15 Essential Questions to Ask a Realtor

Posted on Sep 16, 2020


If you’re planning to buy a home, there’s a good chance you’ve thought about the kind of home you’d like to buy. And if you have a home to sell, you’ve likely pondered how much your property could sell for. But buyers and sellers often forget to think critically about the Realtor they choose to partner with. And that’s a mistake.

Why your real estate agent matters more than you think

Right now, the average home listing price in the U.S. is $226,800. So no matter where you are, a home represents a substantial investment – for most people, the largest financial investment of your life. Homeownership has long been viewed as part of the “American Dream,” not just a source of pride, but also a means to build wealth. 

The ultimate question for sellers to ask is: “how do I retain the wealth I’ve built?”

For buyers, the question is: “how do I protect myself and make savvy, informed decisions about the largest investment I’ll make?”

The Realtor you choose makes a big impact on your ability to do both. Many people end up working with the first agent they meet or talk to, but not all agents are the same. Their training, expertise, track record, and fees differ more than you think.

We recommend, however, that you treat this process like a job interview. Interviewing multiple agents is an opportunity to ensure your agent is not only great at their job, but can help you accomplish your goals as a buyer or a seller.

Here’s 14 essential questions to ask a real estate agent before signing with them – and why it’s important to ask.

Questions to ask Both Listing and Buyer Agents

"Are you a full time agent?"

Commissions can be lucrative, but they can also be inconsistent, meaning part time agents are very common. Working with someone who’s juggling another career or enjoying semi-retirement can be frustrating and add unnecessary risk to your home sale or purchase. Make sure the person is a full time agent – not only will they have more up-to-date knowledge of the market, but they’re also more likely to respond to you in a timely manner and without distractions. If an agent has another career and helps you on the side, you’ll have to fit your viewings and questions in around their schedule – not yours. And speed and availability can be vital when it comes time to make an offer or negotiate.

"Do you work with buyers or sellers?"

Many agents do both, taking whatever clients they can get. It’s in the agent’s interest to represent both because if they’re able to match a buyer with one of their listings, they knock out two birds with one stone and don’t have to split the commission with another agent. This might seem like a benefit, but it’s actually a disadvantage to you. It creates a conflict when they have a fiduciary duty to both parties. And even if they do have a listing or a buyer in mind, it’s way better for you (as a buyer) to be presented with all of your options and (as a seller) to market your home to all potential buyers. 

There’s also the unique skills needed for each side. Many people don’t realize that “listing agent” and “buyer agent” are essentially two distinct jobs. Though many agents do both, you might find that your potential agent has very little experience on the sell side when you’re looking to sell your home, or vice versa. Real estate transactions are complex, and there’s a lot on the line if something goes wrong. Making sure your agent is a specialist is one way to protect yourself.

"Do you have referrals from past clients?"

Any agent with experience in the field should be able to refer you to past clients they’ve assisted. Getting in touch with one or more of these referrals can help you better understand the agent’s strengths, and potentially their weaknesses.

It also doesn’t hurt to check out an agent’s online reviews before you contact them (see Houwzer’s reviews here). This can give you a more unfiltered view of what sort of agent they are, and whether the majority of their clients leave truly satisfied.

"How much do you charge/how do you get paid?"

Since the home seller pays the fee for both the buyer agent and the listing agent, this is critical for them to know ahead of time. If you sell with a traditional real estate brokerage, you will typically be charged 6% of the home’s sales price (3% for each agent). For a $500,000 home, that comes out to $30,000 in agent fees – a sizable hit on your net profit. Because this fee is so large (and often unwarranted), it’s worth trying to negotiate it down. Even a half a percentage more can translate into thousands of dollars of home equity.  

Depending on where you live, you might have other options, like flat fee brokerages. Some discount their pricing in exchange for less services. Houwzer charges a flat fee for a full service listing experience, using technology and salaried agents to bring down the total cost. 

While this is the most important question for sellers, it’s still good for buyers to understand. As a buyer, you aren’t “paying” your agent directly, but they are making money off of your sale. If your agent is paid a commission, they might nudge you towards the high end of your budget. And if they haven’t closed a deal in a while, there might be more pressure on your transaction (one of the reasons Houwzer pays its agents a salary).

"Do you work with a team?"

Oftentimes, agents – especially established ones – work with a team. Their team can help ensure that no details are overlooked, and that communication is timely even if the Realtor is temporarily tied up. You’ll want to make sure you understand who you’re working with before jumping into things, though. 

