Questions to Ask When Interviewing a Real Estate Agent
This post is actually a recap and rebuttal as well as some possible clarification based on how buyers actually buy homes with some additions that I felt might be of use from someone in the business!
Houzz.com a few days ago had a post entitled, “15 Questions” that as an Agent and Real Estate Broker with a decade in the business, I felt it useful and beneficial for the consumer’s benefit to clarify and clear up a few of the points made within this post. Now-a-days it is so easy, especially when we might not have the experience ourselves in a given endeavor, to read something online and if it sounds good, we adopt it as simply “fact.”
In this case, I see a lot of outdated “help” and sentiments that just don’t jive with the way home buyers buy today. The author starts out, “Selling your home is a big deal — so while it may be tempting to go with the first word-of-mouth recommendation you get, when it comes to choosing a real estate agent, it pays to do a bit more research. Your real estate pro will be responsible for setting the sale price, marketing your home, running open houses, speaking with potential buyers and ultimately, walking you through the selling process.”
Let’s stop right here and think about what was just said. In general most people do choose word of mouth for most of the expertise in life they need. When I picked my CPA it was because I spoke to others about who they used to do their taxes. Same with a podiatrist when my son had an ingrown toe nail recently! I asked his pediatrician who to take him too. We ask because we want to find out who others we respect use for different services and what their experiences are. This is the best way to find any service and the extension of that is through online reviews.
Zillow, Trulia, and a number of the highest trafficked real estate sites have offered for years now reviews for agents that contain ratings for responsiveness, knowledge of the area, knowledge of the business and the process, and other key factors to know when working with a real estate agent. If someone has been reviewed online 50+ times and you have a good referral to them (or not) from a close friend, this is probably something to be trusted!
No matter if I am looking for the next restaurant I want to spend my hard earned money at or if I am looking for a hardware store. If the online reviews are plentiful and strong I have rarely been disappointed upon my own personal experience.
It was commented that your agent is responsible for setting a price on your home. Please keep in mind that this is more of a function of looking at what buyers have and are paying for like kind properties in your neighborhood or a close proximity to your property and determining together where to start the process. I have rarely seen a seller who did not have a figure in mind, and sellers are just as savvy as buyers today in terms of having a decent idea on where their house should be priced at to start the process.
On the average it can be at times a bit of a tug of war to find an acceptable price point to list a house between agent and seller. It should be that way after all, but it is a group effort. Going back to my CPA again. I don’t always agree with her advice, but we banter back and forth until we find a place of acceptance. I generally take her advice, because she is the expert, but I don’t without some conversation about issues I don’t agree with her on.
As far as “setting the open house,” there is one question you can ask yourself as a seller to see if it is worthwhile having one in your home. This is a question that still comes up frequently. I have a seller client ask me,”should we do an Open House or do they do that kind of thing now-a-days?”
On the selling or listing side, my goal is to help homeowners understand how today’s homebuyers will shop for their next home. For today’s home sellers, things may have changed since they purchased their last home. Professional interior photographs displayed on the Internet will get more qualified buyers into a home than any other method including an Open House. There is a big pool of qualified buyers out there and we want to touch them all!
Ask yourself that if you are housing hunting for your next property (as a seller), and all sellers are house hunting too usually, would you “wait” for an Open House to see that really exciting listing you found online or would you call your agent and see it at the earliest opportunity?
I work with a lot of buyers too, and I am telling you that I have NEVER had a homebuyer tell me they would wait! Most of the time they want to see that house of interest “today” because it might be gone “tomorrow!”
In the same light, planning an Open House is futile with today’s technology. It might be a feel good for a seller who sold a house 10+ years ago as they can identify with this as part of the process the recognized, but today I see more sellers being disappointed because of the lack of turn out at these! I had a buyer who was selling a home out of State who was disillusioned at how nobody came to her agent’s planned Open House, yet she had 5 showings the previous week so that ain’t all bad!
I had a broker of 40+ years tell me one time that “back in the day” she had done hundreds of Open Houses. Said she only could attribute “one” sale out of all she did to the Open House itself!
Hey, there are a lot of other things that we identify with that are no longer in use or in very limited use. Phone booths, “disk drives,” CD changers, etc… technology changes make life better. I can identify with a CD player, but why would I not use my DVR to record that next movie? I can identify with a movie rental store, but why wouldn’t I use iTunes to rent that next movie? In the same way, Open Houses need to be remembered in the same light!
I just spoke with an agent who did an Open House in a highly desirable neighborhood in which I have a new listing in as well. I asked her yesterday what her turnout was for her time spent. She told me in four hours she had, “three neighbors stop by, a couple just “passing by,” and one person who happened to be in town who said he “might be relocating in a year or so to the area.”
All totaled, it sounded great. I am sure it made the seller feel that the agent was doing “something,’ but in the end it did not accomplish anything. Sellers don’t care about causal passer by’s and people who ‘might kind of maybe’ could possibly relocate ‘in a year! They want a buyer today. Or at least as soon as possible. Once again, the Open House did not sell the house for the seller! It made them feel good, they felt the agent was doing something ‘for them,’ but in reality the agent didn’t speak to anybody that might buy that listing! She got contacts for some future business and helped herself but that was about it!
Back to the post again, here are the 15 questions the author points encourages you to ask potential real estate agents.
- What is your experience and education?Though a new real estate agent can certainly be motivated and eager to please, a pro with years of experience will have the knowledge and skill to face unexpected challenges. Taking continuing education courses shows a commitment to keeping up with changes.
