Updated: Dec 16, 2020
This is a guideline to help with the task of finding the right agent for you. Finding an agent is like finding a home, you want to make sure they are the right fit for you and your needs.
Step One- Know what you want in an agent.
Before you make a short-list of real estate agents to interview, spend a half hour jotting down the things that are important to you. Once you have a few things that are important to you read the questions in step three and ask yourself "How would I want my ideal agent to answer this?"
Step Two-Build a short list of agents.
There are over 1 million registered Realtors and more that are not registered Realtors. You don't want to interview dozens of them, because you will be wasting your time and, in the end, get confused on who you liked best. So, you need to make a short list and to do this you should:
Asking friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors if they know of any real estate agents who they would or would not recommend.
Looking at the listings of local agents. Check out the agent’s website as well as other sites that offer searchable databases of the area in which you are selling. Are the agent’s properties presented in much the same way you would like to see your home listed? Is your home in the same price range as other houses they are representing?
Exploring the internet. This one is different from the point above. It is not about a real estate agent’s listing, but it is about how other people rate them and how they handle their business interactions. This action will help you find:
News stories about any unethical business practices which involve your prospective agent.
Awards and commendations that they have received as a result of their professional life.
Client reviews on sites such as Yelp or Google. One word of caution about online reviews. It is relatively easy for anyone to sign up and write a review, without ever having used a product or service. There are also ways to bury bad reviews. Do not base your entire decision on single review or comment on one site.
Stories about community activities involving your potential real estate agent, or their brokerage.
Additional professional qualifications that might have a bearing on your decision.
Personal opinions that may have an impact on who you choose to work with. For example, if a real estate agent is posting strong social messages on their Twitter feed that do not align with your personal opinions, they may not be the best fit.
This might seem to be a long, arduous process, but in reality, it only takes a few minutes to skim through some search results and get a feel for any red flags, or green ones, that will impact your choice.
Step Three-Start Interviewing Agents
Calling someone that you do not know can be embarrassing, uncomfortable or stressful but try not to worry about contacting a real estate agent in order to set up an initial interview. In fact, a good agent will recommend that you speak to a few other professionals before signing with someone. If calling them is hard for you to do, you can contact most agents through email or text messages. The initial contact with them will help you determine if they are the right fit. If they are extremely busy, this could mean they are in high demand and a good fit, but it could also mean they might not have the time to dedicate to you and your needs. There are reasons other than a real estate agent might be difficult to pin down for a “meet ‘n’ greet.”
They take on too many listings.
Maybe they are not busy at all but are trying to give you the impression they are because they think it will impress you.
It is possible the real estate agent doesn’t “meet ‘n’ greet” with potential clients because they don’t think they need to.
They have too much else going on and they are a part-time agent.
Then there is the agent that has all the time in the world to meet with you. This could raise some alarm bells, because you might think there is something wrong with them, but you should have been able to weed out any horrible agents from your internet search. Some of the reasons an agent is overly available are:
The agent is agreeing to meet with you, because they are well organized and know what their current clients’ needs are, has free time and does not see any problems with meeting with you.
The agent does not take on too many clients at the same time in order to dedicate themselves to their clients and they have a spot available.
The agent wants to put your needs first and will arrange their personal schedule so they can meet with you in order to secure your business.
How busy an agent appears to be is not a clear indicator of their abilities. You need to take your prospective of an agent’s availability as a snapshot and not the entire picture.
There are a couple of other things to consider when meeting with a real estate agent. You should be prepared to go to the real estate agent and to not have them come to your home. This is especially true in the time of COVID. You may not want someone in your home, so virtual meetings are a good thing to ask as well. You should not take this as a sign that the agent is uninterested or reluctant to make an effort. Some agents may be happy to come to your house, others may suggest meeting at a coffee shop or another similar local spot. If they work for a larger company, they might meet you at their offices. This is an excellent opportunity to get a feel for the levels of professionalism of the brokerage. It will also give you an insight into their standards of customer care.
