Picking a realtor is much like picking a spouse: this one decision is going to determine a great deal of your happiness (or unhappiness) for the duration of the relationship. Before you start the process or commit to working with one realtor exclusively, take some time to interview a few potential candidates. Any realtor worth their salt will be more than happy to answer your questions. In fact, the really good ones will want to get to know you, your needs, and your situation before they begin working with you anyway.
So now we address what questions you need to ask when interviewing a potential realtor.
This one is a pretty logical question to ask, but the answers you’ll get are much more multifaceted than a simple number of years. First, while a more seasoned (in years) realtor will have more experienced, someone slightly newer might have more time to devote to you as a client. If your realtor is relatively new, as about things like what access they have to mentors or other support from their brokerage, whether they’re a realtor full-time or part-time, and what licenses they have. These factors will help you tell the difference between a true newbie and someone who is an up-and-coming expert who just hasn’t gotten that many years under their belt yet.
There’s also more than one way to measure experience. You can ask how many years of experience they have, but also try asking about how many homes they bought or sold in the past year. You can also ask about the list-price-to-sales-price ratio of the houses they’ve bought or sold over the last year. All these factors will give you a better idea of how much experience they have as a professional realtor.
Finding out if your home (as a seller) or your desired neighborhoods (as a buyer) fall inside an agent’s area of expertise is essential. A good realtor usually has a “domain” and they spend a great deal of time doing research on the market conditions, developments, and other details of that geographic area. You might be talking to a really good realtor, but if your house (or desired house) falls outside their area of expertise you might not be able to benefit from a large portion of their knowledge.
Ask what neighborhoods they usually work in, what communities they are familiar with, whether they usually deal in luxury homes or smaller properties, or whether they usually work as a buyer’s agent or a seller’s agent. If you want, you can even ask for a CMA (comparative market analysis: a detailed report of the local conditions, details, and comparable homes of a specific geographic area) to get more information.
Whether you’re a buyer or a seller, your realtor should come with a strategy they use to to get the job done. For buyers, this should include things like a survey or interview process they use to get to know your needs and then a set of criteria they use to search for houses. For sellers, it’ll include things like how and where they advertise, whether they use online marketing, what the process is for staging, and other necessary steps in the selling process.
Whether you’re buying or selling, it’s important that your realtor can give you an honest assessment of your situation. They should be able to tell you straight up if there’s something wrong, like suggesting an unrealistic selling price or looking in an area that’s going to be way out of your price range. Make sure you work with someone who’s able to give you the hard truth if it’s needed.
This is always a very revealing question because there’s no “right” answer, so you’ll get a good insight into that realtor’s personality and personal philosophy. They might mention things like experience, a proven reputation, an established network, communication, availability, or other unique resources. Again, there’s no “right” answer, but make sure you agree with the philosophy their answer indicates. Going on with the spouse metaphor, make sure you’re going to have a compatible match.
Many people don’t know this, but there’s no set rate for a realtor’s commission. Yes, this means that it’s technically negotiable, but it’s usually a pretty standard amount within a brokerage. Ask ahead of time so you know what you’re in for. However, be aware that a higher fee is usually indicative of a better or more experienced realtor, so you shouldn’t necessarily shop on the sole basis of the lowest possible price.
Very few realtors work completely by themselves. They usually at least work under a broker and have a transaction coordinator that handles some of the paperwork. However, many agents work in large offices with huge teams and vast resources behind them. While there is no “optimal” situation, it is good to ask up front if you’ll be working exclusively with the one realtor or if you’ll be interfacing with other members of the team.
This is one of the most important ones. Knowing how you will get in touch with your realtor (how they prefer to be contacted, how to schedule a meeting, phone versus email, etc.) and how often they will communicate with you is extremely important. You should also ask them how many clients they currently have. Usually if they have over 30 listings or are currently working with more than 20 buyers it’s a warning sign that you might not get the personal attention you might want.
This one is also a great way to see what a realtor is all about. If a realtor is really knowledgeable about the local area, they might give you useful research about the neighborhood. If they’re more process-focused, you could get information about what steps they usually take with their clients.
Overall, the important thing here is that the realtor shows themselves to be knowledgeable, diligent, and interested in you specifically as a client. If they sound like they’re in a hurry to get you off the phone or like they’re floundering for information, it might be indicative of what the rest of your working relationship might be like.
As a little bonus, here are some warning signs that might urge you in a different direction. First, if an agent doesn’t ask you any questions or probe for more information, it might be indicative that they’re just trying to get as many clients as possible. You want someone who’s going to take their time to get to know you and value your opinions. This is going to be your home for quite a while, they should appreciate the importance of this for you, not view you as just another client.
Also, a realtor should be knowledgeable about all parts of the transaction. Things like not letting you preview documents or forms you may need to sign later on could indicate either a lack of knowledge or a lack of transparency. Either way it’s not a good thing.
Finally, if a realtor is unable or unwilling to provide references (at least without a very good explanation), you might want to look elsewhere. This is a pretty standard industry practice, so they should expect it and be prepared.
Overall, choosing a realtor is an important decision and you want to be as informed as possible. These questions are a good guide to make sure you don’t miss anything, but listen to your instincts as you talk to potential candidates. Take your time to weigh the information before you decide and you will end up having a much more pleasant experience overall.