Before You Choose a Realtor, Ask Some Simple Questions
Unfortunately, most people don’t know what to ask a prospective agent. Nor do they know what answers to look for.
As Homeowner Advocates who have worked with hundreds of sellers, we’ve found that homeowners who take the time to find the right agent are consistently happier with their home-selling experience than those who don’t. It’s the first and most critical step in selling your property.
As a general rule of thumb, you’re looking for an agent who:
- Has the experience, qualifications and abilities to sell your home.
- Has in-depth knowledge of your area and the market in general.
- Will work hard on your behalf, not just for their commission.
- Has resources (a team and a system) to support the sales effort.
- Will keep you well-informed during the process.
- Has a personality you are comfortable with.
By asking the following questions, you can dramatically improve your odds of having a successful home-selling experience.
1. How long have your been an active full-time Realtor? How long in my neighborhood?
We recommend looking for an agent who has been actively working on a full-time basis for at least the last three to five years. You should also find out how long they’ve worked in your specific geographic area.
There are several reasons for selecting a well-established agent. First, you want someone who has a track record you can confirm. Second, an established Realtor has a roster of contacts you will need: lenders, home inspectors, handymen, attorneys, etc. Finally, an experienced agent will have creative, time-tested ideas for marketing your home.
Yes, there are good agents who have been in the business for a short time. But there is a high drop-out rate in our industry, and it would be unfortunate if, three months down the line, your agent moved on to other things. On the other hand, a part-timer who has another full-time job will not keep up with the pace or complexity of today’s marketplace. And they might not be available when you need them most. Your home is your most important investment — doesn’t its sale deserve an agent’s full-time commitment?
2. How many homes have you listed in the past six months? The past year?
While an agent’s length of time in the field is important, the quality of that time is even more important. You need to gauge just how active — and successful — the Realtor is. A large number of listings is often the sign of a successful agent. However, no matter how many listings an agent has, make sure that they have the resources and systems to market each of them effectively. Getting a listing is only half the job.
3. How many homes have you SOLD in the past six months? The past year?
Here’s where we separate the listers from the doers. Just because an agent has a knack for signing up sellers doesn’t mean he’s good at finding, negotiating and closing deals — and that’s what you want.
4. What is your average Days on Market?
You may think a quick turnaround is a good sign. It could be. However, a faster-than-average selling record could indicate an agent is quick to sacrifice a seller’s profits in negotiations — which is why the next question is so important.
5. What is your average Sales Price-to-List Price Ratio?
There’s a difference between an agent who gets you a good deal and one who gives away too much to sell your home. That’s why it’s important to compare the original list price to what a home actually sold for. For example, an agent who consistently gets 90 percent of the asking price is probably a better negotiator than the agent who only gets two-thirds of the asking price.
(By the way, when you ask a full-time real estate agent any of the previous four questions, they should be able to respond without hesitation and without a blank stare. Either one of those two “tells” is a sign that the person sitting in front of you has a bad record or simply doesn’t track the numbers. Either way, you need to keep looking for your Ace.)
6. How many homes are you currently marketing?
Again, this goes to the question of effectiveness. Make sure your agent has the systems in place to handle them all. A successful top-producing agent may be more effective at managing many listings than a less-experienced agent is with a handful.
7. Do you have a personal staff?
While it doesn’t necessarily indicate better service, a Realtor who has a support staff to handle office chores and routine details can usually devote more time to the business of serving a client’s highest-priority needs. Ask about the composition of the Realtor’s staff, the duties each member has, and how they will be involved in the marketing of your home.
Make sure you’re very clear as to the involvement you can expect from your agent compared with your agent’s staff. But don’t assume that you’re being treated poorly just because the agent isn’t doing everything herself. If you were having major surgery, you wouldn’t want your surgeon handling anesthesia and monitoring vital signs and every other detail of the operation — that’s what the rest of the medical team is there for.
The important thing is that your listing is handled in an efficient, professional manner, that you are kept well-informed as to what’s being done to sell your home, and that the operation is successful.
8. How will you market my home?
Most Realtors have at their disposal the same tools for selling your home: the Multiple Listing Service, websites, blogs, mobile marketing, open houses, marketing fliers, direct mail, advertising, personal networking — the list is long.
What differentiates the best agents from the rest is their marketing philosophy and the strategies they’ve developed to achieve their goals. You’re looking for a Realtor who tailors his approach to your specific circumstances, and then puts the tools at his disposal to your best advantage.
