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Buying or selling a house will have ramifications that last for years (or decades) to come. Hiring the right real estate agent who brings experience, professionalism, and expertise to the table can make a huge difference. According to our internal data at HomeLight, the top 5% of real estate agents across the U.S. sell homes for as much as 10% more than the average real estate agent.
Depending on the information that your real estate agent gives you, a great agent can bring your search time for a home way down or help you maximize the value you can sell for. Choosing the right agent is a critical step to ensuring your success. As you’re considering candidates, keep in mind these questions to ask a real estate agent.
What does a real estate agent actually do?
First, let’s review what a real estate agent brings to the table. After all, in today’s information age, a new home might feel like it’s just a click away and easily accessible without the help of an agent. Or, you might consider posting your house online and selling a house by owner.
However, real estate agents are essential advocates. They will be experts in your existing or target neighborhood, help you find the perfect home, suggest light-lift upgrades to maximize value, and provide information you can’t find anywhere else thanks to resources, like the MLS database, they have behind the scenes.
They will also walk you through the transaction process, supporting you as you complete your offer and making sure your contract includes all the right clauses to protect you. Without an agent, you may be faced with doing all the paperwork and legwork yourself, which could cost you money or otherwise create unnecessary obstacles.
According to top Florida real estate agent Cynthia Kauffman, an agent’s No. 1 priority is making a home purchase as simple and easy as possible since a home is a big investment that often comes with a lot of pressure.
“Real estate agents just try to take the stress off, whether it’s for the buyer or the seller,” Kauffman says. “We want to take that off of them and make it as smooth as possible.”
14 questions to ask a real estate agent before hiring
1. How long have you been an agent?
An agent that’s been in the business for a good amount of time will be able to anticipate problems before they arise and have tried and tested negotiation techniques. They will also have established relationships with other real estate professionals. For reference, the median experience of a Realtor® is 8 years.
2. How many homes do you help buyers purchase each year?
Real estate agents represent an average of 12 buyers or sellers per year, according to NAR. If your agent is batting way below that, it could be a red flag.
3. Do you work full time or part time as an agent?
Full-time agents are more likely to be able to devote more time to working for you than someone who is pursuing real estate on the side. “The first question I would recommend asking is, ‘Are you a full-time agent or are you a part-time agent?’” says Phoenix-based agent Andrew Monaghan.
4. Do you work with both buyers and sellers?
Many agents work as either buyer specialists or seller specialists. While it’s great to find someone who specializes, an agent who does both could offer some great insights on either side of the process.
5. How many clients do you have right now?
This is a line to toe carefully. Too many clients may mean your agent doesn’t have time to devote to you; too few may be a cause for concern.
6. What’s the ratio of buyers to sellers that you represent?
Getting a feel for the ratio of buyers to sellers will give you some indication of your agent’s area of expertise. If they have a balanced roster of clients, it could mean they are very knowledgeable about both sides of the process.
There isn’t a magic number to look out for. However, Kauffman says it’s more about fit and if you feel their answer lines up with what you’re looking for.
7. How long do you usually work with buyers, from the first home you see together to the closing table?
Your real estate agent can play a huge role in the length of time it takes to sell your home or find your next residence. You should be wary if your agent habitually works with clients for six months or longer.
8. Do you have references I can call?
If you hired a new employee, you would probably call their references, right? Be sure you’re vetting your new agent with the same rigor you would any professional working for you. If they can’t offer you a list of satisfied clients, be careful.
Kauffman says online reviews may be helpful as well and show how an agent works with people. “You can tell as you read through the reviews if this is a people person and you can tell if it’s going to be a good fit for you,” she says.
9. Have you helped buyers find homes in these areas?
Your real estate agent should be knowledgeable about the area you’re looking at. Communities differ in terms of what types of homes buyers want, what types of homes sell, and so on. Make sure your agent knows the area where you want to buy.
10. Have you helped buyers / sellers at these price ranges?
Price ranges can dramatically alter the way a home is marketed, and can also alter the way agents view them. You’re less likely to get attention from an agent who specializes in multimillion-dollar listings if you’re more in the $300,000 range.
11. Will I be working with you individually, or with a team?
If you enter an agent-buyer relationship with the understanding that the agent will be handling you personally, it can be alarming to be handed off to an assistant. Be clear about who you will primarily be dealing with, what your agent will handle personally, and what gets delegated to their support staff.
“It’s very important for an agent to have a good support system behind them to make sure that the buyer is looked after,” explains Monaghan. “Having a good support system sets buyers up to win because we can really dig in and understand their goals and what’s important to them.”
12. What professional contacts do you have?
Mortgage broker, appraiser, inspector, real estate lawyer, general contractor, moving companies, and anything else you can think of involving homes should all be things your agent can recommend. Your agent’s network may be just as important as their team.
