How to Interview a Real Estate Agent

If you are buying or selling a home it is generally recommended that you interview at least 3 agents. One way to ensure that you’re hiring a top-quality agent is to spend some time asking the agent a lot of questions; then listening carefully to the answers. If someone has an outgoing personality (as most agents do), they’re “talkers.” They like to talk and explain things, and if you’re quiet, they’ll tell you a lot of information about who they are, how they work with clients and how they handle transactions.

If you interview two, three or four different agents, you’ll begin to get a sense of who might be a good match of intellect, temperament and interests.

First, you’ve got to get together your short list of agent possibilities. Start by talking to friends, family members and colleagues who live relatively close to where you live (if you’re selling) or close to where you intend to buy a home. Focus on Agents who specialise in your area. If you are buying or selling a home in Larkspur and use a Realtor who lives in Thorton it is unlikely that agent will perform at the same level as an agent who specializes in Larkspur.

Once you develop your agent list, start making your calls. Here is a list of eleven questions to ask, along with some follow up questions.

1. What neighborhoods do you work in? You want to find an agent who is really plugged into your neighborhood: they know the gossip, they know the agents who work there, and they’ve seen the housing stock turn over time and time again.

2. How many real estate transactions did you complete last year? How many of these transactions were located in your neighborhood? How many on the buy side, and how many on the sell side? How many did you complete in each of the last four or five years? You’re looking for someone with experience, and closed transactions are a good indicator of how active the agent is. Keep in mind if the agent with the most active listings in not always the best choice. If an agent has 20 active listings you run the risk of getting lost in the crowd.

3. What type of Internet advertising do you conduct? In the latest National Association of Realtors Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, based on a survey of 7,500 home buyers and sellers, 80 percent of home buyers used the Internet in searching for a home. And the 2006 survey found that 24 percent of buyers learned about the home they ultimately purchased from the Internet. Meanwhile, a 2006 survey by media research firm Borrell Associates Inc. found that 61 percent of real estate agents do not advertise on the Internet and 87 percent of agents do not buy keyword advertising from the Google or Yahoo search-engine companies.

4. What are the age and demographics of most of your clients? Do they have special needs? While some agents can work with twenty somethings to seniors, other agents specialize. If you have special needs or are looking for a house featuring universal design, it helps to have someone working on your behalf who understands what that is and where you can find it.

5. What type of home do you most frequently help your clients buy or sell? If you’re working with an agent who mostly sells single-family homes and you want to buy a condo, the agent may not have as much knowledge about the condo market or understand the intricacies of how condos work. Likewise, if the agent mostly works in an urban area selling high-priced condominiums, he or she may not be the best choice to help you buy a single-family home in an outlying area of the city.

6. Do you work full time or part time? Many people get their real estate license and dabble in real estate while maintaining a different full time job. When you are buying or selling a home you want an agent who is committed to you and your needs. You also want an agent who can work around your schedule, if they have another full time job they may have very limited time available for you and your needs. You are hiring someone to perform a very important task, you want to hire a pro not a part-timer.

7. How frequently will I hear from you? Do you use e-mail? Do you have a Blackberry? How can I reach you? Are you planning any extended vacations? Whom will I be working with if you’re on vacation? While you don’t want to stalk the agent, you do want to stay in touch and not feel abandoned. Try to find a middle ground that works for each of you.

8. Do you work with an assistant? Many top agents have full-time assistants who are licensed agents in their own right. But if you’re going to be working with the assistant more than the agent you’ve hired, make sure you like the assistant.

9. Are you a smoker or a nonsmoker? If you’re a nonsmoker and you are allergic to smoke, even being in the car of a smoker can make your throat start to tickle. Make sure to ask the question if this is something that’s important to you.

10. Can I see your letters of recommendations? Most good agents will have a collection of thank you cards and feedback reports from past clients. If they become evasive or can’t produce a significant number of them the agent obviously has not left many positive impressions in their client’s minds. My feeling is if agents don’t volunteer letters of recommendations in the initial interview, cross them off the list.

11. Can I see your resume? Some agents don’t like to share their resumes because they either don’t have them or they are afraid if you see that they spent the first 20 years of their career in, say, marketing, you won’t hire them to help you buy or sell a home. My feeling is if agents don’t share their work history, cross them off the list. You’ve got to know their strengths and weaknesses, and not sharing a resume is cause for concern. If they don’t have a resume (and many agents won’t), they should at least be willing to tell you their past experience in business in detail.

When you’re buying or selling a home, finding a partner you can trust to help guide you is extremely important. If you find yourself wondering who this person really is, or if they are more concerned with their commission check than you then this agent isn’t for you.

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