Hiring a Real Estate Agent? Ask These Questions


A housing recovery typically comes with a sellers' market that makes selling a home a breeze. A short supply of homes is the hallmark of the current housing recovery and that makes it a cinch to find a good buyer. The short supply has also vastly shortened the length of time it takes to sell a home and it has generated bidding wars that drive up prices.

That doesn't mean sellers should scrimp on a real estate agent.

You can be sure buyers brave enough to enter the market are also bright enough to have interviewed and vetted candidates to get the best possible buyer's agent. Buyers want to level the playing field as much as possible.

An experienced, qualified real estate agent can help sellers wade through the din of bidders and help buyers prepare an offer that speaks for itself and stands above the others. He or she streamlines the buying or selling process, bring security to the deal, help buyers save money, help sellers get the best price and serve as your liaison.

You'll spend quite a lot of time together with your agent so you want someone ready to work hard for you, someone with whom you are comfortable and someone you trust. Buyer or seller, landing the right real estate agent requires that you ask the right questions.

"The Internet is full of click through and other types of paid advertising and not all the agents are who you may think they are," said Jim Mellen, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Peninsula at New Town in Williamsburg, VA.

To find the best real estate agent for you, pound away with these questions.

How many buyers or sellers have you helped in the last year in the area?

An active agent is an agent who is up-to-date on the market. A more active agent has been around the block more often and is up to date on local and state laws, local trends, lending conditions, mortgage rates, and other current factors that affect your transaction.

"I'm always amazed that someone will call an office and work with the first agent who answers the phone. It happens a lot," Mellen added.

Do you have advanced training?

Before the housing crash, few agents were grounded in distressed property sales. Any licensed real estate agent can help you buy or sell a home, but an agent who has advanced specialty training could be better qualified to assist you. An agent who has a National Association of Realtors' Short Sale and Foreclosure Resource Certification, for example, has special training to deal with short sales and foreclosures.

What services do you offer?

The majority of homebuyers begin by browsing for housing online. Having someone to help you look can save time and money. 

"Today's real estate market differs substantially from what it was a decade ago," said Glenda Cadman, a broker associate with RE/MAX Professionals in Littleton, CO. "Next to experience, choosing an agent who employs today's technology tools to market and sell your property is essential. As a buyer, a tech-savvy agent can guide you to the most accurate online resources."

Buyers also need an agent who schedules open house visits and showings, who negotiates the price, who guides them through the paperwork, who is there at closing, and who provides help with contingencies during the process.
Sellers want an agent who helps set the price of the home, but who is also endowed with technology skills necessary for the marketing end of the job. Ask the agent how he or she will market your home (multiple listing service, websites, videos, direct mail, signage, etc.).

Rae Catanese, a real estate agent and marketing manager with RE/MAX Bay to Bay in Tampa Bay, FL says the very best tech-savvy agents don't just take a superficial approach to technology. They know SEO (search engine optimization). "The quality of the photos, videos, description content are just as important as how many websites the home will be listed on. Public descriptions are indexed by search engines and need to have the appropriate keywords included," Catanese said. "Don't forget, YouTube videos and social media campaigns also get indexed by search engines, so using keywords on these sites is just as important."

Also, for sellers, inquire about assistance with staging and hosting open houses and what agent assistance is available when the offers come in and you need to decide which one to accept.

Who else will be working with me?

Your agent should be your point person, the one who does most of the work. However, members of a support team may assist you with your home loan, home inspection, repairs, maintenance or improvements. When you initially get referrals, ask those who've hired that agent what it's like to work with him or her.

How often will I hear from you?

Consider how often you'll need to communicate with your agent, based on your expectations for the transaction, your approach to doing business and your personal managing style. Remember, you are the boss.

If you are a buyer, is it enough to know when the agent finds a home that meets your needs? Or do you want more regular check-ins and market updates? If you are seller, do you only want to hear from your agent when an offer is in, after a buyer has toured your home, after an open house or more frequently?

How the agent contacts you is just as important as when.

"You want to communicate electronically via e-mail, text, Skype, etc. After that, you use electronic forms and signatures. You are also on tight schedules and don't want to have to drive all over the place or fuss with faxing documents with decreasing clarity," said Mellen.

Technology is a beautiful thing, but it doesn't help you if your agent doesn't use it.

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