How to Find a Superstar Real Estate Agent: 8 Questions to Ask
Interviewing candidates serves two purposes: You get an education about your local market while learning how the agent proposes to represent you. Ask detailed questions! Here are the most-important areas to investigate:
May I See Your Resume?
Since you’re searching for an above-average agent, look for evidence of advanced training and designations, professional recognition and membership in professional organizations, all signals of commitment to the profession. There are about 2.6 million real-estate agents in the country. They’re licensed by their states, and each state’s licensing and education requirements are different. (Use the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials’ site to check an agent’s license. Click “consumer” to get started.) About half of the agents belong to the National Association of Realtors. Those members call themselves Realtors. NAR membership doesn’t have to be a deal breaker, but it provides some assurance, since the industry group requires ethics training periodically and members must subscribe to its code of ethics.
What’s Your Commission?
Traditionally, a seller pays around 6% in commissions when using a real-estate agent — 3% goes to the seller’s agent and 3% to the buyer’s agent. But commission amounts aren’t cast in stone anywhere. Negotiating works best when homes are selling quickly and easily. Today, with the real-estate market in a slump in most areas, listing (selling) agents have to work harder to sell properties in hard-hit areas, and the best agents may be unwilling to dicker. If you do find an agent willing to negotiate, consider it just one of the many factors to weigh before choosing a professional to sell your home.
What Makes You Special?
Don’t settle for someone who just promises to show you homes or list, advertise and sell your place; every agent has to do those things. What you want to know is, “What sets you apart? What will you do to go the extra mile for me?”
How Often Will I Hear from You?
Your agent’s communication style and availability should mesh well with yours. Prepare for your agent interviews by asking yourself whether, for example, you’d need a twice-weekly check-in, even if there are no homes to visit. Do you expect a report after someone tours your house for sale? Do you prefer to keep in touch through phone calls or e-mail? How promptly do you want a response? While you’re inquiring about the agent’s availability, remember to ask who will return your calls and show houses if your agent is out of town.
What’s your Plan for Marketing my Home?
No agent can guarantee she’ll sell your home. But she can tell you what steps she’ll take to bring it to the attention of buyers. Press for details like, “Are you going to post this on a Web site? Put an ad in free magazines in a shopping center? Will you have someone stage my home?” Once you’ve selected an agent, request a one-page list of actions, each with a target date. Incorporate the plan in your sales contract so you can track your agent’s progress.
How Many Transactions did you Complete Last Year?
Some agents keep score in dollars, saying, “I sold $50 million in real estate last year.” But property values vary from market to market and house to house, so what you really want to ask is, “How many deals did you complete?” Super salespeople are a mixed blessing. The bonus is, they’re knowledgeable experts. The more listings he/she has, the more they dominate the market.
What do you Know About the Neighborhoods Where I Want to Live?
A super salesperson is no good to you if she isn’t doing an active business in your target neighborhoods, so ask how many of the homes she sold last year were located where you want to buy and how many listings she has there now. Agents have a wealth of data at their disposal from local multiple listing services. Good ones will share it, educating you about the median income and educational level of a neighborhood’s residents, for example, or telling you what proportion of residents work close to home or suffer long commutes. They can’t discuss school performance or crime — that would violate fair-housing laws. But they should point you to Web sites where statistics on crime and school performance are listed, one of which is Sperling’s Best Places.
Are You a Solo Agent, or Part of a Team?
There’s no right answer to this question. Teams are growing in popularity. But a team is only as good as its players. You can have a team with a crummy Web site and no designations, but you have a solo agent who just sparkles, and then that’s your answer for you — go with the solo agent. When you get right down to it, it’s that sparkle that distinguishes the superstar agents, and there’s no way to find it without sitting down with a few of them and asking questions.