Our neighbor has just put their house on the market, and they didn’t interview a single real estate agent. They have made the cardinal mistake of listing with a friends daughter, as a favor. You should never entrust the sale of your house to just anyone.
How Do You Pick A Real Estate Agent? To choose the best real estate agent for your circumstances, you first have to work out exactly what you need. Then, using the guidelines below, identify a short list of real estate agents, interview each of them, and sign up with the one who most closely aligns with your needs and personality.
It is, of course, relatively easy to sum up the whole process in a few brief lines, but how, exactly, do you go about finding, interviewing, and signing up with a real estate agent? You just have to read on, because here, you will discover everything you need, and more, to ensure your agent is the right fit.
How To Pick A Real Estate Agent
It would appear that many people choose a real estate agent without taking the fundamental first step. “What is that first step?” I hear you ask.
Begin by working out exactly what you need from your real estate agent.
You wouldn’t go house hunting without any idea of the kind of home you wanted. Even the most flexible buyers usually have a few rough criteria such as a minimum number of bedrooms or maybe a “must have” on their checklist, like a large garden. The same should be true of the real estate agent with whom you choose to work. Will you be happy with someone who will take their own pictures or do you want a professional to take the photographs of your home? Are you a person who prefers to communicate instantaneously by text or are you happy to leave phone messages?
To help you get exactly the person you need for a successful property transaction, here is the Definitive Guide On How To Pick A Real Estate Agent.
Step One: Know What You Want
We have already touched on this point but let’s reiterate.
Before you even think about making a short-list of real estate agents to interview, spend a half hour jotting down the things that are important to you. Then read through the questions in step three and ask yourself “How would my ideal real estate agent answer this?”
Once you know what you are looking for in your “ideal candidate” you can move onto step two, building your short-list.
Step Two: Building A Short List
There are 1.4million registered Realtors in the US, not to mention those real estate agents and brokers who are not Realtors. You will not want to spend time interviewing dozens of them so you’ll have to make yourself a short-list.
You do this by:
- 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 agents listings, 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. With this in mind but don’t 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.
All of this might appear, at first, 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: Setting Up Interviews
First of all do not be embarrassed or uncomfortable 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 number of other professionals before signing with someone.
How simple, or otherwise, it is to meet with a potential agent for an initial interview is also a good indicator of how your ongoing relationship with them might be. An agent who has little time to talk with potential clients could be viewed as in demand, and therefore a good option. Then again, if they are incredibly busy, you should consider how much time they will have to dedicate to you and your house.
But, there are reasons other than “I am so good at my job and in such demand that I barely have time to talk to you” that a real estate agent might be difficult to pin down for a “meet ‘n’ greet.”
- They take on too many listings. Perhaps they take on every opportunity possible with the attitude that if they have a ton of houses on their books, one or two are bound to sell and make enough commission on which to live.
- Maybe they are not busy at all but are trying to give you the impression they are because they think it will impress you. If this is the case, do you want a real estate agent who is inexperienced, immature, or insecure enough to do this?
- It’s possible the real estate agent doesn’t “meet ‘n’ greet” with potential clients because they don’t think they need to. An agent who believes they can pick and choose clients is either excellent or doesn’t respect their clients, and not the kind of agent you are looking for. It will probably be quite easy to tell which.
- They have too much else going on. Part-time agents are often working around other commitments. If they are unable to meet in the evenings, at weekends or any other time when it is convenient for you, then they are probably not going to be a good fit.
Overly Available Agents
The other side of this coin is the agent who is able to meet you “any time it is convenient for you in the next couple of days.” This could raise alarm bells for some people who might imagine that if they are that free to meet, there must be an issue of some kind. Sometimes this is true. However, your research should have weeded out anybody who was so terrible they can’t sign clients.
So, are there good reasons why might a real estate agent be overly flexible? The good news is yes; there are positive reasons why a real estate agent is able to meet you whenever works for you. For example:
- They are agreeing to meet anytime in the next couple of days because they know precisely where and when they are needed for their clients, have the time free, and do not anticipate any problems that require their urgent attention.
- The real estate agent only takes on one or two homes at once so they can dedicate themselves to a listing and right now they have a spot.
- Your prospective agent is willing to put your needs first and reschedule any personal commitments in order to secure your business.
As you can see. How busy an agent appears is not a clear indicator of their abilities. Take your prospective agent’s availability as a piece of the puzzle, not the entire picture.
Other Things To Consider
Be prepared to go to the real estate agent and to not have them come to your home. This is standard practice for a busy agent with whom you are discussing a contract. You should not take this as a sign that the agent is uninterested or reluctant to make an effort.
Some agents, especially those who work from home, 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.
You should also use this appointment setting chat to ask the real estate agent to do some prep. Ask if they can bring along the details of previous clients who would be willing to discuss their experiences selling their home. Ensure that you are not given details of friends and family. Ask for the details of the clients listing. This will this allow you to confirm they had a business relationship.
Step Four: Asking Questions
Once you have your short list of real estate agents, and you have set your “meet and greet” appointments it’s time to work out what you are going to ask. I’d recommend most, if not all of the questions below that are in bold. Some of these questions in bold have follow-up questions attached, but these are optional.
By doing this you will be able to build a fuller picture of each real estate agent, their strengths and weaknesses, how they operate, and if you will work well together.
