By Darrin Friedman
You may have noticed that there are a whole lot of real estate agents out there in the world, any one of whom would be thrilled to have your business. From your mother’s best friend’s nephew—you know, the kid who got his license last week and has never actually helped anyone purchase a home—to the top agent in your region who represents the very best of what the name REALTOR® stands for, and every agent in between; the sheer volume of practitioners can seem overwhelming.
Obviously, it is critical to find the right person to represent you. After all, buying or selling a home will probably be one of the largest financial transactions of your life. Considering the importance of this decision and the vast array of options from which to choose, it’s important to take your time and interview agents before finding the right fit.
Surprisingly, and sadly, this usually doesn’t happen. Based on studies conducted by the National Association of REALTORS® in 2014, the average consumer chooses the very first agent he or she meets, often without a thorough interview or any time spent exploring other options.
But the consumer is not entirely to blame. Unfortunately, for way too long, the real estate industry as a whole has not advocated well enough on behalf of the people we represent. We do not provide potential clients with sample questions they should ask, nor do we give names of alternative options they could consider. Now, you may find it difficult to imagine an agent giving a potential client information about their strongest competitors, but that is exactly the kind of transparency that is revolutionizing our industry.
And in the name of full transparency, I’m providing you now with a list of questions you might want to consider when first engaging with a prospective agent (as well as the reasoning behind why the question is important to ask):
1. What should I expect in regards to how you communicate?
Communication is everything, and in any relationship it is best to outline clear expectations at the outset. If you strongly prefer texting over email, say so, but understand that your agent may not. If you have a tendency to delete lengthy voicemails without listening to them, warn the agent about this, as he or she may be a notorious marathon voice-mailer. You are the consumer and ultimately you determine how this works. It’s important that you are on the same page about communication as you begin what will most likely be an extended process.
2. May I have the contact information of the last three clients you helped?
Who is in a better position to help you understand what your soon-to-be agent is really like than the people he or she has just recently helped to buy or sell a home? The agent will probably give you names of people whom they know will speak glowingly of their work, but in every conversation both positive and negative information can be gleaned. If the agent shies away from giving you references altogether, suggesting instead that you simply read their online reviews, take this as a huge red flag. Be wary of anyone who is not eager to let their former and future clients interact.
3. What areas do you believe to be your strengths, and what areas do you consider to be your weaknesses?
Go ahead: put these agents on the spot! Help them self-examine. This question serves two purposes: 1. it gives you a good sense of the person’s honesty, or at least their transparency; and 2. it helps you to prepare for what’s ahead. No one is good at everything. Some agents are brilliant at property marketing but not great with negotiating; others are terrific negotiators but not great with contracts. Remember that no one is excellent at everything.
4. Other than yourself, who do you think is an outstanding example of a real estate agent?
As we said at the outset, there are a lot of agents out there, and some of them are truly excellent. Good agents think of themselves as a community of service-oriented professionals, and the agent you are interviewing should think so as well. If your prospective agent cannot come up with at least three names of other agents whose skills and talent they admire, then he or she is either not self-confident enough to answer honestly or not truly a part of the larger community. Either way, this is another red flag. On the other hand, if the agent speaks in glowing terms of others they would recommend, it will confirm their own confidence in their abilities, as well as how much they genuinely appreciate their top colleagues in the industry. Good for them and good for you. You’ve found a good one.
In the end, choosing the right person to represent you is a more important determinant of how the process will go than anything else. Take your time. Interview several people, get referrals and talk to references. In the end, make sure the person you pick feels exactly right for you because this partnership is too important to leave to chance.
DARRIN FRIEDMAN is a Strategic Brand Specialist with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices The Preferred Realty serving the greater Pittsburgh, PA area. Find him on Facebook and Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.