Not all real estate agents can help you get the home you want. When it comes to finding a good agent, you need to ask the right questions upfront to save yourself the trouble later. Real estate brokerage Redfin recommends that you ask every potential agent the 15 questions below before committing yourself to an agent.
1. Is real estate your full-time job? How many clients have you had in the past year?
Okay, that's two questions, but they're actually the same. An active, full-time agent is much more likely to be up to date on the market and the local real estate laws than a part-time agent.
2. How many homes have you sold in my target neighborhoods?
Don't expect every agent to have an in-depth knowledge of the places you want to live. You want someone who knows those precise markets, with a few recent deals in your target neighborhoods to ensure their expertise.
3. When clients are dissatisfied with your service, what went wrong?
There's not a single agent out there that hasn't dealt with an unhappy customer, but knowing why others were dissatisfied can help you anticipate and prepare for the bumps ahead, or whether or not they'll be a good fit for you.
4. Has a client ever filed a complaint against you?
If you're not comfortable asking this, you can always check with your state's licensing board. Some state boards will even list disciplinary actions and education credits associated with the agent.
5. What's your fee?
While you pay no fee at all as the buyer, the fee is built into the price of the home. When the house is sold, the seller pays the agent their fee using the money you paid for the house, typically 2 to 3 percent of the sales price. Since the commission amount is set by the seller and can vary from home to home, you should inquire what their share would be. After all, you don't want an agent who may pressure you into a home just because they'll land a bigger commission.
6. What are all the services you're willing to provide me?
Negotiations, escrow, paperwork and contingencies are the minimum additional services an agent can provide, though some are willing to go the extra mile. Make a list of what you'll be paying for so there are no surprises later.
7. When am I committed to working with you?
Buyer beware: If you start touring homes the agent sends you, this may obligate you to work with them despite not having signed a contract.
8. How many foreclosure or short-sale transactions have you handled in the past?
While you can buy distressed properties at a great price, the paperwork is complicated, and your liability is greater. If you choose to go down this road, you'll want an agent with experience closing deals with banks.
9. Who else will be working with me?
A real estate agent agent is often supported by a team, but the person you hire should being doing most of the work.
10. Am I obligated to work with the lender, inspector or other service providers you recommend?
If they answer "yes" here, it's a big red flag. Good agents may have solid recommendations for lenders or inspectors and other service providers, but you should never feel pressured to use their recommendations. In fact, it's illegal for an agent to force you to use their recommended providers.
11. How quickly can you get me into a home?
Hot homes move fast, so how does your agent compete? Ask the agent how they handle tours on short notice.
12. Do you represent buyers and sellers on the same house?
This is not a good thing for a buyer. When one agent represents both the buyer and seller, this is known as dual agency. If the agent is trying to get the most money for the seller's home, how can he also be trying to get the best deal for the buyer? Redfin recommends to just avoid dual agency altogether.
13. What sets you apart from other agents?
Listen to how they answer this question. You're looking for expertise, not just enthusiasm. You want an agent who's experienced in your favorite neighborhoods, with a proven track record, and in-depth knowledge of any special requirements that you want in your next home.
14. What if I'm unhappy with your service?
If you have any complaints after you've purchased your new home, it may be too late to do anything about it. Most agents don't get paid until you buy a house, so there's incentive for them to close the deal even if you still have doubts. You want an agent that will guarantee your satisfaction, so ask about what recourse you'll have if you have a bad experience.
15. Can I see reviews of your past deals?
A good real estate agent should have nothing to hide; that's why Redfin posts reviews for all agents after every deal. While an agent may provide you their hand-picked endorsements of those clients they kept happy, you want to get the full list of reviews, especially those from the dissatisfied customers. A few success stories does not necessarily define a good agent, but only those who consistently deliver excellent service. Not every real estate agency will provide this list, but you can use sites like Yelp.com to see what feedback others had to give.