Questions For Your Real Estate Agent
When selecting a listing agent or a buyer's agent, it is wise to ask a few questions before deciding who should represent you. Not all real estate agents are equally competent and ethical, and the deals their agencies may offer can vary widely.
Below is a list of questions for your real estate agent. Use this checklist to keep track of questions to ask your realtor.
Whose Interests Do You Represent?
This is one of the most important questions because a real estate agent can represent:
- The buyer only
- The seller only
- Both buyer and seller as a "dual agent"
Sellers may not realize that an agent they are dealing with actually represents a specific buyer. Similarly, buyers may think that they have found a buyer's agent, when in fact the agent's loyalty may lie with a seller.
Agents are in the business to make money. You will want to ensure that your agent is putting your interests first. If you are a buyer, ask the agent if they also list houses for sale. If so, will they sign a guarantee that they represent your interests and won't steer you only to homes they have listed?
You may want to ask your agent to disclose any fee sharing or referral agreements he or she may have with other agents or brokers (although this is usually required to be disclosed by law).
Disclosure requirements vary across jurisdictions. In California, which has some of the most stringent requirements, the broker or sales agent must present an agency relationship disclosure to their client in writing. Not every state has this requirement so to be on the safe side, always ask.
How Long Have You Been Licensed?
Some buyers and sellers aren't worried about whether they're dealing with a newly licensed agent, but others — especially those new to real estate transactions — feel safer with an experienced realtor. Either way, it's good to know.
A more experienced realtor might have a larger network of prospective buyers and sellers that they can introduce to one another. They may also have a better gauge on how to assist clients with price negotiations, the escrow and title process, and the long list of forms that need to be signed for property condition disclosures.
Some people prefer a new realtor because they think they will have more "hustle" and will work harder to complete a sale.
Notwithstanding the real estate agent's years of experience, they do not have the requisite knowledge to advise clients on the legal ramifications of a real estate purchase/sale transaction. For that, you need a real estate attorney.
How Long Have You Actively Worked in the Area?
What geographical area is your real estate agent most knowledgeable about? It's good to know whether your agent has a feel for the market in the area you're selling in, or where you're interested in buying.
For example, a buyer's agent who regularly works in a particular area may have seller contacts she can introduce to a buyer before their homes are even listed. An agent who handles a particular territory will be familiar with housing values and community amenities and may have insights into neighborhood issues. Your agent could be a valued navigational guide.
How Many Home Sales Have You Closed in the Last Three Months?
If an agent hasn't sold many homes lately, is it because the agent only works part-time and won't be spending as much time working for you? Is it because of a general slump in the local market?
If the agent has sold an exorbitant number of homes lately, will she spend enough time on your interests and be available to communicate?
While prior sales numbers may be useful to know, there may be more important qualities that are more important than that information. Your real estate agent is providing a service. The quality of that service is more likely to determine your level of satisfaction.
- Is your agent responsive to your calls and emails?
- Do they thoroughly answer your questions?
- Can they work around your schedule?
- Do they understand your goals?
- Do they have good ideas for you - especially if you are facing some challenges with your home-buying or home-selling process?
You are relying on your agent to guide you through a complex process. Their ability to communicate expediently with outside parties whose interests are adverse to yours, their transparency, social acumen, and humbleness are equally as important as the number of homes they have sold recently.
Have You Earned Any Professional Real Estate Designations That Would Benefit Me?
The National Association of Realtors has a number of certifications that may be valuable to your specific situation, such as:
- The Accredited Buyer's Representative
- The Seller Representative Specialist
- Luxury Homes Certification
- Green Building designation from the Green Resource Council
- Smart Home Certification
- Military Relocation Professional
Even if special training is not important to your particular transaction, it will tell you about the agent's interests, motivations, and expertise in the field. In any event, always do your research before selecting a real estate agent.
How Will You Market My Home to Prospective Buyers?
Some homes are easily sold with online ads, foot traffic, and a listing on the Multiple Listing Services (MLS). As the saying goes, some properties practically sell themselves!
Others are better sold by networking with buyers and other agents looking for homes that fit special needs. Knowing what an agent is willing to do to properly market and sell your home will give you an idea of the amount of effort the agent will make, and whether your home is likely to be sold quickly to a qualified buyer.
How Are Your Fees Structured?
Then ask, "Can I have that information in writing?" Most jurisdictions will require that the agent's fee structure be disclosed in a listing agreement.
Fees can vary. It's typical for each agent to receive 2-3%. This means the seller will usually pay a cumulative 4% to 6% of the sales price in commissions. (The seller is usually the party who pays the commissions. Depending on the listing agreement, the seller might also be responsible for paying the seller's agent's marketing / out-of-pocket costs.)
Will You Have Access to For Sale by Owner (FSBO) And Foreclosed Properties?
When buying a home, it's good to know what pool of homes the agent will be accessing to show you. For example, a first-time homebuyer looking for a deal may be interested in HUD homes (foreclosed properties whose previous owner failed to make payments on their FHA loan so they are now owned by the government), or tax-foreclosed properties.
If your buyer's agent doesn't have a good source of information in these areas, keep looking.
How Many Homes Are You Prepared to Show Me?
It's okay to be picky or to really scope out what's on the market before committing to a particular home purchase. A buyer will want to know how many homes an agent is willing to show before they give up. If an agent doesn't want to show you many homes, fine. There will be another agent more deserving of the commission from your eventual purchase.
Do You Have Legal Questions About Buying or Selling a Home?
It's not always necessary to work with an attorney for a home transaction, but it can be vital in some situations. Remember, realtors/real estate agents are NOT trained or qualified to give legal advice. If you have questions or concerns about how you were treated by a real estate agent or about a purchase or sale, contact a real estate attorney in your area.
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