Ask the Egghead: How can I find a good real estate agent, how should I interview an agent?

Dear Egghead: Are all real estate agents the same, or should I shop around?

ANSWER: Just as in any other business, the real estate business is chock full of ethical, hard-working, trustworthy people — and the rest, who don’t do a good job, to put it mildly.

If you’re like most people, real estate transactions are one of the most important, consequential events of your life. Don’t leave it to chance.

You should interview a real estate agent, just as you would interview a lawyer to handle your divorce, find a doctor to operate on your kidney stone, or seek a babysitter to watch your children. So often, we leave things to chance — we accept the first person who comes along. This is too important for that.

Here are the essential questions you must ask a potential real estate agent, and you’ll notice that little elaboration is required:

  • How much experience have you had? Good agents are successful over time, and they last.
  • Are you a full-time agent, or a part-time agent? Good agents live, breathe and sleep real estate. Doing their life’s work part-time doesn’t make any sense to them. Trust me, you don’t want an agent who treats real estate as a hobby.
  • What are your hours? If you were paying attention to the previous question, you’ll know the answer to this one: Good real estate agents work 24/7.
  • How well do you know my area? If the agent isn’t familiar with your neighborhood, they aren’t going to be effective.
  • How many customers do you serve at one time? Sometimes agents are too busy to give you their full attention, just a like a doctor who is too busy to make an appointment.
  • How long will it take before you answer my messages? A hard-to-reach agent guarantees a stressful outcome.
  • How do you market properties? If the agent can’t give you a convincing plan at your first meeting, they are not going to effectively market your house.
  • How much will I pay you? It’s pretty standard nowadays that the seller pays their agent a 2.5 percent commission at closing, and the buyer’s agent gets 2.5 percent, but everything is negotiable. Does your agent want a hefty retainer fee or administrative fee? Look elsewhere.
  • Can you give me some references? An agent with a good track record of satisfied customers will be glad to provide you with enthusiastic references.
  • How hard would it be to cancel our agreement? Good agents recognize that not every partnership works out, and will be glad to part ways with grace. Good agents are too busy to hold petty grudges.
  • Do you have an online profile? Effective agents will have a profile on Google, Zillow, their brokerage’s website, and in several more places. Agents who haven’t taken these actions have not kept up with the times, and that will show in many ways down the line.
  • What are your strengths as an agent? Good agents know what they’re good at, and for the other stuff, they find help with. If the agent doesn’t have a good explanation about this, don’t trust them as you agent.

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