Whether you are buying or selling a home, the services of a professional real estate agent can make a big difference to your outcome. The real estate process can seem complex — and, for most, it is the biggest financial investment they will make in their lives. Given that 86 percent of homebuyers in the U.S. use an agent, the value of a real estate professional is invaluable when it comes to buying or selling property.
However, we don't always know how to find the best agent, and three-quarters of sellers only contact one agent as part of their search. Here's how to pick out one who will give your purchase or sale the golden touch for the best possible outcome.
So, what exactly does an agent do?
- Finds you the best possible property or buyer within the established budget, depending on whether you are the buyer or seller.
- Arranges private viewing tours for buyers and shows sellers' homes to prospective buyers, who are sometimes vetted.
- Negotiates the best possible deal on your behalf.
- Takes the lead in and manages the legal and financial processes, acting as the liaison between mortgage lender, attorneys, home inspectors and maintenance companies.
Real estate is a demanding, multifaceted world that requires a wide range of communication, analytical, mathematical and negotiation skills. The profession draws on vast resources of emotional intelligence and attention to detail. You can get a sense of working with a potential agent with these questions.
THE KEY QUESTIONS TO ASK, WHETHER YOU ARE BUYING OR SELLING
• What qualifications do you have?
You probably won't even have to ask. Most real estate agents will offer their credentials (license and qualifications) freely when you first meet. If they don't, do ask. And if you're lucky enough to find a real estate agent who is a Certified Residential Specialist, they'll likely tell you. This elite qualification awarded by the Residential Real Estate Council represents the top 5% of agents.
• What are your performance figures like?
Years of experience are no guarantee of excellence, but an agent's key metrics from the previous few years — the number of houses sold and the average time it takes to sell a home, for example — may indicate if they're a safe bet.
• How do I contact you?
Once you've hired a real estate agent, being reachable comes with the territory. If they're working as part of a team, you need to know who to call and who's making the calls. It's best to establish a preferred communication method as well.
QUESTIONS A SELLER SHOULD ASK AN AGENT
To an average agent, your property listing may offer the chance of a quick sale and welcome commission. To an outstanding agent, it's a chance to grow their professional reputation within the area, secure a potential referral and valuable reference and enhance their skills further. These questions will identify the outstanding from the average.
• What's your average time from listing to offer?
On average, homes in the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. spent just 37 days on the market in June 2023, so if time is an essential factor, you need to know if your agent can keep up with the pace. But, arguably, there is a more important question:
• What is your listed-price-to-selling-price percentage?
This is a test of your agent's negotiating skills — what a home sold for compared to what it was listed for. If that percentage is below 90, you could probably find better.
• Can I see references?
A top-performing agent will be forthcoming with references and referrals from their recent and repeat clients.
• How did you reach this list price?
Your agent should be able to show and explain a detailed Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) that shows how they pitched their initial sale price. This price should correspond later to the value reached in the mortgage appraisal report.
QUESTIONS A BUYER SHOULD ASK AN AGENT
Many of the above questions will also be relevant if you are on the buyer side of the transaction. But, as a buyer, what you need from your agent arguably goes further. They will be a vital and trusted resource in helping you prepare for pre-approval, the mortgage application and closing, with a wealth of legal documents to process along the way. For that reason, the working relationship is important to factor in, too. To gauge if they will make your search a seamless experience, ask this question:
• What homes have you sold or offered in this neighborhood and price range?
This will give you an idea of how deep their affinity runs with local and market trends, and whether they will be able to leverage expert knowledge to negotiate the best deal. A professional agent knows what neighborhoods are hot, which are due to go hot next and what red flags to look out for during your search.
Armed with these questions, you should feel confident in finding the right real estate agent for your sale or purchase. Ideally, you should interview at least three professional agents for the purposes of comparison.
Insider tip: Meet the expert agents of Briggs Freeman Sotheby's International Realty here.