What you want is someone who does more than provide a physical description of your home and area to prospects. Your Realtor should be enthusiastically selling your home’s benefits. You’re spending a good deal of money with an agent, and you should expect a detailed marketing plan — in writing — before you sign a listing contract.
As you discuss the marketing plan, make sure you include the following issues:
The Internet certainly has changed the way people buy and sell homes, and your Realtor needs to be online with the most cutting-edge tools at your disposal. Most agents have low-functionality websites that are little more than electronic business cards. But top-producing, high-octane Realtors have online home-marketing machines that can easily be found on search engines and focus more on catering to what buyers and sellers want and need.
An agent’s website should have a regular clientele that routinely visits their website. “Hits” are outdated. What you want to know is how many individual visitors (or “impressions”) does the website get? If it’s anything less than 1,000 per week, it’s probably not going to give your home the exposure it needs.
But the agents’ website is only a small piece of a reputable online marketing plan. Your agent should be set up to share your home listing on 200-300 public real estate websites, and have a proven Craigslist strategy as well.
Other forms of advertising
Technology marches along so fast in the real estate industry. From 24-hour toll-free hotlines with talking-ad capability to text-on-demand services with photos and written information about your home. Ask the agent what he does that he considers unique or special.
Fliers and Brochures
Carefully review the quality of the materials the agent shows you. Do the design, style of writing and print quality do a good job of selling the attributes of a particular home? Poorly done materials reflect badly on your home and say something about the quality of the agent’s marketing efforts in general.
Likewise, beware of allowing fliers in a cheap plastic box on the sign post outside your home. It’s outdated and a rain-drenched, sun-bleached, partially readable flier does little to promote your home in an aesthetically pleasing way. Empty flier boxes are irritating, especially when they’re empty because neighborhood children tossed them in the street on the way to school.
Fliers and brochures are important, but make sure they are presented nicely in the home.
Don’t be unduly impressed with the huge sums of money some agents spend to advertise their listings in the newspaper. We’ll let you in on a little secret — classified advertising is great for keeping a company’s name in the public eye, but it rarely sells a home in and of itself. An agent who stresses advertising at the expense of other efforts should be avoided. There’s no substitute for hard work on the agent’s part.
Be wary if your agent doesn’t sing the praises of open houses. The real estate market has altered the way people shop for a house, and open houses are once again an effective piece in the marketing plan.
Home shopping is much more a shared activity today than it was even five years ago. Buyers scour the Internet looking for that perfect home … at midnight … in their underwear. But they drive the neighborhoods because you can’t always determine just how the block looks and feels, even with all the aerial-photograph tools at their fingertips. Multiple photos and virtual tours on the Internet are critical. But nothing really compares with standing in the kitchen and marveling at the beautiful countertops or visualizing which wall in the family room best accommodates your flat-screen.
So when they come, an open house is the perfect way to capture the attention of hot buyers (those targeting your neighborhood), and to allow them to see your home on your terms, and on your schedule.
Conversely, be careful not to allow too many open houses, which can make you look like a desperate seller and attract lowball offers.
Multiple Listing Service
The MLS is one of a Realtor’s most important resources. But here’s another little secret — many agents fail to use the MLS effectively as a marketing tool.
Your listing should have the maximum number of photos and utilize video tours (real ones, not just a slide show with photos that float across the screen).
Make sure your agent takes the time to craft a strong, detailed sales pitch that extols the benefits of your home, and doesn’t just list a lot of dry facts.
When you consider that a listing in the MLS is like a free “classified” that reaches every other Realtor in town — many of whom have clients who might be interested in your home — along with every buyer with an Internet connection, don’t you think you should take advantage of it?
Other Forms of Promotion
Exposure is the key to any home sale. One of the most common ways a home is sold is when another agent knows a buyer who is looking for a home like yours. Ask the agent about techniques other than the MLS, advertising and open houses he will use to maximize your home’s exposure.
9. Will you help me stage my home?
Three things go into selling a home: price, condition and agent effort. If you choose a hard-working agent who helps you set a competitive price, make sure that she also will advise you on how best to present your home to prospective buyers. Some agents are reluctant to say anything in this area because they don’t want to offend their client. Ask the agent what kind of information she will provide to help you stage your home — the more detailed and honest, the better.
10. How will you keep me informed?
One of the biggest complaints sellers have about their agents is that they didn’t receive enough feedback. We’ve found that the best communication occurs when clients let us know upfront what they consider to be “enough” feedback.
