How to Interview an Agent

Buying real estate is a huge event in your life, so it's understandable that you don't want to do it on your own. If you're like many homebuyers out there, you'll want a real estate agent to help you find, then buy, your new home. Of course, you don't just want to settle for the first half-decent home you stumble upon. You want to make sure you're getting the best home possible at the best possible price. That's why you don't just want any old real estate agent; you want the BEST real estate agent for your unique interests, wants and needs. You want a real estate agent who understands the real estate industry and who has had experience with the type of home you're looking to buy, in the area you want to move into. You want someone you can whose knowledge you can value. You want someone you get along with, someone you can trust.

But with so many real estate agents out there, how do you know which one is the most qualified to lead you to your new home?

Usually, homes for sale by a real estate agent get listed on the Multiple Listing Service, more commonly known as the MLS. All real estate agents can access to the MLS, so in theory, all it takes is a simple phone call to any random real estate agency, and you'll come across an agent prepared to bring you to properties for sale. However, you have no idea what caliber of agent you're dealing with. Is the agent high quality, or simply the Joe (or Jane!) Average of real estate agents?

Then again, not all real estate agents are found by accident. Many are found through referrals from family, friends, coworkers, or other personal connections. But what if the boisterous, talkative real estate agent who clicked perfectly with your outgoing older sister gives you a headache? Or what if the reserved, formal real estate agent perfect for the timid head of the accounting department at work makes you feel like a blabbermouth? A real estate agent can seem like a genie to one homebuyer, and a jailer to another.

Our point? Don't just settle for the first real estate agent you hear about. Shop around, interview a few agents, and go for the agent who best suits your needs. Yes, there are certain characteristics that set some real estate agents above others. However, there's no generic template of a good real estate agent. Rather, one's notion of a good real estate agent, like one's notion of good ice cream or good music, is a matter of personal taste.

Just imagine what your life will be like during the house-hunting process. Stage One will have you going from property to property, probably in the confines of a car, with your real estate agent. You and your agent will walk through these properties together, discussing in detail every room, nook and cranny you see. Once you've decided on a property you'd like to buy, your agent will be there through every step of the transaction, from offer to closing. Surely you don't really want to spend all that time with someone you don't even like. Yet that's exactly what you'll have to do once you've signed the contract. That's why it's crucial to meet potential agents before hiring them. Make sure that the person you're hiring is someone whose knowledge you value, whose opinions you trust, and whose personality you like. The best way to gauge all these factors is to interview not one, not two, but several agents before hiring one to represent you.

When you interview real estate agents, be on the lookout for several things. First, make sure you find someone who will care about you and fight for your interests. Second, make sure this someone exhibits ready knowledge of properties on the market, which demonstrates a pro-active approach to real estate. The last thing you need when buying a home is some lazy bum who has to "check the computer," then get back to you!

Questions To Ask

Here are some questions to ask during your interview with your prospective real estate agents:

· How long have you been in business?

Chances are, you'll want a real estate agent with experience. The more years an agent has done the job, the better he or she will know the industry. Some real estate experts point out that staying in real estate is a lot harder than getting into it, so someone with at least five years of experience clearly has an interest in and commitment to the field. That said, you shouldn't completely disqualify someone who is new to the field if you like their personality. Newcomers to a career are often full of enthusiasm and energy, and are willing to go that extra mile to build a good reputation in a field. This is especially true for real estate, where reputation is everything.

· How long have you sold houses in this area?

It is important that your real estate agent is familiar with the area. There's no point in getting a good deal on a great house if you'll spend the next thirty years of your life in a crime-ridden area, waking up to police sirens and/or drug busts in your neighbor's home. Your agent should provide you with information not just about the property, but about the community as well.

· How many transactions have you had in the past year?

Does this agent actually satisfy his or her customers? If he or she has led few customers to homes they actually wanted to purchase, then something is wrong. Either the agent is simply not listening to the needs of the clients, or they do not have a broad enough picture of the market to recommend satisfactory homes. That said, keep in mind that part-time or freelance agents will obviously be involved in less transactions a year than full-time agents.

· Do you know of any properties that might be appropriate for me?

Remember what we said about finding a proactive agent? Here's where you discover if your interviewee is one. If he or she already has properties for sale in mind to show you, you can bet that this agent is out regularly, scooping out the market. If he or she says something like "I can suggest a few that come close," then describes them for you, but isn't sure that you'll like any of them, don't despair. It still shows that he or she is up to date on the market; it just shows that he or she has yet to come across anything right for you. If he or she responds to your question with a blank stare, you can be pretty sure that this agent is a little too passive about the job.

Who are your references?

Every agent will tell you they have satisfied customer testimonials to their name, but you don't know for sure how accurate this claim is until you've spoken to actual people who've dealt with the agent. Any really good agent should have customers willing to provide references and able to answer any questions about their own experience with that particular agent.

· Are you full-time or part-time?

Some experts caution against enlisting the help of a part-time agent, as he or she may have other commitments that get in his or her way of helping you. However, you shouldn't just jump to this conclusion until you have met the agent in person. Many part-time agents are just starting out in the business and can't yet generate enough business to form a full-time practice. While a new agent won't necessarily be the best agent, you might get to experience some of that energy and enthusiasm typical of starting-outers in the field. Meanwhile, other agents are so good at what they do that they only need to work part-time!

What awards have you won?

Many good full-time agents have received, at the minimum, the million dollar club award.

· How can I reach you?

The whole point of hiring a real estate agent is so that you've got someone to help you out with the process of buying real estate. An agent who isn't readily accessible isn't worth much to you. You want someone with regular office hours, and who has at the very least a cell phone or pager that you can contact them on. A really devoted agent might even let you contact them at home. The last thing you need is to find the perfect home, call your agent, and discover that he or she is drunk in a noisy nightclub and can't return your call. Be sure to choose an agent who can be readily reached, no matter what comes up during the house-hunt process.

Pay attention to whether or not the agent is good at listening. Do they pay attention to you, or do they interrupt you mid-sentence? Few things are as frustrating as letting valuable hours pass you by while you look at homes all wrong for you, all because the agent has not paid enough attention to your desires.

They Should Get To Know You

Oh, and another thing: you shouldn't be the only one asking questions during the interview. Your prospective real estate agent should be asking you questions about your finance, debt and credit information. Why? So he or she can determine the price range of properties you should be considering, and the price range within which he or she can show you homes. Using this information, the real estate agent should be able to tell if what you want in a home is feasible for someone with your price range. Maybe the answer is yes; maybe the answer is 'lower your standards, or wait a while to purchase a home.' A really good realtor won't just tell you what he or she thinks you want to hear. Instead, they'll tell you what you need to know.

Finally, any good agent will request for an appointment to meet with you, too, especially if the interview was conducted online or by phone. Dont be turned off; these appointments come with the territory. After all, real estate agents earn a living by commission. Naturally, they have to put some energy into chasing down business. However, this pursuit should be tastefully done, and your real estate agent should still care about your needs just as much as preferably more than his or her commission. If you smell a salesperson, look elsewhere.