Step Four-Ask Questions
Now that you have a short list of real estate agents and set up your interview you need to prepare some questions to ask them. The questions below are good questions to ask and some have follow up questions, but they are optional to ask. Asking these questions will help you to build a larger picture of each of the agents you interview and you will get a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, how they operate and if you will work well together. If you feel at any time that the agent won't be a good fit you do not have to sit and ask every question. You will know if you will gel with the agent or not in the first few minutes of chatting with them, if you don't think it will be a good fit let the agent know this and politely excuse yourself. This way you will not be wasting your time or the agents.
Here are some things to observe first before you chat.
Did they arrive on time?
Is their appearance appropriate?
Are you greeted in a professional and friendly manner?
Do you “get a good vibe” from your prospective agent?
Would you want this person representing you?
During your questions you should also consider:
Is the agent really listening and consider what you have asked, before answering?
Do they sound confident and knowledgeable?
Do they answer your questions, or do they dodge them?
Do they give additional, useful information without being prompted?
Do they treat you with interest and respect?
Do you feel that you are having a two-way conversation or is the real estate agent passive or dominating the conversation?
Is the real estate agent energetic and enthusiastic about selling houses in general and your home in particular or are they excited to help you find your dream home?
Did the agent give you only the good stuff about real estate transactions or are you alerted to possible problems and difficulties?
Here are the Questions you should be asking?
How long have you been working in the area?
The reason you want to ask this is because an agent that has 20 years of real estate experience but has not worked in the area you are in, might not be your best bet. A new agent that has lived and worked in the area for a long time might be the better fit.
Why is this important?
They will be able to answer questions from potential buyers. Also they will be able to help you if this area is where you want to look for a home. They can speak with knowledge and enthusiasm about local amenities and opportunities. Don 't underestimate the importance of local knowledge. For this reason, you might also want to ask these follow up questions:
Do You Live in the area?
How long have you lived here?
Do you have children in a local school?
What Do You Like About The Community?
This question will let you know if the agent will sell the lifestyle attached to your home or will help you become more familiar with the community and what it has to offer if you are looking to buy a home there. The primary function of this question is to see how much time your real estate agent might spend on personal pursuits. This would be things like if they are part of the PTA, a coach for a little league team or if they volunteer somewhere. Knowing that they have a pretty busy calendar could have an impact on their availability for you.
Follow-up questions to expand on this idea are:
Are you involved in any community activities?
What do you like to do in your free time?
Where are your favorite spots/pastimes?
What made you become a real estate agent?
This question is not really about the answer, but more about just getting into a rhythm and getting to know the real estate agent a little. Here are some follow-up questions that will give you some more insight on the agent:
Do you enjoy it?
Is it as you imagined?
Would you recommend becoming an agent to someone else?
Do you plan to stay in real estate?
Are you also a broker? Do you plan to be?
In what year did you qualify for your current license?
You don’t want to ask, “How long have you been in real estate?” as this can be open to interpretation. They may have held a license many years ago, allowed it to lapse and only recently requalified. You want to know, specifically, how long they have maintained their current license as a real estate agent. How well they keep up with changes to the industry can be assessed by:
Does your brokerage provide professional development opportunities?
How does an independent real estate agent maintain their license?
Are you a Realtor with a capital R?
A Realtor is a real estate agent or broker who is a member of The National Association Of Realtors, a voluntary trade association that requires members to commit to a code of ethics for which they must train every two years. Only members of the NAR can use Realtor in their marketing. So, realtors that you find on a website like Zillow or Redfin might not be a Realtor. A follow up to that is:
Why / Why not?
Do you have any other specialties or specific designations?
Just as other professionals can take additional training in certain specialties, so to can real estate agents. An agent who goes the extra mile to pay for, study for and take examinations for additional qualifications shows their interest and dedication to their field. Some designations and certifications you might see include:
ACR – Accredited Seller Representative – An agent who focusses on representing sellers, rather than buyers.
ABR – Accredited Buyer Representative – An agent who focusses on representing buyers rather than sellers.
ACRE – Accredited Consultant in Real Estate – Real estate agents who are trained to take a consulting approach to transactions rather than a sales approach.
