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5 Questions You Need to Ask an Agent Before Signing a Contract

Mar 17, 2020 by Liz Brumer
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When it comes to buying or selling a home, having an experienced, high-quality real estate agent can be the difference between finding or selling your home quickly at the best possible price and months of wasted efforts. Unfortunately, not all agents are considered equal, nor are they the right fit for all buyers or sellers. Who you are as a buyer or seller will dictate what you need out of a Realtor, and in turn, what questions to ask your prospective agent before signing a contract.

Below are five questions to ask an agent before entering into an agreement. Hopefully, these questions will help you find the right Realtor when it comes to time to buy or sell your next home.

Five questions to ask if you are a buyer

1. What is the current market like for a buyer in my price range and area?

The Realtor should be able to tell you the average list price and sale price for a home with specific square feet, bedrooms, and bathrooms, and more based on your desired area or price range. Market statistics should be provided, but ideally, they should know the market well enough to know this off the top of their head.

2. Do you think my budget and expectations are realistic in today's market? If not, what is your strategy and what might I have to compromise on?

A lot of homebuyers are ill-prepared for how far their budget or wish list can take them in the current market. Your Realtor should be able to guide you, telling you how realistic or unrealistic your goals are in a helpful and supportive way. However, if a specific area or criteria is a requirement, not an option, then stick to your guns and determine where or what on your homebuying list can be compromised.

3. How well do you know the area I'm looking to buy in? How many homes have you sold in this area in the past six months to a year?

This isn't a requirement, but the more experience and sales the agent has in your desired neighborhood or area, typically the better able they will be to serve you.

4. What is your schedule like, and how often can I get in contact with you?

You want an agent who can respond to you quickly and has an open schedule to be able to serve your needs as a client any day of the week. Of course, be respectful of the agent's time, but you want a Realtor who has an open schedule.

5. What is your schedule like for viewing properties? Will I be able to see a new property any day of the week, or do you have an assistant who can help us if you're busy?

In a highly competitive market, you need an agent who can show you properties at any time. On my personal shopping journey, an agent's slow reply or full schedule equated to me being a day too late to put in an offer. Having an assistant to help show the property means you'll always be able to see a property when you need or want to.

Five questions to ask if you are a seller

1. What do you believe my home would sell for given the current condition, location, and market, and how long do you expect it to stay on the market at that price?

The Realtor should be able to provide you with a suggested list price from a comparative market analysis (CMA) and explain how they came to the valuation for your home. If you feel their number or value is too low or high, ask for a second opinion from another Realtor or their broker. If the agent has priced it right, it should sell within the average days on the market (DOM). Look at the CMA to confirm that their estimation matches the current market standards.

2. What do you suggest I do to make my home more marketable or show ready?

You want a Realtor who can help you get your home in the best possible condition to sell. They may make suggestions for improvements, minor or major, if budget allows, or they might suggest that someone help stage the property. Either way, they should be able to provide guidance on how to sell your home for top dollar as quickly as possible.

3. What is your marketing strategy to sell my home?

Your Realtor should be able to provide you with a detailed marketing plan, including whether they will offer open houses, online marketing, or mail marketing, and should be able to provide examples.

4. What is your schedule like, and how often can I get in contact with you?

You want an agent who can respond to you quickly and has an open schedule to be able to serve your needs as a client any day of the week. Of course, be respectful of the agent's time, but you want a Realtor who is readily available.

5. What is your commission, and how long is the listing agreement for?

This is important to ask. Most real estate agents charge a 3% commission; however, some are negotiable or charge higher fees. Ask what their fee is as well as what the bottom line for closing will be, assuming a normal sale. Before you sign the contract, make sure you're clear on the details. If you're with an agent you're not happy with, you could be bound by contract to stay with them for longer than you expected.

Things to keep in mind when choosing an agent

Experience helps, but it isn't everything

The amount of time someone has been in a field is typically a bonus because they have more knowledge and likely more experience dealing with common issues in the business, but it doesn't always make them a great agent.

What matters more than experience is the agent's ability to serve your needs, their resources to help you along the journey, and their network of people to rely on to ensure the closing and sale go smoothly. Don't overestimate a veteran agent just because they have 20 years' experience in real estate. Conversely, don't discount someone new to real estate, especially if they have been trained well and seem competent and able to deliver. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Referrals are great, but always conduct your own interview

Referrals are a tremendous way to get in contact with a quality agent. Start the search for your next agent by asking family, friends, or colleagues if they have a referral for a good agent. It's a great starting point, but don't forget to conduct your own interview and make sure that they seem like the right fit for you. The fact that a friend had a good experience with a particular agent doesn't mean your personalities will mesh.

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