Recently, my wife got the bug to move just because her brother was (I quickly killed that bug - we are NOT moving). I did however have a chance to interview 4 Real Estate agents. I quickly learned that they are not all created equal.
I took some notes specifically for Dumb Little Man. Here are the questions I asked, the answers I got, and the answers I wanted to hear.
A: Your home will be in newspapers, the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), our realty website, neighborhood postcards, open houses. In addition, our realty company is on billboards, sends mass mailings/emails so we are constantly driving traffic and eyes to your home.
TIP: How often are these things being done? Are we talking daily? Are you onsite for the open houses or is there some lackey standing in for you on the weekend? Where specifically am I going to be in the newspaper? What newspapers? What websites? Who specifically is following up on leads?
Q. Why are you saying my home is worth $400K when I think its worth $325K?
A. We do an analysis so we know what similar homes are selling for in your area (which is BS for we run a little query on home sales within .5 miles from your home).
TIP: Ask to see the comparisons (called "comps"). High volume agents may be motivated to list your house too high because they don't need the quick commission. An new agent may list a home too low just to sell it quickly and get paid. Bottom line is that it's your house and you need to do homework to ensure you're asking the right price. Do not simply take their word for it.
Q. Is your realty company placing pictures on your website and other listing services?
A. Of course, we can do that.
TIP: Who is taking the pictures, when will he be here? Are we doing standard pictures or can we also have the panoramic video tour posted? Does your site require that people register before seeing the video tour? If yes, why? I am promoting my house and I don't want prospective buyers being spammed.
Q. Will you be at the closing or will you send a lackey?
A. It depends on scheduling.
TIP: No. You are about to pay this agent some serious coin. They should be at the closing to make sure it goes smoothly. If they cannot squeeze you in, forget it.
Q: Show me your municipal reporting on the area?
A: Um, what?
TIP: Your agent should be able to quote (by memory) information about the schools, local parks, park district features, etc. If not, how is he/she going to answer questions from people that want to buy your house? If they cannot do it by memory, pulling out a printout or a PDA is OK. Nevertheless - they must have answers.
Q: What are your stats?
A: I sold $3 Million in property last year.
TIP: Ok great. Did he not sell another $5 Million that he listed? Ask him to explain at least 2 instances when he listed a home and it did not sell. A good agent will have 1 story setup for you, so it's important to ask for at least 2.
Q: How accessible are you?
A: Buyers can call my direct line 24x7. If I am not there, the answering service will take the call.
TIP: Well ok, but let's just use your cell phone and skip the answering service. As an busy agent, you may forget to call for messages or worse, they may not be accurate. Further, I prefer to have the real estate agent return calls as opposed to the office admin that is not as educated on real estate.
Q: What is your commission?
A: The total commission is 5% of the sale price.
TIP: Ask what happens if the buyer is not represented by an agent. What if the buyer is just some guy driving down the street? If the buyer has no agent, the commission should be cut in half or otherwise reduced. This negotiation will generally need to include the agent's broker. No matter what they say, this % is negotiable. I had a broker agree to sell my home for 1% if the buyer was not represented and 3.5% if the buyer had an agent.
Q: How can I prepare to show my home?
A: Just make sure the house is clean, blinds, curtains and doors open. Also be sure the grass is cut.
TIP: Also make sure you have every light in the house on. Think about the last time you went to a new model home, all of the lights are always on. Also, if there is a stain in the rug, throw a chair over it.
Q: Can I have the names and phone numbers of the last 3 people that listed with you?
A: No, there are confidentiality rules.
TIP: Adios Amigos. What you want here is the last 3 people that listed. NOT, the last 3 people who had their homes sold. You are interested in hearing either how good or bad this agent is. There is no better way than to ask a past customer and every agent I spoke to was very surprised to hear me ask this (not sure why).
Please note - this is not anti-real estate agent. Most of the people I spoke to were pretty good. It was a combination of 4 interviews with agents that contributed to this.
That's it - good luck!