(Hank’s Notes: The reality of this is that every agent is required by the laws of his or her State to take continuing education and have records of a minimum amount of continuing education by the next license renewal. What would mean more to me as an agent is sales production quite honestly.
You remember college? Your experience may be like mine in that after 5 years picking up my 4 year degree, in the first 2 months in the real world actually doing business I learned far more than I felt I had in the previous 5 years of “business” school!
Well regarding continuing education classes, do you know even know or care what they studied for those 3 hours of CE? Did you know that they typical last for a sales meeting to get on average about 3 hours of CE per class? In that 3 hours did they learn about anything that benefited you in selling your house or was it, as some use the term, fanny time, to get what the State required they have to keep their license?
Going back to my point, wouldn’t it be more useful to know that agent learned more in closing 30, 40, 50 homes, etc… in the past year and the trials, errors, and issues that will and do pop up to learn how to step around those issues to make your transaction smoother? What’s worth more, 3, 6, 18, to 30 hours of continuing education (and again all agents have to have this so it is a given) or that they closed $10 million in residential sales volume (just throwing out a figure) and have the experience to know what they are doing? Having “seen it” and dealt with issues created in this business and got business successfully to closing is the number one factor to me if I were hiring.)
2. Is this your full-time job? Having another job shouldn’t necessarily cut a potential real estate agent out of the running, but you need to be aware if this is a part-time gig before committing. Someone who also works somewhere else may be harder to reach and could miss out on opportunities to show your house.
(Hank’s Notes: From 2007-2009 when the Great Recession shook the housing market to its’ knees, this is a valid question and concern. Today, anyone who is still in the business, who made it through the bad years, is definitely in it for keeps! What once again might be more important to know is “how long” have you been in the business. You won’t find many part-timers in 2014. What you will find is a lot more newbie agents that have little to no experience. Even if they are full time, would you want a brand new stock broker to invest your retirement savings for you?)
3. Are you a member of the National Association of Realtors? Membership in this professional organization is what allows a real estate agent to use the title Realtor. Being a Realtor means that the person has agreed to follow the organization’s ethical guidelines and to keep up with continuing education.
(Hank’s Notes: Generally speaking, about 95% of the agents you might bump into are in fact Realtors. There are maybe two companies in our market for example that are not. You would have to look for one to find an agent who is not a member of the NAR and a Realtor as they are just not that plentiful.)
- What’s the price range of most of the homes you have sold? You probably already have a ballpark figure in mind for your home’s price. Does the agent typically represent homes in that price range? If most of the homes the agent sells are in a far higher — or lower — price range, he or she may not be as familiar with how to market your home.
(Hank’s Notes : A better question perhaps is to ask what is the agent’s average selling price on homes they sell. A range won’t tell you much. For example this year my range has been $87k to $720k! That would tell you nothing, but my average selling price is about $235k. There again, I might even say to know the median sales price (if you are so analytical) would even be better. At the end of the day, to list a home at $150k versus $300k isn’t that much different. For me personally on both I would have professional photos taken. For both I would market in the same way online. That’s me however. I know most agents feel it would not make sense to spend the money on professional photography on listings below a certain dollar price, say $300k, where I feel even my less expensive listings benefit from a professional in this way. My point is that for me, It really doesn’t matter as to the list price on a typical listing, they all get my extra special treatment and are featured on Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, etc so I don’t know that this question is relevant other than possibly good information. If the agent knows the price range on the homes they sell then they know their business and are plugged in…)
5. How many homes did you sell last year? This will give you an idea of the volume of work a real estate agent is used to taking on. This number alone is not enough to base a decision on, but keep in mind that a very high number may mean the agent is not able to give each client as much personal attention, whereas a very low number could be a clue that homes are languishing on the market.
(Hank’s Notes: See the way I look at it, a higher number means the agent is actually “in the business” and experienced. A lower number means they are inexperienced and sitting around at Broker Open Houses having Mimosa’s and hoping to win free gift cards. Not heavy in the business of selling houses. This doesn’t mean that their listings are lagging on the market as they may too be selling (in that figure of sold homes they give you) as buyers’ agents in various transactions. Not all of them are their listings. What would mean more, if you wanted to determine whether or not an agent had listings languishing on the market is to know their average Days on Market for listings. Too, how many listings they have sold versus the number that have been withdrawn or expired unsold!)
- Which neighborhoods do you primarily work in? If the agent typically works in areas far from your home, it may mean that he or she is not as familiar with the market in your area.
(Hank’s Notes: Today we see through smart phones and tablets the ability to work in broader markets. I think once again to focus any question (as I note in my response to the next question) based on neighborhoods is limiting and beckoning a seller’s experience level from back 10-15 years ago in real estate sales. Things do change. I don’t buy books the same way today as I did a few years ago, listen to music, shop for a car, or record a movie or show on the television the way I once did. Why? Because the internet has opened up my exposure to “more!” The same way with home buying, selling, and servicing home buyers and sellers as an agent. The entire process has evolved.
- How many homes have you sold in my neighborhood? Good word of mouth tends to spread within neighborhoods, so if your real estate agent has had a lot of home sales in your area, that’s probably a good sign. Familiarity with your neighborhood can only help your agent sell your home.
(Hank’s Notes: Oy Vey! Now please listen as this is key. Why when you Google your neighborhood does a link come up from Zillow with your neighborhood in the link? I Googled one neighborhood in our local market and this is what was the second organic link on the first page;
Author: Hank Bailey
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