Interviewing Real Estate Agents: Best Questions to Ask Listing Agents
No two real estate agents are the same. They provide different levels of service — like full-service agents, part-time agents and discount brokers — and every agent has a different working style, level of experience and personality. That’s why it’s important to interview multiple agents so you can determine the best fit. It’s a crucial first step to minimizing miscommunication and ensuring both parties understand their responsibilities ahead of time.
According to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2018, trustworthiness is the top attribute sellers desire — 86 percent of sellers say it’s extremely or very important. After trustworthiness, 81 percent look for someone who is responsive, and 80 percent look for someone who is an expert in the local market. Additionally, 76 percent of sellers are also looking for an agent that respects their personal values.
The best way to find the right agent is asking smart interview questions and listening for insightful answers. These are the most important questions to ask a real estate agent:
- What’s included in your services?
- Is your fee negotiable?
- What’s your experience in the neighborhood?
- What are your hours?
- How do you plan to market the home?
- Do you have references?
- Does this contract include a cancellation clause?
When you contact an agent for an interview, they’ll schedule what’s commonly called a listing appointment. Most agents are aware that they aren’t the only listing appointment on your calendar, so they bring their A-game to win your business.
How many real estate agents should I interview?
Depending on the size of your local market, you should interview at least three agents so you can compare and contrast what they’re offering. But of sellers who use an agent, 63 percent contact only one, while 21 percent contact two, and 17 percent contact three or more. It’s worth interviewing multiple agents so you can find the right person for your needs.
If you need to sell in a hurry, you can try the for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) route, but you’ll still need to invest a lot of your personal time. Alternatively, you can sell through Zillow Offers. Just answer a few questions about your home, and if it’s eligible, we’ll give you a cash offer. You can close on a date that’s convenient for you, and you’ll never have to list the home.
Question 1: What’s included in your services?
This should be your first question, because different types of listing agents include different services, and you’ll want to know what your 5-6 percent commission is buying.
These are the standard services typically included by listing agents.
Every listing agent, whether full-service or discount, should take care of actually listing your home on the MLS, with all the proper information, a listing description and photos. Note that if you’re selling your home FSBO but still want it listed on your local MLS, you can pay an agent a flat fee of a few hundred dollars to post your listing (but that’s where their services end).
Comparative market analysis
Both full-service and discount brokers should guide you to the right listing price for your home. They’ll use recently sold similar homes in your area (commonly called comps) to determine a fair market value, taking into consideration the state of your local market to develop a strategy that will help you sell quickly.
Your listing agent should attend all showings, send a member of their team to host them, or provide their own lockbox so buyer’s agents can let themselves in if your agent is unavailable. Ask your agent who will be present for showings, especially if you’re uncomfortable with a lockbox arrangement. Most reputable agents will host showings themselves or have someone from their team present.
You’re paying your agent for their expertise, so they should be willing to share tips on minor repairs or renovations to make, staging guidance, and home features that are popular with buyers in your area.
Question 2: Is your fee negotiable?
The main reason sellers opt to sell FSBO is because they want to avoid paying agent commission — or at least lessen the amount of commission they’ll have to pay. The typical commission paid upon the sale of a home is between 5-6 percent, but keep in mind that half of that usually goes to the buyer’s agent, and the listing agent pays for marketing costs, broker splits and taxes out of their portion
Approximately two-thirds (69 percent) of sellers accept their agent’s terms without negotiating. And about 1 in 3 sellers negotiate with their agent (31 percent). Of those who do negotiate, 57 percent are successful in changing some or all of the agent’s terms.
As you negotiate, make sure the discount you’re working toward comes out of the listing agent’s portion only. Commission percentages for buyer’s agents must be listed on the MLS, and if you offer a lower-than-average buyer’s agent commission, you may have a harder time attracting a buyer, as their agent will be less inclined to show your home. If your agent tries to pull a fast one and lower the buyer’s agent commission instead of their own, they aren’t an agent you can trust, and this action could be grounds to cancel your agreement with them.
If negotiations to lower the commission percentage are unsuccessful, here are some things you might be able to offer your agent to entice them:
If you’re a whiz at photography and social media, you could offer to handle those aspects of the listing, which takes some tasks off your agent’s plate. If you take this route, make sure to read up on best practices for marketing a home for sale.
Home showing flexibility
The agent may be willing to discount their commission if you’re flexible about showings — meaning either you’re willing to take showings on very short notice or you agree to lockbox showings.
If you’re selling in a hot real estate market and your home is desirable to buyers, the listing agent might be willing to take a lower commission because it will take less effort to find a buyer, and the negotiations may be simpler.
Question 3: What’s your experience in the neighborhood?
Agents can only learn so much from real estate classes. A good agent should have real-life experience in your area. If they’re new to the business, they should be part of a team led by an experienced local agent who can guide them through the sale.
