposed by the questions she asks. Anyone can ask how much you want to sell your house for or how many bathrooms you want in your new home. If an agent takes the time to get to know you, your goals and your priorities, this is an excellent indicator he is already setting a foundation of client-centered service, for which there is no substitute.