Buying and selling real estate can be scary. It’s often one of the highest valued assets you will own.
If you want a stellar real estate experience, you’ll need a top-tier real estate team. Investing some time in the process of finding an agent who is a great match for you will save you time—and maybe money—down the road. People often ask for recommendations and then feel obligated to hire the first person they call. Don’t! You can ask for proposals and interviews in the same way you would if you were looking to hire a painter or contractor for renovations.
The time it takes you to interview agents will vary based on the complexity of your real estate situation. Interviewing three agents over three cups of coffee should give you enough information to make your decision. No matter how much time you spend interviewing potential real estate agents, you shouldn’t hire one unless they’re good enough for you.
There are a number of things you should expect at the first meeting or interview. The agent should be prepared with a proposal to tell you how they plan to sell your home (if chosen to do so) as well as samples. It’s easy to say there will be professional photos but that can vary dramatically so ask for samples. They should have a few samples of photos, videos, brochures, and other collateral that they will use to sell your home.
When you interview agents don’t be scared to ask your own questions.
14 questions to ask your real estate agent:
- What do you like about real estate? What is the most annoying thing about being in the real estate industry?
Open-ended questions are great. You can never predict where they’ll go.
- How long have you been in the business of real estate?
I think their time in the business is less important than how many homes their team has sold. Some newer agents are hungrier, more eager and even more willing to accommodate you than some veterans. A newer agent with a well-regarded brokerage supporting them is also a good sign. That being said, it’s valuable to hire someone who has been through both rising markets and crashing ones. Even better is if they’ve worked through the crashing markets and still sold more than a house or two.
- What is a realistic price range for my home?
Price range is key here, as opposed to a specific price point. Expect a 10% range in a healthy market or up to 20% in a bad one. If they give you a specific price and promise to get it for you, don’t hire them. Pricing isn’t a science. At this point, when you’re just interviewing them, there’s no way they’ve put in the work necessary to nail down a guaranteed price.
- Do you do this full-time?
I’m sure there are talented part-time real estate agents out there, but if your agent doesn’t work full-time, how often are you going to be stuck waiting to have your calls returned? Responsiveness is my team’s No. 1 priority because clients demand it. How annoying is it when you have slow internet? How much do you love waiting in lines? If their idea of responsiveness is their assistant calling you back 24 hours later, decide if that’s good enough for you.
If you’re on a short timeline to buy or sell, you likely need someone who can commit as much time as possible to you.
- Tell me about the team you work with.
Most top-level agents will work with a real estate team to meet all of your needs. There are two parts to a team: the people directly associated with the agent and the connectors and contractors they work with. At the very least, your agent ought to have an administrative assistant/getting- shit-done rock star to help them and you battle through the real estate gauntlet. They may also have one or more additional agents working with them. No single agent alone can accomplish for you everything that needs to be done at a high level, unless you’re their only client. (If you are their only client, that opens up more questions. It’s like showing up to eat at an empty restaurant; you have to wonder why it’s not as busy as the place next door.)
- What was your worst experience buying or selling a home? What was your solution?
Recognize nobody is perfect. That includes both you and your agent. Real estate is complicated. It’s better to be prepared than shocked. Selling is more complicated than buying. These “bad” stories pave the way to more good ones if your agent has learned from them. If they claim not to have a “worst experience,” they may not be telling the whole truth or perhaps they have always relied on someone else to solve the problems that inevitably arise in real estate.
Shit happens and it’s your agent’s job to deal with it. They must have the creativity, ability and hustle to solve whatever comes up.
- How many homes have you sold in your career? How many have you recently sold?
How long someone’s been in the business is not the only factor when it comes to selling homes.
In my first year, my team sold a lot of homes, relatively speaking. The average agent was selling four or five in a year; we sold 15. It was a big year. In terms of homes sold, I gained “three years” of experience that first year. Ask about the volume the agent has personally sold, not counting those agents around or under them. Get granular with this person who might be undertaking the biggest transaction of your life.
- What is your plan to sell my home or help me find the right home to buy?
I would start by explaining our plan depends on the client’s objectives, urgency, needs and previous experience, then explain our go-to marketing plan as a starting point.
