Whether you are looking to buy or sell a home, your real estate agent is your most important ally in the process. Because of the trust you put in the person leading you through one of the biggest transactions of your life, it is important to ask the right questions and find someone perfect for you to work with.
Have Your Worked With Similar Properties in the Past?
Are you a single, young professional looking for a swanky downtown loft or are you a parent looking for a spacious suburban home? Are you looking in specific parts of town or for a specific type of property?
Whatever your situation is, it is important to find an agent experienced with the type of home you are looking for. It may not make sense to choose an agent experienced in only Downtown condos when you want a sprawling country property.
Do You Have a Preferred Mortgage Banker?
Getting a mortgage loan can be as difficult as finding your next home, and finding an agent with a strong relationship to a banker can make the process smoother.
Before you choose that banker, be sure to shop around for the best interest rates and fees to make sure that you are getting the best deal possible. If that banker is competitive, you can comfortably go through the pre-approval process with that bank to speed up the closing process when you find the right property.
Will Your Provide References for Your Last Three Clients?
Just because your agent is a smooth talker doesn’t mean she leaves everyone happy. Getting references from the three most recent customers is an easy way to know what level of service you will receive.
Why three most recent clients? You want to get a recent, unbiased opinion of your agent. If they just choose three clients on their own, you know they will only choose the ones with the best relationships that will give glowing reviews. Additionally, you don’t want references from too long ago as the service level might have changed over time.
Are You an Independent Agent, or Part of a Team?
Some real estate agents go solo and handle the entire customer experience themselves. Others have an office staff supporting them behind the scenes.
There is not a right or wrong answer to this question, but it could give insight into the level of service you can expect while working together.
Agents that work on their own handle all of the contact with you personally, which is a positive, but may also have less schedule flexibility because they support each client personally. Agents in a bigger office have a support staff to facilitate quicker turnaround times. In some cases, those agents can provide a more professional experience. However, that is not always the case and you may not always work with your agent directly.
How Many Clients Are Your Supporting Right Now?
Whether they are representing buyers or sellers, a busy agent might mean less time with you. Being busy could indicate several possibilities. Maybe the agent is busy because he does a great job and is very popular. Maybe the agent is busy because he is disorganized and slow to buy or sell homes.
Whatever the answer, try to ask probing questions about average listing times if you are selling and how long they usually take to find a home for clients that are looking.
What are Your Fees?
Fees are negotiable. However, real estate agents typically charge a 6% commission. However, that doesn’t always have to be the case. I’ve heard of agents cutting their fee down to 5%, 4%, or 3% on numerous occasions. Once a friend used her uncle as an agent and he wrote a check to her to cover the entire fee.
While most agents would never work for free, that example is proof that all fees are negotiable. Ask your agent what she charges, and open a discussion with the possibility of lowering that down by as much as half. But keep in mind that the agent isn’t getting the entire 6%. Usually 3% goes to the buyer’s agent and a portion of the remaining 3% goes to the agent’s broker. The agent may only be getting 2% of the entire commission rate. If this is the case, a 1% discount to you will be a 50% discount to the agent.
Will You Agree to a 90-day Agreement?
If an agent isn’t working out for you, you might be stuck with them for the long-run even if you decide it is time to jump ship. While we all hope things will go great when we choose a new agent, it isn’t always the case.
Just to cover yourself in case things are not going well, try asking for a 90 day walk-away agreement in advance. If things are going well and you have a good relationship, that is great and you don’t have to walk away even if you reach the 90 day mark. However, like a good pre-nuptial agreement, it can protect you in case your property doesn’t sell and you are unhappy with your agent. Asking for a timeframe less than 90 days could actually hurt your chances of selling your house because it takes time for marketing programs to take effect and the agent may be reluctant to pay for an advertising campaign if there isn’t enough time for the campaign to take effect and justify the expense.
What Days and Times are You Available to Show and View Properties?
If an agent doesn’t work weekends, they probably won’t sell your property as fast as an agent that is willing to work weekends. The same goes with evenings and holiday weekends.
Busy professionals want to see homes when they are not at work, which means your real estate agent should be available when people want to look at homes. If you are working with a buyer’s agent, make sure his schedule works with yours.