Simple and successful real estate transactions start with finding the right agent. Whether they’re buying or selling, this choice is challenging for homeowners and house hunters. If you ask the right questions and talk to several realtors before deciding, you can find a great agent.
How committed will you be to this realtor? If you’re selling real estate, you’ll sign a contract with a listing agent. Buyers don’t sign anything, but there is a strong protocol among agents that keeps a client working with only one realtor during their search. Agents have a horror of being suspected of “poaching” clients from one another.
What makes a good realtor? How can you know if you’re working with someone who will help or hinder you? Consider four questions that can be asked tactfully during the first conversation with your potential agent.
#1: How Did You Get Into Real Estate?
The answer to this friendly and natural question can tell you a lot about a realtor. If they are in the business because they love it, it will be obvious. Some agents are adept at matching people and properties and genuinely enjoy helping their clients.
Others are in real estate because it’s more of a family trade. While not as enthusiastic, they may be very well-informed and well-connected. If you’re moving into an unfamiliar area, this type of realtor can be an enormous asset.
If you get an evasive or defensive answer, keep listening. You may be talking to a great realtor who’s just hitting “burnout” on the whole subject. Sometimes though, this question will flush out an agent who really doesn’t care about people and just wants to make money.
Often, at this point, a good agent will start asking you questions. They want to get a feeling for your unique needs and personality. Be upfront about wanting to talk for a few minutes before deciding to work with them. Show respect for their time and make an appointment if necessary.
Move on to the next few questions to get a better idea of what motivates the realtor you’re talking to.
#2: When Are You Available?
Interestingly, this question has only two common responses. An agent will either say, “Call me day or night,” or they’ll say, “Contact me at any time, and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.”
The “day or night” types usually mean it. They’re workaholics who live on their devices and in their cars. On the surface, they can seem like the best choice… a workaholic who works for you! What’s the drawback?
A relentless realtor who is constantly listing, marketing, showing, and selling properties can easily become calloused to the individuals they work with. They can also lose touch with the communities they work in. They quickly and efficiently fit people into places and properties that really don’t fit them. In the long run, their clients can feel rushed into choices they later regret.
In contrast, a realtor with a better work/life balance may be more in touch with the area they represent and have more time to listen to each client. They won’t always answer their phone or respond instantly, which means they won’t take a call in the middle of a conversation with you, either.
Reading some online reviews can give you insight into the agent’s style. Read between the lines and look for someone with a balanced approach. If an agent is diligent and professional while having a life outside of real estate, they can be the best choice.
Whether buying or selling, it’s always wise to choose an agent who actually lives in your community. They know details you may not have access to because of living there. They’re also more likely to be available on short notice for showings, etc.
Be willing to dig a little and take your time. If you feel rushed or pressured by an agent to commit to working with them, go ahead and hesitate. A pushy realtor will keep pushing, forcing through a sale at a price you’re not happy with or finding you a home you don’t love. How can you avoid that? Ask the next question…
#3: What Do You Think of My Criteria?
This has the advantage of being a viewpoint question. It’s not putting them on the spot; it’s just showing that you’re reasonable enough to ask their professional opinion. Buyers should ask the agent how far their money will go in the local market.
Inquiries about the practicality of your plans and hopes should be well received. If you get an unkind or sarcastic reply, move on and interview some other agents.
A good realtor will listen to what you want and advise you on how to make it happen. They’ll be honest, too. For example, if you imagine your house is more valuable than the market will bear, they’ll let you know. If you like a property you found online but the realtor feels the location is unsafe for your family, they’ll tell you.
If they have no comment and aren’t concerned, they could just be laid back and realize that you’ll figure it out yourself, or they may be lazy. Others are hesitant to commit to anything verbally without doing some research. This can be a good sign, so ask them to reply later.
Legally, an agent can’t steer you away from or toward any particular property. That could be fraudulent — sort of real estate’s version of insider trading. That said, a good agent wants happy clients and positive reviews. They wouldn’t want you to buy into a dangerous or high-crime area. They’ll gently mention that you may be looking at a “rough” area.
At the other end of the spectrum, an agent who will sell anything to anyone, no matter how unsuitable, is worth avoiding. You’ll want to look for honest and in-depth advice on your criteria and expectations. What about your time frame?
#4: How Long Do You Think This Will Take?
Ultimately, no one knows how long it will take a property to sell or whether a client will ever find a place they want to buy. Realtors know they may spend months with a client and drive hundreds of miles showing homes before they close a sale. It’s part of the job, and they won’t complain.
A good agent will prepare clients for the time investment they’re looking at. Some even provide short-term rentals for out-of-town clients who need more time to find a property and close escrow.
If the realtor is honest, they’ll tell a seller roughly what they can expect. A good listing agent will let a client know that their property may be on the market several months before it sells, and they may need to drop the price considerably.
An agent working with a buyer will tell them how the local market will determine whether they can find a desirable place. For example, whether they’ll be competing with cash buyers, how needing a mortgage will affect their timeframe, etc.
If a realtor makes rash or sweeping promises about how quickly they can sell a home or how quickly they can find you a dream house, be cautious. Ask for specifics about what they have in mind. On rare occasions, the agent might have a perfect buyer or property up their sleeve.
Other agents are just looking for business and will tell you what you want to hear — even if it has no basis. Even the best realtor has no control over how long it will take to complete a real estate transaction you’ll be satisfied with.
Once you’ve had this conversation with several agents, you’ll have the framework to decide if you will pursue buying or selling right now. Perhaps you’ll realize you need to wait for the market to fluctuate in your favor. This decision isn’t a failure. Rather, it’s a success to save yourself the time and money involved in a fruitless foray into the real estate market.
This interview has the advantage of being very adaptable. It can be part of a phone conversation with an agent who’s across the country or a Zoom call with a local realtor. Keep it low-key as you do your research.
After discussing these four basic questions, a client and agent should have a good idea of how it would be to work together. Did you like their responses? Did you feel comfortable asking these questions at all? Was the agent too busy to have this long of a conversation?
Imagine asking about properties, pricing, paperwork… Would you be happy to work with this person for months? To sell or buy a property for the best price quickly and easily takes a proactive, honest, and well-organized realtor. Weave these questions into the first conversation, and you can find an agent who will be perfect for you.