Most homeowners choose a real estate agent based on a recommendation from a family member or friend. This is a good place to start, but you should also do a bit of your own research to make sure you end up choosing the right real estate agent for you and your needs. Buying or selling a home is one of the biggest and most important transactions you will make in your life, so arming yourself with the very best person to assist you is crucial. With so many brokerages and agents out there to choose from, find the perfect match for you might be more of a challenge than you expected.
Nearly 75 percent of homeowners only interview one agent before signing a contract, but meeting and interviewing a few potential realtors gives you the opportunity to ask questions, learn about their experience and working style, and determine their areas of expertise and level of professionalism. According to the Forbes Real Estate Council, it’s best to interview at least three agents before picking the one you work with. This ensures you choose someone who is trustworthy and that you mesh well with. You will be spending a lot of time together, so it’s vital your communication styles match in order to get top dollar for your property, or that you buy for the best price on the market.
Here’s How to Choose a Real Estate Agent
- Whether choosing a real estate agent for buying or selling, it pays to ask questions about the agent’s experience, qualifications, and working style.
- If you are a seller, be sure to ask about the agent’s process, like how they go about prepping, listing, and marketing a home for sale. Also be sure to ask about their fees, the terms of their listing agreement, and whether they can offer any additional incentives for helping you find a new home.
- Questions related to the buying process include the agent’s availability for showing you homes you’re interested in, whether they offer any buyer incentives, who their recommended lenders are, and how they work with buyers once the home goes under contract.
Ask Questions About the Agent’s Experience and Qualifications
Are you a full-time agent? How many deals have you closed?
There are a lot of ins and outs to a real estate transaction. Having an agent who knows the laws and has experience in your market is key. You don’t want to be a guinea pig, especially on what might be the biggest transaction of your life.
What sets you apart from other agents?
Will your agent include professional photography and home prep with your listing? What about buyer savings? At the bare minimum, your agent should handle showings, negotiations, and escrow. Some brokerages, like REX, offer more, including in-house financing and insurance options to lower costs and smooth out the process. Make a list of what you’ll be paying for.
How can we best work together?
The relationship with your agent is a two-way street. If you are expecting them to be prompt, communicative, and easy to work with, they should expect the same from you. Try to get a sense of your agent’s working style, availability, and preferred modes of communication so you know what to expect upfront.
Who else will be working with me?
Agents are often supported by a team of field agents and account managers. This can be great if you need to get into homes faster and get your questions answered quickly, but some people prefer to have a single point of contact. Know your preference going in.
What is your availability?
Questions and concerns can pop up at any time of the day or week. And in a hot market, homes sell quickly. There’s a comfort to knowing your agent or team will be available to help when you need them.
Do you represent both buyers and sellers?
This is a good, sneaky question to ask. Agents aren’t going to turn down business, even if they have less experience helping buyers than they do sellers. All agents should be capable of helping both sides, but some have more experience than others.
What is your experience handling a transaction like mine?
Finding a specialist for your specific property will give you more peace of mind. If you’re purchasing a short-sale or selling a condo with an agent who has never dealt with all the intricacies of this type of transaction, you may be in for a bumpy ride.
Can you show me some of your reviews and recent deals?
This is one where you can do your homework before you ask. Visit the agent’s website, find their Zillow page, and look them up on Google Reviews or Yelp. See how many deals they’ve closed and what past clients say about their local market knowledge, industry expertise, responsiveness, and negotiating skills. However, do keep in mind that a review doesn’t always offer full context. If you see something negative, ask the agent about it directly.
What is your commission?
Always remember, COMMISSIONS ARE NEGOTIABLE. You obviously need to be fair to the agent’s time and efforts, but prior to signing a listing agreement, always ask about fees. Some brokerages will offer sellers significant savings on listing fees or refund a portion of their commission to buyers at closing.
Will you show me all the available properties in my area?
This question will tell you where your agent’s commission ranks in relation to your best interests. A good agent will show you everything on the market, even non-MLS and for-sale-by-owner listings that may not post a buyer’s agent commission.
Ask Questions About the Selling Process
Do you require a listing agreement? What are the length and terms of the agreement?
A listing agreement is a legally binding contract that gives the real estate agent or broker the exclusive right to sell and promote your home. Listing agreements generally last from two to six months, but this is negotiable, depending on your timeline. Other common negotiating points include an agent’s commission fee, agent duties, and the type of listing agreement you enter into.
How do you go about pricing and listing my home?