However, if it should become apparent that you are not going to get along well, do not feel like you have to sit and ask every question. When a real estate agent and a client do not get “gel” neither is going to get the best out of the arrangement. If, after a brief chat you already know “this is not the agent for me” don’t waste your time or theirs, asking further questions. Just let them know you do not think they are the right agent for you and politely excuse yourself.
At The Meeting
There are a few points you can evaluate before you start to chat.
- Do 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?
While you are asking questions you should also consider:
- Does the agent consider what you have asked, before answering?
- Do they sound confident and knowledgeable?
- Are your questions answered or are they dodged?
- Is additional, useful information volunteered?
- Are you treated with interest and respect?
- Do you feel that this is a two-way conversation or is the real estate agent very passive?
- Is the real estate agent energetic and enthusiastic about selling houses in general and your home in particular?
- Are you given a rose-tinted view of the real estate transaction or are you alerted to possible problems and difficulties?
The Questions To Ask
The answers to these questions, when combined with your other research will help you to find the real estate agent best suited to your needs.
How Long Have You Been Working In The Area?
An agent with 20 years experience as a real estate agent, but has only worked in your community for a short while is not always your best bet. Sometimes a new agent who has lived and worked there for their entire life is preferable.
Because they will be able to answer questions from potential buyers. They can speak with knowledge and enthusiasm about local amenities and opportunities. Never underestimate the importance of local knowledge. For this reason, you might also want to ask:
- 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?
Again, this speaks to how an agent will be able to sell the lifestyle attached to your home. This is opposed to an agent selling just the bricks and mortar of your house. However, the primary function of this question is to see how much time your real estate agent might spend on personal pursuits. For example, if they are; a little league coach, a volunteer at the local animal shelter, and are an active member of the PTA, they will have a packed calendar. This could impact on their availability both for you and for potential buyers.
The follow-up questions expand on this idea:
- 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?
When you ask this question, it isn’t really about the answer, but more about just settling into a rhythm and getting to know the real estate agent a little. Be prepared to ask any follow-up questions such as:
- 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?
Don’t 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.
- Why / Why not?
Do You Have Any Other Specialities 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 will give you an idea of how busy your agent is. However, 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 Have A Team Or Do You Work Alone?
Both ways of working can have their pros and cons. An agent who has a team behind them can spend time with their clients without interruptions. Potential buyers will always have their calls answered promptly. On the other hand, messages can go astray in teams. Also, communications can become disrupted when they have to go through an extra level of staff.
There are other things to consider. You may like your real estate agent but discover you spend a lot of time on the telephone with administrative staff. There is also the issue of signing up with an agent only to find that you never see them again. Instead, you are handed off to another team member, who you may not get along with. Even worse, you might be handed off to a team of people. Then you discover none of whom have direct responsibility or authority over your sale. 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 exactly who you are going to apply to for your loan, have a home inspector you have worked with previously, etc. If not you might want to work with an agent who has an extensive professional network and can give you quality referrals. If your agent does have others with whom they work on a regular basis. Be sure to ask if there are any elements of the agent’s service which are reliant on using their recommended professionals.
How Do You Like To Communicate?
An especially important question in a time when we often expect immediate responses to our messages. If being able to have an impromptu text conversation with your agent when a question pops into your head is essential, make sure the agent you choose is open to that.
If your agent is happy to do that with you, they are probably going to be glad to do the same with other clients. This means your agent may be taking texts during viewings and dividing their attention when you want them to focus on you. So be prepared for that. You also need to think about how potential buyers and their agents will be able to communicate.
- How can people make appointments to view my home?
How Will You Market My Home?
A good agent will be able to launch into a full-on explanation of their sales strategy. This should include everything to do with your sale. From whether or not they will advise you on how best to present your home, to their views on the effectiveness, or otherwise, of open houses.
Your 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 things such as:
- 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?
When selling my first home I paid six percent commission. I later negotiated a lower rate due to selling multiple properties within the same year with the same agent and broker.
Today, with much greater competition, many agents offer a discounted rate. They hope it induces people to sign with them. Sometimes this discounted rate is not the bargain it first appears to be. Agents who heavily discount their commission can sometimes cut back on the costlier aspects of marketing. Alternatively, they may expect you to pay for them out of your own pocket.
In addition, if you are signing up for a discounted rate, you should also ask what rate they will be offering co-operating brokers. The agent, or their brokerage who brings the buyer to the deal, would usually get half of the commission. So on a six percent commission, both the buyer’s agent and the seller’s agent would get three percent each. If your agent is offering you a five percent deal and giving two percent to the buyer’s broker, they are not going to be all that motivated to bring their buyers to your property.
Step Five: Answering Questions
A good agent should take the opportunity to ask you plenty of questions in return. If the agent doesn’t show an interest in your thoughts, feelings, and needs at this stage, then they are unlikely to become more attentive during the process.
Step Six: Consider Gut Feelings And Chemistry
Don’t just listen to your agent’s answers. You need to pay attention to the chemistry between you and the agent. Many people 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 of the right answers, but doesn’t feel right, then move on and find someone who does.
Step 7: Choose Your Agent
Now you have all of 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 your home.
About The Author
Geoff Southworth is the creator of RealEstateInfoGuide.com, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policy.