4 Questions to Ask a Real Estate Agent Before Hiring One

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Before you sign on to work with a real estate agent, make sure to get answers to these important questions.

When my husband and I set out to sell our old home a little over a decade ago, we met with a series of real estate agents before settling on the person who eventually helped us through the process. We knew that choosing the right agent could spell the difference between a higher profit on our home and a lower one, and also the difference between a smooth process and a rocky one.

If you're looking to sell your home, it's important to find the right agent for the job. Here are some questions that can help you make the best call.

1. How well do you know this area?

In the course of hiring a real estate agent, many people tend to focus on years of experience on the job. But while having experience is important, what's even more essential is experience selling homes in your specific neighborhood. It's a good idea to work with someone who knows the ins and outs of the local market and can help you pinpoint the right listing price.

2. How many clients are you working with now?

If a real estate agent barely has a handful of clients, that could be a red flag. On the other hand, you don't want to hire a real estate agent with too many clients, because if that person is juggling several dozen people at once, it means you may not get the personal attention you want when you're selling a home. There's no specific sweet spot to aim for, though, and you may find an agent who has a hefty client load, but also a robust support staff to manage it. That, too, can and should play a role in your decision.

3. How long of a contract must I sign?

In today's housing market, homes are selling fairly quickly. But that doesn't mean your listing won't sit out there for a while. And if that happens due to poor marketing on the part of your real estate agent, you'll want an out. Before you sign a contract, ask your agent how much time you're required to give them to sell your home. You may be told that you need to give your agent a good three months before being able to switch to someone else.

4. What commission do you charge?

Real estate agents work on commission, but their fees can vary. As a general rule, you should expect your agent's commission to be somewhere in the ballpark of 4% to 6% of your home's sale price. This means that if your home sells for $400,000, you'll pay your agent $16,000 to $24,000. If an agent quotes you a higher fee, you may want to look elsewhere, though you can always ask if that agent is willing to negotiate. The lower your fee, the more money you'll have to put toward your next home -- which could, in turn, leave you with a lower mortgage to take out.

Selling a home is a major undertaking, and one that will have a huge impact on your finances. Run through these questions before hiring a real estate agent so you wind up happy with your decision.

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