Your real estate agent will run a comparative market analysis which involves finding similar properties (“comps”) that have sold within the last 90 days. They will also look at other factors like location, condition, updates, and current competition before they recommend a list price.
Where/how will you market my home to potential buyers?
Many agents think listing your home on the MLS will suffice, but you want to make sure you choose an agent who is going to be proactive and take advantage of listing your home on multiple real estate portals (Zillow, Homes.com, Trulia, etc.), digital advertising, scheduling open houses, staging, etc.…
What do we need to do to get our home ready to sell?
A common mistake that many sellers make is spending too much time and money on things that don’t matter in the big picture. The goal should be to spend the least amount and only on things that will bring a return on your investment. The best agents will know this and can recommend exactly what should be done to make your home more appealing to buyers.
What if my listing doesn’t see a lot of activity?
This is important. Why? Because a lot of times the only answer agents have is a price reduction. Sometimes, a price reduction is the right decision to make if the house is overpriced, or if the market winds have shifted. But you want to make sure you have an agent who can exhaust all marketing options before reducing the price.
What should we consider when evaluating offers?
A good real estate agent will walk you through any offers you receive and explain any possible contingencies, length of escrow, proposed repair requests, or any red flags. You will also want to evaluate how financially secure and serious the buyer is by asking questions like:
- Is it an all-cash offer?
- Is the buyer offering to pay closing costs?
- What is their down payment?
- Are they offering an earnest money deposit?
What should we be prepared for once we go under contract?
As the seller, there’s really not a lot left to do but sit back and wait until your close date. Your agent will order a title report, prepare the property deed, and more. During this time your agent should make themselves available when needed for inspections and appraisals, and meeting any other contingencies agreed upon in your contract with the buyer.
Can you also help us find a new home?
Home sellers are also often home buyers and will need an agent for both transactions. In this case, it can help to work with a team like REX, which offers brokerage, financing, title and escrow services all in one place – something traditional agents generally can’t do. Buying and selling can get complicated, especially if you are relocating or need to sell your house before you buy a new one. With everyone working as a team, instead of as a separate entity, you can more easily surface issues and address them immediately as they come up.
What about in a different area or state?
Can one agent really be an expert both in the market where you’re selling your home and in the neighborhoods you’re looking to buy? Maybe. Unless you’re buying within a close radius of your current home, using the same agent may mean making a compromise in local market knowledge.
What types of funding solutions might be available to help this transaction go more smoothly?
It’s important to remember, real estate agents aren’t mortgage brokers. While they can advise you on some aspects of funding, they aren’t the experts. Hopefully, your agent has a good relationship with a mortgage broker they can recommend who can outline all of your options. But always get multiple, independent quotes and advice to make sure you are making the right decision.
Anything you would recommend to help this transaction go more smoothly?
Having a buying or selling contingency is never ideal, but sometimes it is necessary. If you are selling one house and buying another, it’s really hard to lineup the closing dates exactly. Your agent should be able to advise how to best navigate going from one property to the next. Extending the closing date, rent-back, and even short-term leases may be options for covering gaps in between moves.
Do you offer any seller incentives?
Aside from offering a reduced commission, some agents may offer seller incentives. For instance, REX has a mortgage brokerage and insurance agency in-house and offers discounts for using their services. Additionally, you may be able to negotiate a credit for home staging or home prep services that will make your home more attractive to buyers.
Could I just do this myself?
Ok, so maybe this isn’t a question you ask directly, but we know you’re thinking about it. It’s a seller’s market, homes are flying off the shelves, and agents charge a lot of money. Couldn’t I just save myself some equity and sell as a “For Sale by Owner”? Well, you can. Some people do. But keep in mind that according to NAR, homes closed without an agent sold for over $75,000 less on average.
Ask Questions About the Home Buying Process
Who will be available to help me tour homes and when?
Full-time agents are more likely to be able to devote more time to working for you than someone who is pursuing real estate on the side, so you should confirm that your agent has the availability to show you houses during the hours that you’re available. Most open houses happen on weekends, so if your agent is unavailable on weekends, you may want to take that into consideration.
Does touring a home commit me to working with you?
Some agents are willing to show homes without an agreement in place, while others request to have an agreement signed before the first showing. Without signing this contract, you are essentially a customer rather than a client, which means your agent doesn’t exclusively represent you.
Do I need to be pre-approved before you will show me homes?
Often, your agent will recommend that you get pre-approved with a mortgage lender as a preliminary step to touring homes. Some sellers will even require a pre-approval letter before letting a buyer onto their property. Sellers want to know that they are opening their home to a serious buyer. Getting pre-approved for a mortgage at or near the listing price is a sign to that you have both the financial means and intent to make a home purchase.