CRE – Counselor of Real Estate – An invitation-only designation for those who demonstrate professional excellence.
CRS – Certified Residential Specialist – A real estate agent who specializes in residential properties.
E-PRO – Certified Internet Professional – An agent who has additional training in using technology in their transactions.
SRES – Senior Real Estate Specialist – A real estate agent who has taken additional training to help buyers and sellers age 55+.
How many listings do you have at the moment?
This question will give you an idea of how busy the agent is. The follow-up questions will be more revealing.
Will you have enough time to represent me and my home?
Will any unexpected difficulties in other sales impact your ability to work with us?
What percentage of your time can we realistically expect?
Do you work alone or on a team?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but there are pros and cons to each. Sometimes when working with a team communication can get lost in the mix, but then again having a team means that you could be well taken care of. Other things to consider is that you discover that you spend more time with administrative staff than the agent or you find that you sign with one agent, but never seem them again because you are handed off to another team member that you don't fit with. This is why it is so important to clarify who you will actually be working with.
Will you be my primary contact?
Tell me about the other people on your team.
Do you have other professionals you recommend?
You might already know who you are going to work with on this transaction, such as mortgage lenders, title company, home inspector etc. If not, it would be good to work with an agent who has these types of relationships and extended network to give you quality referrals. If they don't have any referrals, ask them a follow up question about what types of other professional elements might be needed during the transaction that you need to follow up with.
How do you like to communicate?
This is a particularly important question in a time when we often expect immediate responses to our messages. If you like text messaging for the quickness of it, make sure that your agent is comfortable with that form of communication. This can have a double edge sword too, because if they are happy to do this with you may mean that they will do that with other clients as well and this might divide their attention with you and other clients when you want them to focus on you. You also need to think about how potential buyers and their agents will be able to communicate with them if you are selling a home.
How do people make appointments to view my home?
How will you market my home?
Most good agents will be able to launch into a full-on explanation of their sales strategy which will include a market packet with examples. Their strategy should include everything to do with the sale of your home. This should include the guidelines of the COVID pandemic and what they will do to help keep you and potential buyers safe and healthy. This may mean not having an in-person open house, but a virtual one.
The agent should talk about where and how they will list your property, how and when they will share the listing with other agents who have active buyers, and how long they will pursue this strategy. This is especially important if you have a property that may not sell quickly or are selling in a buyers’ market. You should also ask these follow up questions:
How soon could you have my home on the market?
Do you take your own photographs?
Will you be providing professional staging consultations or services?
Who pays for services such as videography, landscaping for presentation purposes, marketing materials, etc.?
Are there a lot of buyers for houses like mine right now?
Between which hours are you available for viewings?
Will I have to work hard to sell my property?
What is your commission rate?
The commission rate is 6%, but with today’s competitive environment some agents offer a discounted rate in hopes people will sign with them. Sometimes this discounted rate is not the best idea, because the agent that discounts their rates will likely have to cut back on aspects of marketing and may expect you to pay for them out of your own pocket. Also, you need to ask the agent what they will offer the buyer’s agent. Usually the rate is 2.8%, but if they do not offer a good percentage than there is no incentive for the buyer’s agent to take your home into consideration with their clients and your home will not sell very fast.
Step Five: Answering Questions
A good agent should ask you plenty of questions in return. If the agent doesn’t ask questions about you, your home or your home search they may not be interested in your thoughts, feelings and needs at this step in the process. If this is the case, then they are unlikely to become more attentive after you sign with them.
Step Six: Consider Gut Feelings And Chemistry
You do not just want to listen to the answers given you need to pay attention to the chemistry between you and the agent. This process is stressful so many people will rely entirely on information they can research and compare. While this is important, never underestimate the value of your gut feeling. If the agent looks perfect on paper, gives all the right answers, but does not feel right, then move on and find someone who does.
Step 7: Choose Your Agent
Now you have all the information you need to pick a real estate agent. You can now choose the one that is best aligned with your needs. Remember to thoroughly vet any contracts before you make a commitment. Then, once you have signed on the dotted line, you can be on your way to selling or buying your home.