Real estate agents are everywhere. It seems that everyone knows someone who has a real estate license. Real estate licenses aren’t hard to come by. You don’t even need to be a high school graduate to take the state real estate exam. Couple that with the fact that income potential in real estate is pretty high and you get A LOT of people with a real estate license. Asking someone you trust for a referral is a good way to start looking for an agent, but even when you are referred to an agent, it is still important to conduct an interview. I enjoy it when potential clients interview me. It always seems to be a much smoother transaction (buying or selling) when my future client and I take some time in the beginning to get to know each other. This way they know my sales history and methods and they have an opportunity to check with my past clients and my broker. It also gives me some time to discover what they are looking for, what they already know in regard to the process and what they expect from the experience.
Below are a few questions I would ask if I were interviewing agents.
1. How many transactions have you worked on?
You can ask an agent how long they have been in business, but the answer can be vague. Some agents have had their license 20 years and have only worked one or two deals a year. Other agents have been in business for less than a year but worked with 20 different buyers or sellers. In my opinion, it isn’t about the length of time or the millions sold but the number of transactions. There is something new to learn with each experience. (For the record April will be my four year anniversary and I average 2 transactions a month)
2. Does your company charge a transaction fee and how do you get paid?
Sellers generally contract with an agent and that seller and agent negotiate a commission to be paid to the listing broker. When the listing agent enters the listing into the MLS, they are agreeing to pay the selling agent (whoever represents the buyer) a portion of the agreed upon commission. In addition to this some companies charge a mandatory transaction fee to all buyers and sellers. So whether you are signing a listing contract or buyer’s agency you need to know whether or not you are going to be charged a handling fee. (For the record, we don’t charge this fee at Circa)
3. What certifications do you hold?
I haven’t met any seasoned agents who claim to know all there is to know about this business. It is important to take continuing education courses and to take them seriously. My first designation was the ePRO certification. My second was the GRI. I found this one to be extremely helpful. After that I sat for broker’s exam and passed that so now I am broker/salesperson. Next I will work on the ABR and CRS. In addition to these classes which are sponsored through the St Louis Association of Realtors I am working on a Master’s in Urban Planning and Real Estate Development.
4. What is your specialty?
You most certainly want to know if your agent is familiar with the areas you are interested in. I couldn’t find my way out of cul de sac in St Charles and my clients know that. So they don’t ask me to help them find their new place out there, but they do ask me to help them find an agent who will offer them the same service that I would. I don’t know my way around St Charles county or Jefferson county and unless going back to Franklin county for a visit I rarely cross 270 but I do know the City and the inner-ring communities. Check my website for specific neighborhoods!
5. Can I have a list of past clients?
Asking for a list of references is common so don’t hesitate to do it. You will discover a great deal about the agent as well as the transaction process. Of course I am only going to give you a list of people who will go on and on about how great how I am, but it will be a long list. If nothing else it will help you decide whether or not you want to be trapped in a car with me for an entire weekend.
6. Who is your Broker? Can I call him/her?
You do want to speak to the broker. In the event something goes awry the broker is your first line of defense. I am tempted to write my new broker’s direct line here.
7. Can you describe one of your most successful moments in real estate this year?
(Can’t give away all the goods in this one post)
8. Can you describe one of your most difficult transactions this year?
It is my opinion that you will be able to tell the most about your prospective agent by asking numbers 7 & 8. By asking about their successes, you learn how that agent measures success and if his/her idea of success matches yours. And by asking about their difficulties you can see if they learn from the challenges. If the person you are interviewing responds that they encountered no obstacles in the past 12 months, she either wasn’t working, wasn’t paying attention or simply isn’t telling the whole story. Every occupation has its challenges, you want to make sure your agent knows how to anticipate and navigate the hurdles.