- What is the worst-case scenario for me as a buyer or seller? How will you avoid it?
Worst-case scenarios depend on each and every person’s situation. Only with a thorough diagnosis of the buyer’s or seller’s situation can a real estate team figure out a potential worst-case moment and strategize to avoid it.
- What is your philosophy on open houses?
If their short answer is, “Open houses don’t work,” don’t hire them. That’s just code for they don’t know how to do an open house that works, or they don’t like putting in the time, effort or pre-marketing required to make sure the open house is effective. But, if they host open houses every day, it’s a sign they lack creative ways to sell your home.
- How are you going to be compensated in this transaction?
Real estate is self-regulated and in some markets, agents set their own commission as a percentage of the sale price. By the time you sell or buy your home, they should have earned every percentage point of their commission. If you hire them and they don’t live up to their promises, discuss it and perhaps negotiate down their commission.
- Do you like to negotiate?
Man, I love to negotiate. Not all real estate agents like to negotiate, even though it’s so key to success in our job. Real estate is highly emotional. The meeting of emotions between a buyer and seller is where negotiating comes in. In fact, negotiating is rarely simply about a price. It’s actually a negotiation around how the parties feel about the sale, their circumstances and motivation, whether the buyers like the sellers, whether the buyers were on time for their appointment and took their shoes off before they toured the place. All of it factors into the negotiation.
You can test a prospective agent by putting them in a position to negotiate in your interview. Ask them to justify their commission or their value proposition by simply noting, “Your commission seems a bit high.” If they can’t negotiate why they should get the job, what they should be paid, how long the process will take and why they’re better than the competition, they’re probably not a good enough negotiator.
- Tell me about the last two properties you sold successfully. What about the last one you listed unsuccessfully? Would you mind putting me in touch with any of those owners so I may do a reference check?
Get both sides of the story by speaking with past clients. It’s shocking to me these kinds of reference checks rarely happen in a business where you’re going to be dealing with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars, when they’re done for junior job positions with salaries a fraction of that. Be sure to do the same kind of reference checks for all agents you’re considering hiring so they’re all on even ground.
Even if you don’t plan to call their references, seeing an agent’s reaction (confidence? fear?) is instructive. When someone finally asked me for a reference for the first time, it was a bit of a surprise (it’s that rare). I was immediately able to give them a recent client to call. An hour later, I’d won the listing.
What you really want to learn from talking to these past clients is how the agent worked with them. In the case of the unsuccessful sale, how did the relationship end? Did they overpromise and underdeliver? Were the seller’s expectations unrealistic or were they exceptionally demanding? Was the agent prepared? Were they experienced? Was the seller satisfied overall? Would the seller recommend them? Listen for examples of problems that were resolved versus left unfinished. Try to find out if an agent was given an opportunity to solve a problem or if the client failed to mention their own frustrations. Keep in mind some people are just impossible to satisfy. Listen for aspects of the transaction that are related to your own and what seem to be personality conflicts.
- After everything you’ve heard from me, do you really think I should sell?
Sometimes, the agent’s answer will honestly be “No,” though not all agents will say so. It might be up to you to change your mind about buying or selling, even if you don’t realize it until later in the process. If things aren’t adding up, the stars aren’t aligning, inspections aren’t working out or your offers just aren’t making it to the end, it may be a sign buying or selling isn’t right for you right now. Know this and be willing to acknowledge it, even if your agent doesn’t.
When reflecting back on the agent interviews to decide who to hire, consider their demeanour. Are they enthusiastic about receiving your call? Are they confident? Do they answer your questions with authority and specific details or do they umm and uhh?
Do they seem desperate? An agent who is desperate for a commission cheque is more likely to put their own needs ahead of their client’s. Watch out for this, especially in a sliding market when sales are tougher to come by. That means they may give poor advice, for example encouraging you to buy something that doesn’t fit your needs or to sell for less today than what you could get next week.
Be wary of an agent who seeks to “get creative” in the negative sense of the term, for example by withholding information from the other party in order to get a leg up. If it seems sketchy, it probably is. They may leave you liable or they might try using their same tactics against you in some future deal.
Excerpts of this blog were taken from POSITIVELY SOLD.