Hiring a Real Estate Agent? 3 Essential Questions to Ask First

A man gets a tour of a home from a real estate agent.
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Real estate is a rapidly evolving industry, and unless you’re an old hand at buying and selling a house, you might need guidance about how to find the right real estate agent.

Where do you start looking for an agent, and how do you go about interviewing them?

We’ve compiled the top three questions to ask a real estate agent that will help you find the best one for the job. These are essential questions to ask any agent before you hire them, plus a few tips on where to find the most qualified agents in your zip code.

1.What’s Your Relevant Experience?

While you may have heard that it’s important to find an agent with X many years of experience or X many sold houses in the last year, there’s a better way to find out if an agent is the right fit for you. Ask about their experience.

“Do you have experience working with my type of buyer?” That’s the No. 1 question people should ask prospective agents, according to James McGrath, co-founder of the NYC real estate brokerage Yoreevo.

“Every agent is presumably doing deals, but if they usually work with retired couples, they might not be a great fit for a first-time home buyer,” said McGrath.

“Probe deeper and ask about the last two buyers (like you) that they worked with,” he added.

This is important because high sales and years on the job can be largely irrelevant if the agent hasn’t worked with a client like you before.

“Years of experience does not translate into deals of experience,” McGrath said. Buyer or seller, be sure to ask prospective agents about their last clients. It’s sure to quickly give you an idea about their ability to meet your expectations.

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2. How Do You Plan to Market My Home?

If you’re a seller in today’s market, plan on asking your agent how your listing will be promoted. This isn’t simply a matter of advertising in all the right channels, but also making sure your home looks really good online.

According to a study from the National Association of Realtors, 97% of buyers search online for homes — which makes having a strong digital presence a must.

“A house being marketed today needs to be similar to a magazine layout,” said home stager Karen Gray-Plaisted of Design Solutions KPG. “The key is to find an agent who believes in ensuring the house is presented well in all the marketing they do.”

This might mean finding an agent who works with stagers and photographers, and quite possibly even a few marketing gurus. Since most agents offer marketing services on one level or another, focus on finding out exactly how their team operates, and use that info to gauge their ability to make your home irresistible to buyers.

3. How Has the Pandemic Changed the Way You Do Business?

This one isn’t so much about the coronavirus as it is about finding out what’s permanently changed in your area with regards to buying and selling, and if you and the agent are on the same page as far as health precautions. Depending on your pandemic experience, you may not want a bunch of strangers stomping all over your house to check it out. On the contrary, you might hate online meetings — something a lot of agents are still doing.

“While the number of precautions has gone down here in Wisconsin, you’ll still see a lot more virtual services, like listing appointments, closings, etc. happening online,” said Realtor Al Wisnefske of the Land & Legacy Group.

Another change that seems to be sticking around? Appointment-only open houses. This is a good one to know about, since you may not be able to just “pop in” and see a house whenever you want.

“We are in NYC where COVID is under control, at least for the moment,” said McGrath. “Everyone is still wearing masks (more out of courtesy than an actual requirement), but one big change that happened during COVID is that 90% of open houses are still by appointment only.”

Depending on the current restrictions in your area, it’s a good thing to ask any agent you interview what their process looks like, and be sure you’re comfortable with that protocol.

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How to Find the Right Agent

Now that you know the key questions to ask, here are a few ideas for finding the ideal agent.

Get a Referral

Referrals are hands-down the best (and easiest) way to find a real estate agent who will make you happy. Why? Because if they made your friends happy (and your situation is anything like theirs) then chances are they can help you too.

“Word of mouth is a great place to start,” said Christopher Totaro of Warburg Realty. “Having a referral from a person who has worked with an agent gives you the ability to get real insight as to how that agent performed.”

It will also help you find out how they handle marketing strategies, and if recent enough — how they’re helping clients navigate deals during the pandemic.

Check Online Reviews

This might sound too easy, and that’s because it is. Just like your favorite restaurants, Yelp and Google Maps are both really great places to find out if people like working with certain agents or not.

“The best way to find an agent is to ask friends for a referral,” said John Gluch, founder of the Gluch Group. “The second-best way is searching Yelp. Yelp does a great job of ensuring reviews are legitimate and that the recommended agents on Yelp have truly earned it.”

Before hiring an agent, do a quick online search to see what others have to say about them.

Other Considerations

A lot goes into buying or selling a home, and the process will get easier the more prepared you are. If you’re planning to buy a home in the near future, then you might want to consider things like your credit score, and if you’ll qualify for the mortgage you need. If you’re selling, be sure to ask your agent how saturated the market is, and how to make your listing a competitive one.

As always, take the time to consider all of your options before diving into anything— and don’t be afraid to stay put if the timing doesn’t feel right.

Contributor Larissa Runkle specializes in finance, real estate and lifestyle topics. She is a regular contributor to The Penny Hoarder.