Only you know what level and type of communication works best for you. Do you want weekly progress reports? Daily reports? Are phone calls and letters acceptable, or would you prefer to use email and text? Perhaps you would rather discuss matters in person? Find an agent willing and able to give you the time and attention you require. And agree on the appropriate level of communication at the beginning of the relationship — don’t wait until you see a problem.
11. What listing price do you recommend? How did you arrive at it?
Ask about the current market and how it affects your price and selling strategy. A good agent will back up his assertions with solid proof. By running a comparative market analysis, he should be able to give you a sound argument and documentation on how he arrived at your home’s proposed market value and price range.
The comparative market analysis should include the following:
- Listing and selling prices
- Descriptions of comparable homes
- Length of time homes have been on the market
- Listings of any price reductions that were made
- Market statistics for the past year in the area.
The agent should also explain how differences between your home and the comparable properties affect your home’s value.
12. What’s your pricing/marketing philosophy 30/60/90 days down the road?
If your home isn’t seeing any interest after two or three weeks on the market, what is the agent going to do to generate activity? You shouldn’t have to go to your agent and make suggestions, such as lowering the price. You want a proactive representative, not someone who simply reacts.
13. What’s your commission on a sale?
A Realtor’s commission isn’t set by law; it can vary from agent to agent. Make sure you know up front what you’re paying.
While you are legally entitled to negotiate a lower commission, some agents may be less willing to list your home as a result. In a soft market, an agent has even less incentive to push your home when there are others on the market whose sale will result in a higher commission. And an agent who’s too quick to give up his money may be quick to give up your money during the negotiation process.
Remember, the saying “You get what you pay for” also applies to your real estate service.
14. Can you provide me with references?
A Realtor’s reputation is one of his most valuable assets; most will work hard to protect it. Surprisingly, most sellers don’t bother to check references. This is one of the easiest and most important steps you can take. And yet, we’ve seen more people make the mistake of not checking references.
Talking to past clients is an excellent way of learning how an agent operates beyond what he says he’s going to do. You can get a good idea of whether a Realtor is a good match for you by finding out how he handled other clients.
Here are some questions to ask your agent’s past clients
- How long was your home on the market?
- Do you feel the agent priced it realistically?
- What was it originally listed at? What did it sell at?
- What type of marketing did the agent do?
- Did the agent suggest how to make your home more marketable?
- Did the agent keep his promises? Did he do what he said he’d do?
- Were you kept informed along the way? How often did you talk?
- How many offers did you get?
- During the closing process, did the agent have good follow-up?
- What did you like most about the agent?
- Was there anything about the agent that you didn’t like?
- Would you use this agent again?
But don’t rely solely on the references that they give you. You have at your disposal the technology to research it yourself. A great tool is Yelp!, among the most-visited online review websites (www.yelp.com). If an agent can’t be found on Yelp, they probably haven’t done a lot of business. A good agent will have at least a 4-star rating.
15. Do you have any personal marketing materials I can see?
16. Do you have any questions for me?
The sharp agent considers your situation and plots a marketing strategy as you speak, so of course there should be questions. If not, you could be dealing with someone with a “one-size-fits-all” mentality who’s going to plug you into a prefabricated plan.
A good agent will ask your reasons for selling, the date you need to move, what improvements you’ve made to the property, special features you think are noteworthy, and whether there are any defects or problems with the house, and what your expectations are. All of this shows a concern and responsiveness, and the agent will incorporate your answers into his selling strategy.
While you are interviewing the agent, the agent should also be interviewing you. Great agents know that sometimes people just don’t match up well.
17. Am I comfortable with this person?
This question isn’t for the agent — it’s for you. Ask yourself if you feel good about the agent, his personality and how he conducts business. After all, this is a person who will represent you in the sale of your most precious asset. The last thing you need is a personality clash in the course of the selling process. You want an agent you can trust, who is honest with you and who relates well to you.
This is often the single most important element in a successful home sale. Uneasiness or discomfort in the agent-seller relationship leads to unhappiness on both sides and usually poor results. Both of you need to be completely comfortable in sharing expectations, thoughts and concerns regarding all aspects of the sale.
Asking these questions before you hire your agent will improve your chances of success and help you avoid heartache later.
Thinking about selling a home? Want to know the best strategies to sell your home today? Call us today at 951-778-9700 or use the form below and ask for a 10-minute consultation.
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How to Hire a Real Estate Listing Agent | Selling Your Home in Riverside CA | Home Marketing | Homeowner Advocates | Brian Bean and Tim Hardin Dream Big