When asking about experience, look for agents who know the neighborhood and its nearby attractions and someone that can demonstrate the perceived market value of certain features of your home.
Ask about list-to-sale price ratio
A list-to-sale price ratio is the percentage of a listing agent’s clients that sell their home at or near their listing price. It gives you insight into an agent’s negotiating skills, and the higher the percentage, the better. For example, your agent might say, “My sellers receive an average of 95 percent of their listing price.”
As part of their listing presentation, an agent should tell you what the average list-to-sale price in your neighborhood is, as this information is available on the MLS. Ideally, their personal ratio should be higher than average, but it should at least be in line with local averages.
If the agent doesn’t have a lot of experience in your specific neighborhood but you’re interested in working with them anyway, ask them for their list-to-sale price ratio and the local average for a part of town they do work in.
Ask about interested buyers
A good agent is well connected in the area, which means they might already have interested buyers lined up. They should also have a good network of other agents that they can promote your listing to.
Question 4: What are your hours?
The correct answer to this question is, “I don’t have hours.” But be reasonable, because your agent has a life outside work too. You should be able to reach your agent for urgent questions by phone during the day and evening hours. Ask them what their policy is if you have to text late at night. When will they get back to you? The sooner the better.
Ask about your point of contact
If you choose to work with a high-producing agent who leads a large team or passes tasks off to team members or assistants, you may not always end up speaking to your agent directly. The downside can be the potential for miscommunication, but generally speaking, agents who have lots of listings are probably successful because they’re good at their job.
Question 5: How do you plan to market the home?
This question is especially important for full-service agents. Every agent has a slightly different strategy for marketing their clients’ homes for sale, so you’ll want to know how your agent plans to find buyers for your home.
If you’re paying for a full-service agent, they should cover the cost of professional real estate photography for a median-priced home or above. Most agents work with the same photographer consistently, so ask to see some examples of their work. Some agents may also include video or 3D tour services, especially in competitive markets.
You’d be surprised how many MLS listing descriptions only include one or two lines of text, filled with confusing abbreviations. Choose an agent that can craft a descriptive and compelling listing description that highlights your home’s best features. Ask to review it before posting so you can check for inaccuracies, and confirm that they have someone who will check for grammar or spelling issues.
Your agent should have an active presence on Facebook, with plenty of followers to share listings with. Instagram and LinkedIn profiles are a plus too. The best agents are also well versed in posting paid ads to social media channels. They should know how to strategically “boost” your listing post so that it targets the right audience at the right time.
An emerging trend in real estate, pocket listings are homes that haven’t yet been officially listed on the MLS, but the agent shops them around to other agents to drum up interest. A benefit of pocket listings is that this pre-listing time doesn’t affect your days on the market, which is a counter that starts the day your home goes live on the MLS. It also lets you gauge interest ahead of time and adjust your price as needed. Also, if your agent finds a buyer who is interested in your pocket listing, the buyer might make a stronger offer to make a deal before the house ever goes on the market.
To be successful with pocket listings, your agent needs to have an expansive network of real estate agents. Top agents are often part of exclusive networking groups that give them access to other top agents, which can make a pocket listing worthwhile.
Question 6: Do you have references?
You don’t need to ask for a reference letter — it’s not a traditional job interview. But, your agent should be able to point you to a webpage with testimonials from past clients or put you in contact with someone who has worked with them before.
Check Zillow, Trulia and social media
The internet makes it easy to track down unbiased agent references. Don’t be afraid to ask about negative reviews. A professional agent shouldn’t get defensive or dismissive, but rather talk through the circumstances that led to the review.
Question 7: What are the contract requirements?
One of the most important final questions to ask a real estate agent is about the listing agreement. A professional agent should walk you through their standard contract and answer any questions you have. You shouldn’t feel pressure to sign, and they should give you time to take the contract home and review it further.
Ask about the cancellation clause
Listing agreements have an expiration, and the length of the contract depends on the state of your real estate market — 30-, 60-, 90- or 180-day expirations are the most common. You can also negotiate the term upfront. While you may not expect to cancel before your contract expires, it’s important to know what you’re agreeing to, in case the unexpected happens. There are two common reasons why sellers terminate their contract early.
You’re not satisfied with your agent: You may be able to terminate your contract if the agent hasn’t been delivering on the services they agreed to provide, but it can be difficult to prove. Make sure there is specific language in your contract that outlines exactly what the agent is responsible for. Also include language stating that if your agent doesn’t complete those tasks, you can cancel with no commission owed and find a new agent that better fits your needs.
You have a change of heart: If you decide it’s not the right time to sell, most reputable agents will allow you to cancel early with no fee as a courtesy. However, if your agent has already paid for a lot of marketing costs or found you a buyer and then you tried to cancel, you may be on the hook for reimbursement or a partial or full commission.