Updated August 31, 2021
Imagine this: You find an amazing salon, pick out a picture of the perfect haircut, and schedule an appointment with a stylist sight unseen. It’s a professional salon, so what can go wrong?
Cut to one hour later, when you’re staring back at yourself in the mirror wondering where the nearest wig store is and cursing yourself for not doing some research on your hairdresser’s capabilities. Fortunately, hair grows back. Buying a house, however, is an investment that will likely last you years, if not decades. If you don’t ask the right questions and do your research before buying your house, you could be stuck in another “wig” situation, this time with even more devastating effects. That’s why your trusted real estate agent is so important.
When you’re buying your first home, your first relationship with a real estate agent can mean either a relatively smooth, easy experience for you … or a complete nightmare. Depending on the information that your real estate agent gives you, it can bring your search time for a home way down. In 2021, 88% of buyers purchased their homes through an agent, so choosing the right agent is a critical step to ensuring your homebuying success. To make sure you’re working with the best agent for your needs, here are 26 questions every buyer should ask real estate agents for both vetting before and while working together.
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What does a real estate agent actually do?
Before we get into the questions, it’s helpful to understand fully what a real estate agent is and what they can do for you. 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.
However, real estate agents are essential advocates and guides as you navigate the homebuying process. They will be experts in your target neighborhood, help you find the perfect home, 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 even your perfect home down the line.
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.”
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 2 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.
15 questions before you hire an agent
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.
2. How many homes do you help buyers purchase each year? How many homes, total, do you help close?
Real estate agents close an average of 10 homes 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 buyer 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?
Though few buyers find their dream home immediately, your real estate agent can play a huge role in the length of time it takes to find your perfect house. Many things factor into how long it takes to find a home; however, you should be wary if your agent habitually works with clients for six months or longer.
8. Can I see your real estate license?
This seems obvious, but always make sure you’re working with a licensed professional. There are lots of scams running out there in the world!
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. Have you helped buyers find homes 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 your budget is $300,000.
12. 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.”
13. Can you recommend (fill in the blank)?
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.
14. 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.
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 6% for both the buyer’s agent and seller’s agent commission.
15. 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 after you hire an agent
You’ve found your agent. Great! The interview process isn’t over, though. There are still some questions you should be asking:
1. Can you explain the homebuying process from start to finish?
The process can be long and complicated for first-time homebuyers. 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 once you have found a house
1. Can I see a CMA for this house?
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 may not catch, so take advantage of their experience and expertise.
3. What offer would guarantee this house? What offer would be a good jumping-off point for negotiation?
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 and why.
4. What other concessions should I ask for or make in this offer?
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.
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. However, if it’s not necessary in your specific situation, it’s an extra expense that just puts a strain on your finances.
6. What happens if the inspector finds something?
There’s nothing worse than finding your dream home and discovering it has termites, right? Not necessarily. Talk with your agent about how they’ll handle unforeseen problems. Usually, terms can be worked out with the seller 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?
If the appraisal comes in low, you’re not necessarily out of options. Ask your agent for their recommended tactics if the appraisal comes in lower than you anticipated.
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.
Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or moving into your second or third house, hiring the right agent is crucial. An agent can make sure you find your perfect home and 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 your homebuying process easy and successful.
If everything goes as planned, your agent may even become a resource you use for years to come. In 2020, 91% of buyers said they would use their agent again or recommend them to others. But if nothing else, a top buyer’s agent can help make your purchase a little more relaxing and a little less nerve-wracking.
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