If you are like most home buyers and sellers, chances are you'll want a qualified real estate agent to help you through the process. Agents act as liaisons between buyers and sellers, and can bring valuable experience, expertise, local knowledge and negotiating skills to the table – all of which can save you effort, time and money. No two agents are alike, of course, so it's important to vet an agent's experience, skills and whether you think you'll have good rapport with him or her before signing any contracts. Here are six questions that can help you decide if you've found the best realtor for you.
1. Do you work part-time or full-time as a real estate agent?
The housing market moves quickly, so it often pays to have someone who is a full-time real estate agent working daily on your behalf. It can become a challenge to schedule showings, meetings and closings around someone else's full-time job. That said, if you are working around your own 9-5 job, a part-time agent may have more availability during non-business hours. It's better to find out now – before signing a contract – how much focus they'll be able to give your home search or sale.
2. What type of real estate license do you hold?
Real estate licensing is done at the state level, and most states offer two types of licenses: sales and broker. A broker's license requires additional testing, education and, in many states, experience. Members of the National Association of Realtors subscribe to its strict Code of Ethics and have additional continuing-education requirements.
3. Is your license in good standing?
It's a good idea to ask potential agents if their license is in good standing, and if they've had any complaints or lawsuits filed against them. Most states have an online system that allows consumers to check the status of an agent's license. Tip: Google "[your state] real estate license status" to find your state's licensing agency. You can also ask the manager or broker-in-charge at the agent's office.
4. How long have you been in the real estate business?
This is tricky because more years of experience don't always equate to a better agent. New agents may not have the same insight as veterans, but they may work harder for you as they launch their careers – and reputations. Ask the question and see what type of response you get: "I've only been in the business for a year, but I've already closed 20 properties" might be better than "I've been doing this for decades and I don't see any reason to use the Internet."
5. How many buyers and sellers do you currently represent?
Agents who are busy with lots of buyers and sellers tend to be efficient, and may even have their own dedicated assistant who can help with a variety of tasks, including certain paperwork, and setting up showings and meetings. Of course, an agent could have dozens of clients, but if he or she hasn't closed any deals that could be a red flag, so be sure to ask how many transactions were completed in the last year.
6. Which kinds of technology will you use to help me buy/sell my house?
The real estate market can be fast, and technology has made it even faster. Gone are the days, for example, of having to print out, sign and FedEx paperwork, only to wait another day or two for a response. Today, mobile devices with electronic-signing capabilities make it easy to submit offers quickly, which can make all the difference in an active market. Agents should be using technology to both grow their businesses and help their clients. Social media, apps, email marketing and a strong online presence can be helpful to both buyers and sellers.
The Bottom Line
While some home buyers and sellers choose to go it alone, most use a real estate agent to guide them through the process. Depending on whether you're selling or buying, there are other questions you may want to ask an agent. If you're a seller, for instance, you'll want to ask how they will price your property, and what the average difference is between their sales and list prices (if there's a big difference, it could mean that they are pricing houses too high or not marketing adequately, both big problems for sellers). And, of course, you'll want to know how much commission they charge. If you're a buyer, you should find out if they specialize in the neighborhoods that most interest you. Choosing a real estate professional is an important step in the home buying/selling process. It pays to ask questions to ensure that you find the most qualified agent and one with whom you'll be able to work well.