"How long have you been an agent?"

Real estate agents vary widely in depth of experience, and you should consider whether you want someone just starting out in the field to help you navigate one of the largest financial transactions of your life – especially if it’s your first time and you’re not sure what to expect. An agent’s background and training can be really useful during negotiations or when evaluating properties during showings. A knowledgeable and experienced agent who can point out problems you might have overlooked and protect you throughout a complex process is really valuable.

Questions to ask a Realtor When Selling a House

"Have you sold homes in this area before?"

Most agents specialize in specific neighborhoods or regions. This ensures that they have a good understanding of what is standard for homes there, how quickly these homes tend to sell, what makes homes more valuable or desirable, and more.

"What’s your marketing plan?"

Any experienced agent already has a plan ready for selling your home.For example, Houwzer uses professional photographers and virtual tours to ensure homes get maximum views on all of the popular listing websites, which is where 98% of buyers start their home search. Direct mail, email marketing, and social media marketing are standard services for modern-day real estate marketing. Your agent can also organize open houses and counsel you on how to stage your home for viewings. An experienced agent should be able to walk you through this process with ease. 

"Do you have recommendations for how I could increase the selling price?"

It’s extremely difficult to make a profit off of home improvements. If you renovate your kitchen for $20,000 and your home sells for $10,000 more, you’ve ultimately lost $10,000. Most renovations have a Return on Investment (ROI) between 50% and 80% (check out our definitive guide for home renovations to learn more).

Be wary of any Realtor who is recommending extensive updates to your home – since it’s your money, it doesn’t matter to them what the final bill is, so long as the home sells for more. A real estate agent whose goals are aligned with your own, will advise you on smart updates that won’t break the bank.

"How did you arrive at this listing price?"

Overvaluing your home is very common in real estate – homeowners tend to overlook the outdated cabinets and countertops as “charming,” and may be looking at recently sold homes in their neighborhood without taking into account that these homes had a larger yard, more bedrooms, or newer amenities. 

Don’t overfocus on the number itself; what matters is the steps they took to reach that number. How many comps did they look at, and what data on the local market led them to that number? 

Be wary of Realtors who tell you what you want to hear and inflate the price, since this can discourage buyers from coming to view your home. Look for a Realtor who understands how to build a competitive pricing strategy, can explain how they got to the number they did, and isn’t afraid to push back and tell you the truth. You don’t want an agent who tries to sell you, you want an agent who tries to help you sell. 

"Will you also represent the buyer?"

Sometimes a real estate agent will make the case that they’re the best agent for the job because they already have a client lined up who would be interested in your home. From the agent’s perspective, representing both sides is financially advantageous – they’ll receive the full commission. But realistically, a single agent can’t best represent your interests and the buyer’s interests at the same time, especially when it comes to negotiating the price. You want someone who will only be accountable to you.

Questions to Ask a Realtor When Buying a House

"What’s happening in this area, and how could that impact home prices?"

Your real estate agent should have a strong sense of the local community. Whether it’s new construction, a school closing or a Trader Joe’s grocery store opening up, your agent should know about major changes/disruptions that could either make the neighborhood more attractive or potentially work against it.   

"What is your average list-price-to-sales-price ratio?"

On average, homes sell for slightly less than their listing price. Asking about the buyer agent’s list-price-to-sales-price ratio can give you a sense of their overall aptitude for negotiation, while allowing for the reality that each home sale is unique.

Keep in mind, though, that a hot seller’s market can throw this number off completely – especially in areas where bidding wars are common. 

"Do you have a list of recommended resources?"

Great agents have a network of trusted resources they can vouch for, whether it’s a home inspector who always does a thorough job, or a lender that provides competitive financing rates. Houwzer offers many of the home services you’ll need in-house through our one-stop-shop. Our employees can help you buy or sell a home, find the best mortgage, and get title insurance. Our agents also have an external network of resources they can recommend, like general contractors, plumbers, inspectors, etc.

"What’s your availability like?"

Communication and availability are key when it comes to finding a home, and every buyer’s situation is unique. If you prefer touring homes on the weekends, an agent who primarily does weekday showings isn’t going to be a great match. Similarly, you’ll want to work with an agent who can respond fairly quickly to your questions and concerns – no one likes waiting multiple days for a reply to an urgent question. 


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