How To Interview An Agent
Katrina “"Who Dat"” Waldrip
How long have you been in the business? First, ask about the agent’s experience. "For me, the first thing I want to know is how long have they been in the marketplace," says Rick Harris, regional vice president for the National Association of Realtors and owner of a Coldwell Bankers office in Ashland, Oregon. "Not just how many years, but how many buyers do they work with that have similar needs."
Also consider the difference between a part-time real estate agent who sells a few properties for friends and relatives and someone who treats it as a full-time business venture. As Mirtha Barzaga, a Realtor with Davidson Realty in St. Augustine, Florida, points out, "there [are] a lot of agents out there that do this part time, and they can't provide the level of service that somebody who is doing this day in and day out can provide."
What geographic areas and types of properties do you handle? For buyers’ and sellers’ agents, neighborhood expertise is key, because neighborhood markets can have different quirks. For instance, Harris lives on a small ranch, so he knows the ins and outs of rural properties. "I focus very specifically on my county because rural regulations differ by county," he adds. Historic homes are another area that may require special expertise because of the additional challenges and potential restrictions involved.
Consider not only what agents tell you but also the way they brand themselves online. Herman Chan, a real estate broker with Sotheby’s International Realty in San Francisco, says many agents are now active on social media with YouTube channels, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and more, allowing you to do your own research. "If they're branding themselves as a condo specialist and you want to buy a house, they're probably not the right agent for you," he says. An agent who focuses on condominiums may have more familiarity with specific condo buildings than someone who mainly handles single-family homes.
Ask about other types of expertise, too. If you’re a veteran or active duty military member, you may want to work with someone who has special training to understand how Veterans Affairs financing works and the challenges of frequently relocating. If you’re a first-time buyer, you may want to find someone who works with lots of first-time buyers and has the patience to do some handholding.
How will you communicate with me? A communication lapse of a few hours can mean the difference between an accepted offer and a missed opportunity. With that in mind, choose an agent who responds quickly in the mode of communication that works for you, whether it’s email, text, phone or fax. "Quite frankly as Realtors, our job is to be able to communicate the way the consumer wants." "Finding a Realtor who will work with you in the way that you need to work is great."
Communication is especially important for buyers house-hunting from afar. I have clients across the US and over seas that communicate with me via Gchat or FaceTime. I also record tours of potential properties and upload the videos to YouTube with a private link.
Also ask who will be your main point of contact, because some busy real estate agents use a team of assistants or sub-agents to handle day-to-day tasks, and you may not have direct access to the agent you choose. "Maybe some people don't care, but I think that's an important question to ask."
Can you share references? In addition to interviewing potential agents, talk to their buyers or sellers. Some agents have a list of clients they can share with potential clients as needed. "I have had some of my previous clients take them out to lunch and talk to them without me being in front of them so they can get a real picture of that area and the work that I have done for them." Most will agree that talking to past clients is a good idea. "By doing that, you take out the self-promotion that everybody in business has to do and get to that relationship to help you understand how well they actually did." Also ask what portion of business comes from referrals or repeat business. If an agent mainly works on referrals or repeat business, that can be a positive indicator that prior clients were satisfied.
What will it cost me to sell this property? Buyers often don’t pay commission directly, but sellers often do and the costs can vary from agent to agent. For buyers who worry that bringing up the commission topic will be uncomfortable, Chan suggests phrasing this question as, "What will it cost me to sell this property?" Also ask for a breakdown of estimated closing costs. "If they feel that it's appropriate in your market, some agents throw in free staging or pay for your moving expenses, but you have to compare apples to apples." "If you get someone who's charging less, are you getting reduced services for reduced commission?"
What is Your Average List-Price-to-Sales-Price Ratio? Realize that the agent's average ratio depends on the market. Excluding sizzling seller's markets, a good buyer's agent should be able to negotiate a sales price that is lower than list price for buyers. A competent listing agent should hold a track record for negotiating sales prices that are very close to list prices. Therefore, listing agents should have higher ratios closer to 100%. Buyer's agent ratios should fall below 99%. Sometimes market value has no bearing on the asking price and, in that that event, ratios are meaningless. Don't put too much emphasis on ratios.
What is Your Best Marketing Plan or Strategy for My Needs? As a buyer, you will need to know:
- · How will you search for my new home?
- · How many homes will I likely see before I find a home I want to buy?
- · Will I be competing against other buyers?
- · How do you handle multiple offers?
- · Do you present offers yourself?
What Are the Top Three Things That Separate You From Your Competition? A good agent won't hesitate to answer this question and will be ready to fire off why she is best suited for the job. Everyone has their own standards, but most consumers say they are looking for agents who say they are:
- · Honest and trustworthy
- · Assertive
- · Excellent negotiators
- · Available by phone or e-mail
- · Good communicators
- · Friendly
- · Analytical
- · Able to maintain a good sense of humor under trying circumstances
May I Review Documents Beforehand That I Will Be Asked to Sign? A sign of a good real estate agent is a professional who makes forms available to you for preview before you are required to sign them. If at all possible, ask for these documents upfront.
As a buyer, ask for copies of the following:
- · Buyer's Broker Agreement (is it exclusive or non-exclusive?)
- · Agency Disclosures
- · Purchase Agreement
- · Buyer Disclosures
As a seller, ask to see:
- · Agency Disclosure
- · Listing Agreement
- · Seller Disclosures
How Will You Help Me Find Other Professionals? Let the real estate agent explain to you who she works with and why she chooses these professionals. Your agent should be able to supply you with a written list of referring vendors such as mortgage brokers, home inspectors and title companies. Ask for an explanation if you see the term "affiliated" because it could mean that the agent and her broker are receiving compensation from one or all of vendors, and you could be paying a premium for the service.
How Much Do You Charge? Don't ask if the fee is negotiable. All real estate fees are negotiable. Typically, real estate agents charge a percentage, from 1% to 4% to represent one side of a transaction: a seller or a buyer. A listing agent may charge, for example, 3.5% for herself and another 3.5% for the buyer's agent, for a total of 7%. The adage you get what you pay for tends to hold true in real estate. Top agents may tend to charge more.
What Kind of Guarantee Do You Offer? If you sign a listing or buying agreement with the agent and later find that you are unhappy with the arrangement, will the agent let you cancel the agreement? Will the agent stand behind their service to you? What is their company's policy about canceled agreements? Has anybody ever canceled an agreement with them before?
What Haven't I Asked You That I Need to Know? Pay close attention to how the real estate agent answers this question because there are often something else you may need to know. You want an agent to take their time with you -- to make sure you feel comfortable and secure with their knowledge and experience. They should know how to listen and how to counsel you, how to ask the right questions to find out what they need to know to better serve you.
-Katrina "Who Dat" Waldrip