I suggest anyone thinking about hiring a Realtor should interview at least 3 before deciding. It’s a huge purchase and you want to know that you’ve done your due diligence in picking the right person for the job, not just someone who is a friend of a friend, knocked on the door, cold-called you, or serves on your church’s parking team. Do not let anyone strong-arm you into signing on the spot. If they insist ask if they sold timeshares before this job, or was it car sales?
1. Are you a Realtor or real estate agent?
First - if they can’t answer this question, or tell you there isn’t “really a difference” that’s a bad sign. Why do you care? To put it simply, agents are licensed by their local government. For example, I’m licensed by the state of Georgia. Agents are bound by laws of the Federal and State governments. Realtors, in addition to the law, are bound by a higher level of morality. National and Regional Realtor boards have overlaid additional guidelines that must be followed. For example, agents only have to acknowledge the 7 Federally protected classes (race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, and national origin)
2. Do you work full time
There is nothing wrong with a Realtor that only works part-time or on the side, however, for me, if I’m buying or selling the largest investment of my life, I want a professional. That’s not to say that a part-time agent isn’t professional, but it does limit the number of hours they have to dedicate to the job. Are they able to take the continuing education classes that are necessary to stay current? Do they understand the latest contract changes? Additionally, are they going to be available when you need them? If they’re working Mon-Fri, 9-5 at a corporate job and don’t take calls except on lunch break, will they be able to help you when problems arise?
3. How long have you been a Realtor
A lot of people think they need a Realtor that has decades of experience, and that’s partially true. Every transaction is a teacher. The more transactions you’ve done, the more you know. However, with time can come complacency. I’ve met seasoned agents that took their knowledge for granted and didn’t keep up with current contract changes. I can outperform and out-negotiate them because they’ve gotten comfortable. New rookie agents are freshly educated on laws and trends and are very anxious to make sure they get it right. Frequently, they’re on a team and have the support of mentor agents in case there is trouble. The answer you want isn’t really how long they have been doing it, but how often are they improving themselves and their business. How are they going to provide you with the best service possible?
4. Who is my primary point of contact?
There are three types of Realtors.
Single agents: they are the only point of contact.
Pro - always know who to call, no matter what.
Con. If they are unavailable, due to illness or prior engagement, you just have to wait. Also, one personality type. If you don’t like them, you need to either fire them and find a new agent, or deal with them, which may add additional stress. Cannot possibly specialize in all aspects of real estate so if you have a specific need, you may not have the skills you want.
Small teams: Usually 2 - 4 agents
Pros - Multiple personalities and specialties to better fits your needs and priorities. Always a back-up in case of emergency or conflict. With small teams, the client usually meets all of the available agents and chooses whose expertise or personality suites them. For example, I love new construction and working with Relocation clients. William has a soft spot for senior living crisis issues and investment properties. We are both supporters of our Veterans and will sometimes double up. In the future, we will be adding agents with different language backgrounds to support those needs and a first time home buyer specialist.
Cons. May have to work with more than one person during peak seasons and short notice situations.
10 + people
Pros - Seasoned experts in very specific fields. Mega teams frequently have agents that only do one thing, so they do it well. Showing agents, just unlock doors and look at houses. Contract negotiators spend all their time on the deal. They are the hunters going after the other side to get the best deal, leverage every stipulation, etc. Stagers; all they do is help make your house look good before you sell it. THE agent, the person who manages all the others. Closers. Once the contract is binding, they take over and make sure what needs to get done, gets done. By splitting the job into a dozen duties, each person can focus only on that duty, and they get really good at it.
Cons - Hard to know who to call at any giving point. When a crisis arises and everyone is pointing the blame at someone else, that doesn’t help you. Hard to establish a relationship of trust. When the agent says “this is a great opportunity” do you trust them? Or will you miss out because you don’t have the relationship? When you’re looking at homes and you mention to your partner, in front of the showing agent, that you really like the home office. They may not understand that you hadn’t mentioned that to THE agent and so your search criteria won’t be updated. After all their only job is to unlock the door and review the property.
5. What is the cost?
99% of the time, the buyer doesn’t pay the Realtor. The remaining 1% includes special circumstances like FSBOs, short sales, low budget sellers. When a seller will not pay the buyers’ agent’s commission, it’s up to the buyer to pay the difference. So, for example, I charge a minimum of 3%. If the seller is only paying 2.5%, the remaining .5% will need to be paid for by the buyer.
Every Realtor set’s their own commission fee. From that fee, they pay a portion to the buyers’ agent. This fee is agreed upon prior to listing your home and can be adjusted as needed based on priorities. For example, in a competitive market, the seller may wish to offer a buyers broker incentive and offer to pay the buyers agent more than what their competition is paying. The seller may have needs that are over and above what is typical and may pay the listing agent more to cover those needs. A word of caution. Selling agents that are willing to reduce their commission, simply because you want them to, may not have your best interests at heart anyway. They may simply want to put a sign in your yard and know your house isn’t going sell anyway, so why argue about commission. They may be desperate to pay their mortgage and will take anything to get a listing. Of course, if they’ll give up their own paycheck, how can you expect them to fight to get the highest dollar for your home?
