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How to Interview Real Estate Agents

How to Interview Real Estate Agents

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 at night and has never actually helped a single person purchase a home--to the top agents in your region who represent the very best of what the name REALTOR stands for, and everything in between, the sheer volume of practitioners can seem overwhelming for many consumers. 

Obviously it is critical that consumers find the right person to represent them in what is most often the largest financial transaction of a person's life. Considering the importance of this decision and the vast array of options from which to choose, you would think that most consumers would take their time and interview lots of agents before they decide on one.

Surprisingly, and sadly, this is not the case. Based on studies conducted by the National Association of REALTORS, the average consumer chooses the very first agent they meet, often without interviewing them thoroughly, and utterly fails to shop around and explore 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.

Nonetheless, as far as the consumer's role is concerned, it comes down to asking intelligent questions. What questions should you ask an agent when sitting in that first meeting? Here are a few you may want to consider:


1. What should I expect in regard 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 voicemailer. You are the consumer and ultimately you determine how this works, but the agent is likely to have his or her own style as well, and you both need to know how to accommodate one another. 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. But if the agent shies away from giving you references altogether, suggesting instead that you simply read their online reviews, that is 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 home marketers but not great negotiators; others are terrific negotiators but not great with contracts. Remember that no one is excellent at everything. You need to choose someone whose strengths align with what is most important to you. And if an agent has trouble coming up with any kind of an honest answer about his or her shortcomings, don't discount the significance of this problem! In any industry, professionals who do not know or cannot admit their own weak spots will be the first ones to fall prey to them.


4. Other than yourself, whom do you think is an outstanding REALTOR?

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 big 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, and in the end, make sure the person you pick feels exactly right for you. Because this partnership is going to be way too important in your life to leave it to chance.