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Interviewing Real Estate Agents: Best Questions to Ask Listing Agents

Interviewing Real Estate Agents: Best Questions to Ask Listing Agents
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No two real estate agents are the same. They provide different levels of service — like full-service agents, part-time agents and discount brokers — and every agent has a different working style, level of experience and personality. That’s why it’s important to interview multiple agents so you can determine the best fit. It’s a crucial first step to minimizing miscommunication and ensuring both parties understand their responsibilities ahead of time.

According to the Zillow Group Consumer Housing Trends Report 2018, trustworthiness is the top attribute sellers desire — 86 percent of sellers say it’s extremely or very important. After trustworthiness, 81 percent look for someone who is responsive, and 80 percent look for someone who is an expert in the local market. Additionally, 76 percent of sellers are also looking for an agent that respects their personal values.

The best way to find the right agent is asking smart interview questions and listening for insightful answers. These are the most important questions to ask a real estate agent:

  1. What’s included in your services?
  2. Is your fee negotiable?
  3. What’s your experience in the neighborhood?
  4. What are your hours?
  5. How do you plan to market the home?
  6. Do you have references?
  7. Does this contract include a cancellation clause?

When you contact an agent for an interview, they’ll schedule what’s commonly called a listing appointment. Most agents are aware that they aren’t the only listing appointment on your calendar, so they bring their A-game to win your business.

How many real estate agents should I interview?

Depending on the size of your local market, you should interview at least three agents so you can compare and contrast what they’re offering. But of sellers who use an agent, 63 percent contact only one, while 21 percent contact two, and 17 percent contact three or more. It’s worth interviewing multiple agents so you can find the right person for your needs.

If you need to sell in a hurry, you can try the for-sale-by-owner (FSBO) route, but you’ll still need to invest a lot of your personal time. Alternatively, you can sell through Zillow Offers. Just answer a few questions about your home, and if it’s eligible, we’ll give you a cash offer. You can close on a date that’s convenient for you, and you’ll never have to list the home.

Question 1: What’s included in your services?

This should be your first question, because different types of listing agents include different services, and you’ll want to know what your 5-6 percent commission is buying.

These are the standard services typically included by listing agents.

MLS listing

Every listing agent, whether full-service or discount, should take care of actually listing your home on the MLS, with all the proper information, a listing description and photos. Note that if you’re selling your home FSBO but still want it listed on your local MLS, you can pay an agent a flat fee of a few hundred dollars to post your listing (but that’s where their services end).

Comparative market analysis

Both full-service and discount brokers should guide you to the right listing price for your home. They’ll use recently sold similar homes in your area (commonly called comps) to determine a fair market value, taking into consideration the state of your local market to develop a strategy that will help you sell quickly.  

Showing assistance

Your listing agent should attend all showings, send a member of their team to host them, or provide their own lockbox so buyer’s agents can let themselves in if your agent is unavailable. Ask your agent who will be present for showings, especially if you’re uncomfortable with a lockbox arrangement. Most reputable agents will host showings themselves or have someone from their team present.

General advice

You’re paying your agent for their expertise, so they should be willing to share tips on minor repairs or renovations to make, staging guidance, and home features that are popular with buyers in your area.

Question 2: Is your fee negotiable?

The main reason sellers opt to sell FSBO is because they want to avoid paying agent commission — or at least lessen the amount of commission they’ll have to pay. The typical commission paid upon the sale of a home is between 5-6 percent, but keep in mind that half of that usually goes to the buyer’s agent, and the listing agent pays for marketing costs, broker splits and taxes out of their portion

Approximately two-thirds (69 percent) of sellers accept their agent’s terms without negotiating. And about 1 in 3 sellers negotiate with their agent (31 percent). Of those who do negotiate, 57 percent are successful in changing some or all of the agent’s terms.

As you negotiate, make sure the discount you’re working toward comes out of the listing agent’s portion only. Commission percentages for buyer’s agents must be listed on the MLS, and if you offer a lower-than-average buyer’s agent commission, you may have a harder time attracting a buyer, as their agent will be less inclined to show your home. If your agent tries to pull a fast one and lower the buyer’s agent commission instead of their own, they aren’t an agent you can trust, and this action could be grounds to cancel your agreement with them.

If negotiations to lower the commission percentage are unsuccessful, here are some things you might be able to offer your agent to entice them:

Fewer services

If you’re a whiz at photography and social media, you could offer to handle those aspects of the listing, which takes some tasks off your agent’s plate. If you take this route, make sure to read up on best practices for marketing a home for sale.

Home showing flexibility

The agent may be willing to discount their commission if you’re flexible about showings — meaning either you’re willing to take showings on very short notice or you agree to lockbox showings.