6. How will you help me buy and sell
The agent should explain their process of understanding your priorities and needs. They need to be able to ask tough questions and drill down on answers that clarify the goals. If you are a relocation buyer, how do they solve the challenge of working with an out of town buyer? They need to adjust their showing methods to fit your preferences. Will they preview homes for you? Will they send new listings daily? How often will they contact you? How will they help you be competitive in multiple offer situations? What does a property tour look like? How many homes at a time? On weekend or just weekdays?
Selling a home isn’t always about money. Frequently it’s about the timing or the hassle factor. If every seller wanted top dollar, iBuyers wouldn’t exist. The agent needs to focus on what your priority is and ask questions that isolate it. If you want to sell your home as fast as possible, you’ll need to put some money into it, and put it on the market below competition. If they don’t have the courage to explain that to you, then they can’t deal honestly or just don’t have the experience necessary.
Here’s a fun test: When you’re interviewing agents, tell them that you think your home is worth $50-100k more than you really think it is. See what they say. If they will let you list it overpriced that’s a problem. If they won’t call you out on it, either they don’t know what it’s worth and didn’t do the research ahead of time, or don’t have the courage to tell you bad news. Or have no intention of selling it. They’re just using your overpriced listing for advertising.
7. Do I have to sign a contract and can I cancel without penalty
Yes, in Georgia, agents must have a written agreement that documents the roles and duties of the relationship between the buyer and the Broker. The length of the agreement is negotiable, so if you’re not sure if you like or trust this agent, ask for a shorter period. If they’ve done a good job you can always extend the agreement.
There is no financial penalty for terminating an agreement early, you just need to contact the Broker. A word of caution. If you purchase a home after terminating the agreement, you may be liable for the agreed-upon commission. Speak with the Broker before doing so to make sure you understand the potential issues.
Yes, you must have a listing agreement with the Broker before an agent can market the house and represent your interests. That listing agreement dictates the services provided, fees expected, and length of the term. If you terminate the listing agreement before it expires, you are required to reimburse the listing agent for their documented expenses which may include, signage, advertising, open house costs, postage/printing, and the fee for terminating the MLS listing. Your agent should review all aspects of the agreement with you so that you understand fully.
Note: Ga Law if very clear on this issue. Once you are in a binding agreement with a Broker, no other Broker’s agent can solicit your business, discuss how to break your agreement or encourage you to do so. So if you have concerns or questions, you’ll need to discuss them with your agent, or the Broker that is holding your agent’s license. Their number should always be on the last page of the listing agreement.
8. How will you communicate with me
This is really about personal preference. What you want here is for the Realtor to ask you, how do you want me to communicate with you? If you’re a day sleeper, they need to respect that and only call in the evenings. If you don’t like text messages, or never leave voicemails, you need to let them know.
Fun test. Tell them that you prefer _____ method of communication. When your interview is over, ask them to follow up with you in a few days for your decisions. Then see how they do it. Did you say call after 6pm? And they texted the next morning? That should give you an idea of how they communicate.
9. How do you set realistic expectations for your clients
Frequently, people will start with things like “I want this level of the house, but I want to pay 75% of what it is worth. Not in so many words of course. When they say it, it sounds like, “I”d like new construction, on the water, but close to the city. I need at least an acre of land, and HOA that takes care of everything, and I want to pay less than my current home is worth.”
Setting expectations involves looking at everything they want, and then looking at the price tag, or looking at price tags, and seeing what is available. Usually, its about setting priorities and deciding what is on the must-have list and what is on the want list. I have told clients that I simply would not work with them, because their expectations were unrealistic and I didn’t want to waste my time or theirs.
Selling your home is a big change, and it’s important to understand the priorities that are associated with it. Why are you selling, what are your goals? Usually, I have to tell clients that their homes aren’t worth what they’re hoping for, or need more work than they realize.
In either case, setting realistic expectations for clients comes down to honestly. The agent has to be honest with their client. I tend to be direct and clear, with little to no sugar coating. Others may soft-sell bad news. That’s a matter of preference. So earlier, when you told the agent your home was worth a lot more than you think, did they laugh, or take 20 minutes to let you down gently, or not say anything at all?
Honesty is a two way street by the way. Once you’ve picked an agent and signed an agreement, it’s important to be honest with them about your needs, budgets, and issues. They are your advocate and guidance, but they can’t do their job if you don’t give them the whole picture.
10. Do you have references
An experienced agent will have buyer and seller references, a new agent may say “I have team references”. Likely, they’re only going to give you the names of people that love and want to recommend them.
What you also want are vendor references. Professionals that work with the agent on a regular basis and can attest to their professional ability, timeliness, honesty, accountability and general character.
These questions and my answers are based on current license law in the state of Georgia as of the posting date. Jan 2020. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to me, check out my website, other videos, etc. If you want help finding a Realtor in other areas outside of NE Atlanta, and you don’t want to go through these, let me know and we will do the research for you. Yes, we get a referral fee, but you don’t have to deal with the process of interviewing them, and you don’t have to click the button on the internet and have your phone blow up with calls from all types of service providers.