13. How does your commission work?
As with any financial transaction, get a good understanding of how your agent is compensated before entering into a relationship with them. Most agents follow a real estate agent commission structure.
Typically, buyers do not pay agent commission fees. Fees are paid by the seller to their broker, and then the commission is split with the buyer’s agent. The percentage varies by agent and market, but is usually around 5-6% for both the buyer’s agent and seller’s agent commission.
14. How do you help buyers compete in this market?
If you’re looking to buy in a competitive market, breaking through the competition is essential. Ask your prospective agent how they’re going to help you stand out in a potential sea of offers.
3 questions to ask after you hire an agent
You’ve found your agent. Great! There are still some questions you should be asking:
1. Can you explain the homebuying / selling process from start to finish?
The process can be long and complicated, whether you’re buying, selling, or both. Ask your agent to explain the process to you from beginning to end, and take notes, being sure to ask for clarifications you need along the way.
Some good topics to cover are: how do showings go, how do offers work, what happens during a home inspection, what happens after an offer is accepted, what happens during the closing process, what is the timeline from start to finish — and anything else you can think of.
2. What’s the best way to contact you?
Within reason, your agent should never be out of touch, especially in a competitive market where waiting even an hour for a response can mean the difference between getting and losing a home. According to the NAR, 93% of Realtors prefer to communicate over text messages. But that might not work for you, so let your agent know now before an urgent situation arises.
3. When is your best availability during the day and week, typically?
Confirm that your agent has the availability to show you houses during the hours that you’re available. Most open houses happen on weekends, so if your agent is unavailable on weekends, you may want to take that into consideration.
8 questions to ask once you’re working with the agent
1. Can I see a CMA?
A CMA, or comparative market analysis, basically looks at around 10 properties in the area of a home that are comparable to determine a home’s value. It’s important to see a CMA to determine whether the home you’re looking at is priced reasonably for the market.
2. Do you see any major red flags with this house? What are your concerns?
An agent will often be able to see problems with a home that a buyer or seller may not catch, so take advantage of their experience and expertise.
3. What offer would guarantee this house / that my house will sell?
If you’re in a competitive market, an offer that is too low may not even be looked at by the seller. If you’re in a market where negotiation is possible, you don’t want to make an offer that’s too high and risk overpaying. Experience should enable an agent to give you advice on exactly what to offer for a home / what to ask for.
4. What other concessions should I ask for or expect to make?
A concession with an offer is a request that the seller pays for something as a compromise to the buyer. Concessions can range from the seller paying to fix an issue that was caught on the inspection to paying a home warranty for a year. It’s an opportunity for the seller to sweeten the deal and get it closed, and it’s especially common in a buyer’s market.
5. How much earnest money should I offer / ask for?
Earnest money is a deposit paid when you enter into a contract to buy a home. If you’re in a seller’s market, earnest money can go a long way toward locking in your contract as a buyer. For sellers, a larger earnest money deposit can help to weed out flakey buyers.
6. What happens if the inspector finds something?
When it comes to homes, stuff happens. Termites take up residence, foundations crack, water seeps in, and plumbing goes bad. Talk with your agent about how they’ll handle unforeseen problems. Usually, terms can be worked out in the form of repairs or concessions to make up for any issues uncovered during the inspection.
7. What happens if the house appraises under the offer price?
8. What are closing costs? How much will they be?
Closing costs are expenses involved in buying a house that don’t include the price of a property; they include attorney fees, lender costs, title fees, and more. Getting a handle on how much potential closing costs will be is important so you don’t end up with a gut punch in the end.
Different types of real estate agents
During your initial search for an agent, you may have come across a few fancy certifications and titles that are hard to recognize. Let’s take a look at the most common ones and what they mean.
- Realtor: A Realtor is a licensed real estate agent that is also a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). These agents must abide by the association’s Code of Ethics and its governing rules outlining an agent’s duty to their clients, the public, and other real estate professionals. Of the estimated 3 million active real estate agents in the U.S., there are over 1.5 million Realtors. Kauffman says if you work with a Realtor, you’re usually getting “a step up.”
- Certified Residential Specialist (CRS): Agents trained and knowledgeable in buying and selling residential properties. To receive this credential, agents must complete a thorough course on the ins and outs of residential sales.
- Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR): Real estate agents specialized in working with buyers. These agents have an in-depth knowledge of helping buyers during every step of the home transaction.
- Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES): Agents trained and knowledgeable in helping buyers and sellers over 50 years old through the home search.
Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or selling your second or third house, hiring the right agent is crucial. An agent can make sure you find your perfect home or get the best value for your existing home — and that you are protected every step of the way. But it’s essential you feel comfortable and fully trust them with this important investment. These questions will help you do that and make the process easy and successful.
If everything goes as planned, your agent may even become a resource you use for years to come. 89% of buyers said they would use their agent again or recommend them to others. But if nothing else, a top agent can help make your purchase a little more relaxing and a little less nerve-wracking.
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