You’ve always been interviewed for the jobs you’ve wanted, so why would you hire your first real estate agent without asking him/her a few interview questions, too?
I think we all know there’s no shortage of REALTORS out there, so here are a few steps to follow to ensure you choose the one that’s right for you. First, ask your friends, family, or co-workers who live in the area where you want to buy if they know of any agents they would refer to you. If you’re moving to a new area where you don’t know anyone yet, check out one of the many great review sites out there. See Question #4 below. But don’t stop there. Remember, you could be working with this person for the next four to six weeks, or months, or longer. Next, take the time to meet with a few of the REALTORS you’ve found so you can ask them these seven important questions.
1. How many home buyers did you represent last year?
Forget the question, “How long have you been in the business?” Your prospective agent may have been doing this off-and-on for the last 25 years, but if she hasn’t sold a home in the last two, it may feel more like you’re working with a rookie agent. Conversely, you may discover that your agent has only been selling real estate for the last five years, but in that time, has helped sell 250+ homes. Now, tell me, which agent has the kind of experience you want on your side? The one selling off-and-on for 25 years, or the one that has actually participated in 250+ home sales under the current real estate market conditions?
The other reason for asking this question is to find out whether the agent-in-question works primarily with home sellers or buyers. Your agent may be a superstar at listing and marketing homes, but if he wants to work with you, he needs to understand the unique challenges and needs of a home buyer.
2. Were many of those experiences with first-time home buyers?
Now that you’ve established the agent works with a great deal of buyers, you need to determine his/her comfort level with never-done-this-before buyers like you. Not all home buyers are the same, and neither are all agents. Some specialize in investor purchases and active adult communities, while others work primarily with new construction sales. You want a REALTOR who is tuned in to your set of needs. This way, even if you don’t know the right questions to ask, your REALTOR will know which answers to help you find.
3. What are your normal business hours, and what is the best way to reach you?
Like with all business relationships, it is best for you and your agent to set certain expectations of each other early on. You may prefer emails over phone calls, and your REALTOR may have a weekly commitment with his family on Sunday mornings. Whatever it is, it’s best to get everything out in the open before you get too far into the relationship and realize it won’t work. This may sound like dating advice – and it may also be – but I’m not Dr. Phil, I’m just trying to help you avoid as many unforeseen misunderstandings with your agent as possible. If nothing else, find out if real estate is your agent’s primary career, if he/she receives email on his/her phone, and how quickly you can expect your emails and voicemails returned.
4. Can I find out what some of your past clients have said about their experiences with you? Like on Yelp or Zillow?
Agents have had past client testimonials posted on their websites since the internet was born. And in 1998, that was fine. However, these days consumers have better ways to share reviews of service providers like real estate agents and mortgage bankers on third-party sites like Yelp and Zillow. Why are these sites inherently better? They put the consumer back in the driver’s seat, so they don’t have to worry about whether or not a review has been “edited” or all-together removed if it was less-than-flattering. Naturally, an agent is only going to post his clients’ most glowing testimonials on his own website. Yelp, on the other hand, will display any fair and honest reviews, whether they are glowing or…not. If your REALTOR isn’t on at least one of these sites, try asking if he/she would give you the phone numbers to five clients who bought with his/her help in the last year.
5. Upon request, can you refer me to mortgage lenders, insurance agents, home inspectors, and other contractors I may need during the course of this process?
At first, you should do as much of your own research as you can. After all, this is going to be your home, not your agent’s. However, your agent should be able to refer you to a few service providers and contractors you may not have otherwise found online or on your own. After selling hundreds of homes, you can only imagine how many mortgage bankers and home inspectors I’ve met. There are some I think you should consider, and others you may want to avoid. Rather than push you in one direction, though, I tell my new clients what kind of experiences my past clients have had with certain service providers and encourage them to call a few different companies before choosing one. A trust-worthy REALTOR should be able to provide you with a short list of companies to check out, while empowering you to research them yourself and choose the one that best fits your needs.
6. I think I know what I’m looking for, but can you help me formulate my home search criteria?
By the time you choose an agent to work with, you will likely have looked at dozens – if not more – homes online. That’s great! But don’t discount your agent’s ability to identify your home search criteria and then scour the MLS for homes you may not have found elsewhere online. Why? First, it takes hours, days, and sometimes weeks for listing updates to get syndicated across the interwebz. So, your agent may simply find homes that haven’t made their way to the rest of the online world yet. Not to mention, he/she might have a few suggestions of locations or types of dwellings you hadn’t considered yet.
7. When I find a house I like, how do I make an offer to the seller?
Whether or not you think you know how real estate offers are made and negotiated, it is best to confirm with a local practitioner how it is done. This is primarily because different states (and countries, for that matter) have different practices. Here in Arizona, bids are usually made in writing, and are accompanied by numerous disclosures, addenda, as well as your mortgage lender’s pre-approval letter or what we have in Arizona, called the Pre-Qualification Form. Not being adequately prepared for the offer making process may put you at a serious disadvantage if you decide you’re ready to make your first offer on a Saturday evening and your mortgage banker has already left his office for the day. As the old saying goes, “Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance!”
If you’re in the market to buy your first home, I hope these questions help you select the best REALTOR for the job. And, if you’re in the market to buy your first home in the Phoenix / Scottsdale area, I know an agent who would love to hear from you!
Now, if you’ve already bought your first home, what do you think of the questions I outlined above? Are there any questions you would add to the list? Either way, post a comment below and let me know!
Image Credit: Mart1n on stock.xchng.