Sellable home

If you’re selling in a hot real estate market and your home is desirable to buyers, the listing agent might be willing to take a lower commission because it will take less effort to find a buyer, and the negotiations may be simpler.

2. Research your real estate market

Your local real estate market, and even your specific neighborhood, can make a difference when it comes to deciding whether to sell or renovate. If you live in a hot real estate market, it may make more sense to sell. Here are a few ways to gauge the state of your market:

  • Research the area: Recent comps should help shed light on what you can expect to sell your house for.
  • Assess your home’s marketability or appeal to buyers: Does your home need a lot of work before listing? A home in good condition usually sells faster than a fixer-upper, even in a sellers market.
  • Speak with an agent: An experienced local agent can give you an expert opinion on what your home would sell for.
  • Consider the neighborhood you’re moving into: If your home has gained lots of value but you want to move to a new house in the same neighborhood, keep in mind that those homes have gone up in value, too, so your equity might not go as far as you think.

3. Evaluate your emotional attachment to the community

There’s more to your sell-versus-renovate decision than just money. If you’ve put down roots in your current neighborhood, moving might not be the best idea. Consider these factors:

  • Kids: You’re in a desirable school district, and your kids have friends and activities nearby.
  • Sense of community: You like your neighbors and have good rapport with the community — that can be hard to find.
  • Distance to work: Your commute time is low, and a move might require a longer commute.
  • Activities and fun: Your favorite restaurants, shops, parks and activities are nearby.
  • Family: You have family nearby, especially if you count on them for child care or if you have an elderly relative to care for.

4. Consider your timeline needs, whether you want to move or improve

When you decide to move and once you get an offer, the timeline is pretty much set, with the exception of an unexpected change to the close date. Get a feel for the average time it takes to to sell a house by observing your local real estate market. The biggest question mark is typically how long it’ll take to get an offer. Once your home is under contract, you should be able to predict the time to close with relative certainty.

But remodeling requires more patience and flexibility. Your contractor might tell you the renovation will take eight weeks, but could then end up extending it if they run into changes, issues or delays.

If you’re leaning toward moving for timing reasons, but the prepping, listing and negotiations still seem like a lot of work, consider selling your home through Zillow Offers. We’ll make you a cash offer on your home, and you can schedule a close date so the timing works well for you.

5. Be realistic about what a renovation will solve

It’s easy to think that a remodel will solve everything you don’t like about your home, but in reality, it’s not a magic bullet. There are some things that a renovation just can’t fix.

  • Neighbors: If you have loud or inconsiderate neighbors, no renovation project can make them move away.
  • Unfavorable school district: If your kids go to public school, you’ll have to send them to their neighborhood school, unless private school is an option.
  • Home type: If you’re living in a condo but what you really need is a single-family home with a yard and a garage, that’s not something that can be fixed with a renovation.
  • Square footage: Here’s one more piece of home renovation advice. Adding square footage to a home can be really expensive — and that’s if the city will permit it and if your lot is big enough. If you need a home much bigger than the one you’re living in now, moving may be more cost-effective.

6. Calculate your remodeling return on investment (ROI)

Of course, you’re renovating your home so you can enjoy living in it, but someday you’ll probably want to sell, so factoring in how much of your remodeling budget you’ll recoup at resale is important to deciding if you should remodel or sell.

One helpful tool in calculating which renovations will give you the most bang for your buck is the 2018 Cost vs. Value Report, which can be filtered by region. Search through 21 common home improvements to find the ones that will be the most worthwhile in terms of resale value. In the tables below, we’ve chosen mid-range improvements — renovations with middle-of-the-road materials, not luxury finishes.

When to prioritize personal needs

Your ROI is important, but so is your happiness, so keep that in mind when deciding on your renovation project. If you love to garden and would get endless hours of enjoyment out of a backyard greenhouse, but it’s not likely to be a feature that appeals to the majority of buyers down the road, that’s OK — you should enjoy your home while you’re living in it.

7. Understand the risks of over-improving

If your tastes have outgrown your local market, it might be time to consider a move. There are financial risks in creating an extravagant luxury home in a mid-priced neighborhood — when it comes time to sell, you’re unlikely to recoup very much of the money you put into the project.

Should I remodel or move to a luxury home?

If a top-of-the-line, luxury or custom home is what you’re dreaming of, you might think twice before renovating your existing home, because there’s a financial risk in over-improving for your area.

Unless you live in a pricey neighborhood already, you can easily over-improve your home, which means that when you go to sell it, you’re unlikely to recoup much of your cost. If you want that high-end home and you can afford it, you might be better off moving into a luxury home in a neighborhood where the market can support the price.

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