Questions to Ask a Real Estate Agent
Okay, let’s face it: Buying or selling a house is probably the biggest financial transaction you’ll ever make. There are hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake. That’s a lot of money! And because buying or selling a house is so complicated (hello, paperwork!) and expensive, having a good real estate agent in your corner is a must.
You’re the boss here—and like any good boss, you’ll want to interview at least three real estate agents before deciding who will represent you. But what questions should you ask? And how do you know the right answers?
No worries! We’ve got 10 questions (and the answers) you can ask potential agents to find out which one is right for you!
1. How long have you been a full-time real estate agent in my market?
Okay, this isn’t the time to give a big break to your buddy’s cousin who just got his real estate license. Or someone you barely know from a small group. A great agent usually has been working full-time in your market for at least four years. So if the agent’s response is, “Well, real estate is my side job. My day job is selling encyclopedias,” then you can politely inform them you’re going with someone else.
An agent with four years of experience has learned things you can only learn on the job as a full-time real estate professional. If you find someone who’s been working in your market for 10 years or more, that’s even better. You know you have someone with a track record of success.
Location is also important. If you’re looking to buy a house in Nevada, it does you no good to have an agent who specializes in Wisconsin. This is just common sense. An agent who’s established in your home market knows how much houses have been selling for during the past few years, which schools are the best, and all the other quirks.
2. How many homes do you close each year?
Not to pick on your buddy’s cousin again, but it’s key that your agent has a track record of actually closing home sales. You want someone who closes more homes than 90% of the agents in your market—in most markets, that means at least 35 closings per year.
3. Who will be my primary point of contact?
Communication is important, and bad communication is one of the most frustrating parts of dealing with a so-so agent. Who will you be able to contact and when? Home sales happen very quickly and taking three days to respond to a text message or email is unacceptable—especially if you’ve been led to expect a three-hour response window.
Many top-notch agents have a team that supports them. Just make sure you’ll have one dedicated person who will answer your questions whenever you have them—and make sure you get a guaranteed response time.
4. What qualities or certifications set you apart from other agents?
An awesome agent stays on top of changes in tax and zoning laws that may affect the area where you’re trying to buy or sell. As part of an agent’s continuing education, they may have a number of certifications. Here are some credentials they might have:
Realtor®: This is a real estate professional who’s a member of the National Association of Realtors.
CRS (Certified Residential Specialist): These guys are rock stars. Only top-performing agents get this distinction.
ABR® (Accredited Buyer Representative): These agents have completed specific training in representing buyers in a real estate transaction.
SRS (Accredited Seller Representative): These agents have completed specific training in (you guessed it) representing sellers in real estate transactions.
SRES® (Seniors Real Estate Specialist): These are agents who have completed training in helping buyers and/or sellers who are over the age of 50.
What if the agent you’re talking to has some of these qualifications and they’re one of our Endorsed Local Providers (ELPs)? Well, then you’ve got yourself a dadgum good real estate agent.
5. How will you help me sell and/or buy a home in a competitive market?
Are there very few houses for sale in your area? Are the ones that are on the market selling, like, immediately? Are sellers getting multiple offers? Are there tons of cash offers?
If the answer to any one of these questions is “yes,” then you’re in a red-hot, competitive market. You need someone who really knows what they’re doing. Again, this is not the time to call mild-mannered Aunt Sally who sells a few houses on the side each summer.
If you’re looking to buy, you’ll want someone who knows the community inside and out—and is an expert negotiator. If you’re selling, you want to know how accurate their pricing is. Find out their sale-to-list ratio, which you get by dividing the final sale price by the asking price. The closer this number is to 100%, the better. If it’s well over 100%, that means they’re getting more than asking price for the homes they sell.
6. What's your commission fee?
This is more important for a seller because the buyer doesn’t typically pay the agent’s commission. It comes out of the final sale price. The standard commission for a real estate transaction is usually 6% of the final sale price (due at closing) and split between the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent.
Commissions can vary depending on the circumstances. That’s why you always need to discuss real estate costs openly with the agent on the front-end so you know exactly when to expect. Dave never recommends cutting corners when it comes to choosing a quality real estate agent, though. Remember, your goal is to net the most money, not pay the least in fees. It’s always better for you in the long-run to partner with the best agent you can find – not necessarily the one with the lowest fees.
7. Do I have to sign a contract and can I cancel without a penalty?
It’s typical for an agent to have you sign an exclusive listing or buyer’s agreement which lasts for a specified period of time. Be leery of an agent who wants you to sign a lengthy contract you can’t break but allows them to get out. Ask if you can cancel the contract without a penalty if you’re not satisfied with their service. Some agents will charge a termination fee to cover out-of-pocket marketing expenses.
8. How will you communicate with me?
Do you prefer to talk on the phone? Are you more comfortable texting? Maybe email is the most effective way. Whichever you prefer, be sure you and your agent agree on a primary communication method so you’ll know what to expect. Many agents use a smartphone app to schedule showings and provide important updates. If so, make sure they take the time to help you install the app and teach you how to use it.
9. How do you set realistic expectations for your client?
This one is tied to communication. When it comes to buying or selling a home, you want a realist to guide you—not a pie-in-the-sky optimist. Ask them about this and listen hard. Are they all sunshine and rainbows? Will they tell you that your house will sell for $300,000 when similar houses in the neighborhood are bringing $225,000? Do they promise you’ll be in a new house next week when the market is super-hot and houses are harder to buy?
Being positive is great. But make sure they’re going to keep you grounded and set reachable goals.
10. Who can I contact for a reference?
Finally, if you want to know how good an agent really is, talk to their past clients. Listen to their personal experiences. Get the good, the bad and the ugly. If you’re interviewing an agent and they refuse to provide a list of past clients? Then say, “Thank you. Next!”
Talk to a real estate Endorsed Local Provider: ME!
Want a rock-star real estate agent who gives you the right answers to all of these questions? Do you want someone with the heart of a teacher who will walk with you through the process of buying or selling a house?
Real estate ELPs sell more houses than 90% of the agents in their markets. They’re rooted in and invested in the communities they serve. You can’t beat their customer service, and we make sure they’re the best of the best. Otherwise, we wouldn’t endorse them. It’s free to get connected. Simply enter your contact info and we’ll give you a list of the top agents in your area.