Can you recommend a few different lenders or brokers I should reach out to?
Sometimes your agent will recommend certain lenders whom they have worked with in the past and trust to get their buyer’s mortgage processed and approved within the escrow period stated on the offer contract. However, be sure to exercise caution before blindly accepting your agent’s recommendations. While agents are prohibited by law from getting financial kickbacks from lender referrals, we’ve heard of cases where the “preferred lender” turns out to be the agent’s relative or spouse. Just because your agent likes to work with a certain lender doesn’t mean they offer the best rate. Always do your own research and get multiple rate comparisons when it comes to your mortgage. Even a half-point difference in your interest rate can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.
What are the length and terms of the representation agreement?
Most representation agreements typically last around 3 months. The good news is that these agreements can be severed before the expiry date if both parties consent. The majority of buyer agents are fine with ending a buyer’s representation agreement early if the buyer wants out.
Do you offer any buyer incentives, like cash back?
More and more buyers are getting keen to the fact that real estate agents are still making a lot of money in commission (usually 3% of the final sale price) even though fewer and fewer are doing the work of finding homes for their clients. (Most buyers now find their home online and simply need an agent to open the door.) In response to outdated commission practices, brokerages like REX have eliminated the buyer’s agent commission from their listings and begun offering Cash Back incentives on homes listed by an outside brokerage.
Can you walk me through the offer paperwork, so I know what to expect?
You may be surprised to hear that a lot of agents skip this and hand over a 20-page contract like you should already know how to interpret it. Your agent should explain the different contingencies (if there are any), what is negotiable, and what closing costs you as the buyer are responsible for.
What can we do to make our offer more competitive?
If you’re in a competitive market, an offer that is too low may not even be looked at by the seller. If you’re in a market where negotiation is possible, you don’t want to make an offer that’s too high and risk overpaying. Experience should enable an agent to give you advice on exactly what to offer for a home and why.
What contingencies do you propose?
Contingencies are an important way to ensure you are getting exactly what you think you are getting in your next house. General inspection contingency, title contingency, and termite contingency are a few ways to make sure you don’t have any buyer’s remorse.
What financing packages are most attractive to sellers?
It goes without saying that an all-cash offer is the most attractive offer you can make. But not all of us are so lucky to have hundreds of thousands of dollars at our disposal. Ask your agent if they think a higher earnest money deposit or down payment will have an impact on having your offer selected over others. Also be sure to do your homework and shop around for a good lender.
Should we write a letter to the seller?
Writing a personal letter to the seller can help establish a more personal connection and make your offer stand out. However, some personal letters from home buyers to sellers can open the door to unintended housing discrimination and can invite sellers to unwittingly violate fair housing laws. It’s best to discuss with your real estate agent what approach to take depending on your particular situation.
What should we be prepared for once our offer is accepted?
Once an offer is accepted the escrow process starts. For a buyer this process has many steps and typically lasts from 30-45 days. During this time, appraisals and inspections are scheduled, repair requests are submitted, and all documents are reviewed and signed. Your agent should be available to answer your questions and help you stay on top of deadlines. They will also accompany you through the final walk thru to make sure the home is in relatively the same condition as the first time the buyer first saw it, as well as to confirm that any agreed upon repairs have been completed.
What’s your role once we go under contract?
During escrow, the agent becomes more of the overseer. The third-party escrow company will be coordinating the funding of your loan with your lender. Your agent will keep you on track to schedule inspections and ensure that all necessary contingencies are released.
Who else is involved at that point?
Your escrow officer and mortgage broker will be involved to ensure your deal closes on time. Make sure your agent is communicating with those parties so that you are aware of how the process is going. Better yet, work with a brokerage who keeps the various facets of the home buying process in house.
How can we prepare to make the escrow process go more smoothly?
Everything during your escrow has a deadline. Be responsive and timely! The more you are available to your agent, escrow officer, and lender, the more likely it is that things will get done on time. A modern real estate agent will have a checklist or online dashboard in place to help you track your tasks and visualize your progress toward closing.
What could make a deal fall apart?
Any number of things can make a deal fall apart. The most common being costly repairs showing up in an inspection that the buyer doesn’t want to deal with. It’s important to talk everything out with your agent to make sure you are as informed as possible.
Selecting the right real estate agent is not something you want to rush into and there are a lot of factors to consider before making your decision. With these questions in mind, you will be well on your way to finding the exact person to get the job done.