25 Critical Questions to ask a Realtor before you list

Finding the right real estate agent can make all the difference in the success or failure of your property sale.  Don't even think about selling your house until you've read this.

Selling a home involves many critical and personal decisions.  However, one of the first and most important decisions you need to make is one that impacts your entire home sale.

Which real estate agent should you work with?

This is a special questionnaire designed to help you make the right selection.  Start by asking your friends and family for the names of agents they know.  Look around your neighborhood for the signs, ads and marketing materials of active agents in the neighborhood.  Once you've compiled your list, use this guide to help you determine which agent is best for you.

Here are the questions you should ask any prospective real estate agent:

1) Could you provide some information about yourself?"

You can often get a good idea of which agents are most professional and most committed by looking at their personal marketing materials - brochures, direct mail, listing presentation book, etc.   Are the materials presented professional?

If not, you might ask yourself, "If your agent doesn't have the wherewithal to properly market themselves, how will they market your home?"

If you like the way they respond to you and are impressed with the information they supply, call them and invite them to make a listing presentation.

2) How do you approach your work?"

What should you be looking for, first and foremost, is an honest, knowledgeable individual, who works full-time, represents a solid and reputable real estate agency, and will treat your best interests as paramount.  Length of time in the business, track record of success, previous experience, expertise in and knowledge of the locate real estate market - all of these are important factors to consider.

While the right agent to market your home may not be number one in every aspect, you want to make sure that the person you hire is a well-rounded individual who you can trust and respect as a professional.

3) How many homes have you listed in the past six months?"

Look for an agent who is active in your area and has experience dealing with homes and situations like yours.  This is especially critical if your home or transaction has special features or terms that make it more challenging than the typical home sale.

4) How many homes have you sold in the last six months?"

Beware of agents who simply gather listings and let them sit and wait for someone else to sell them.  Your agent should have a good track record of getting homes sold, which is after all your ultimate goal.

5) What is the average length of time your listings are on the market?"

You may automatically assume the shorter time on the market, the better.  But take note:

If the average length of time on the market is significantly faster than the average for homes in the area, is it because the agent is more effective or because he or she likes to low-ball the asking price in order to get homes sold more quickly?

Also, take a look at what the original asking prices are for home the agent lists versus what the homes finally sell for.  This "swing" number will tell you how effective the agent is at helping clients determine the right asking price and doing what it takes to help them get it.

6) How long have you been in the business?"

Depending on the agent's background and track record, there is no hard and fast rule for what to look for here.

An agent may have been a licensed real estate professional for 15 years, but only selling part-time and never really an active seller - may only be handling one or two transactions per year.

Whereas another agent may have only just become licensed one or two years ago, but has a background in real estate finance, worked in real estate law for a number of years or has been a private real estate investor and has bought and sold more than 20 homes himself in the last 10 years.

Either way, you need to find someone who has an in-depth knowledge of the legal ins and outs of the business as well as characteristics of the local market, and has demonstrated competence and professionalism in getting homes sold.

7) What professional organizations do you belong to?"

The minimum here should be a fully licensed professional who's a member of the local real estate board and multiple listing service as well as the State and National Association of Realtors.

Local community groups and business associations may also be pluses in terms of networking and insight into the community.  However, make sure your agent is focused on what's important - selling your home and networking for referrals.

8) "Do you have a personal assistant or other support staff working for you?"

By employing someone to handle the small details, he or she can devote more time to serving your needs.  However, be sure you know up front how much involvement you can expect directly from your agent, and how much is usually handled by someone else.  It may be a fine that most of your interaction after the listing is with an assistant or other staff member as long as you don't feel passed off onto someone else and you are kept apprised of exactly what the agent is doing to get your home sold.

9) "Do you have questions for me?"

In the interview, look for an agent who asks pointed, specific questions, not someone who's just filling in the blanks on a form.

That's the sign of someone who is already thinking about your situation and is creating a plan of action specifically for you rather than just using a cookie-cutter approach for every client.

10) "What marketing approach will you use for my home?"

Despite having the same basic marketing tools at their disposal - Multiple Listing Service, company tours, fliers and brochures, for sale signs, lockbox, advertising, direct mail and personal networking - every real estate professional has a different marketing strategy.

Learn each agent's marketing philosophy and determine what will work for you.

11) "Will you produce a flier or brochure for my home and what will it look like?"

Take a careful look at the materials the agent has produced to market their current listings.  Does the quality, design and wording of the materials seem to present each home in the best light?

Put yourself in a potential buyer's shoes: Would you be interested in the homes after seeing these materials?

12) "What is your advertising plan for my home?"

Ask the agent how often he or she will run ads and ask to see samples of what the ads will look like.  Again, put yourself in buyer's shoes.  Would these ads appeal to you?  How does advertising fit into the agent's overall marketing mix?  Agents on the cutting edge often use a variety of creative advertising methods apart from the traditional house advertisements.

13) "How else will the property be exposed to other agents?"

Beyond simply listing your home in the MLS, your agent should be using a wide variety of techniques to let those other agents know about your home and keep them aware of it until it sold.

14) "What will you do to keep me informed?"

How often do you expect to hear from your agent?  Are you comfortable with letters, phone calls, the internet, or do you want to discuss matters in person?

Determine how much communication you want.  Then find an agent who will give you the attention and time you deserve.

15) "What listing price do you recommend for my home and what is that price based on?"

Pricing your home is the most critical step to selling it and you should choose a realtor who has the knowledge to price your home wisely.

Require your agent to justify the price through comparable property sales and facts about the market.  Be realistic.  A good realtor will be honest with you about the value of your home and have the hard, cold facts to justify the value to both you and prospective buyers.

16) "Can you provide me with further resources that I may need?"

Most agents work with a team of professionals in many fields including title, escrow, mortgage, home inspection, etc.  While you are not obligated to work with an agent's team, often you may find it is the optimum way to go.

The best agents have built strong relationships with their "teams" and can often get expedient service or be able to "cash in a favor" for your transaction should a crunch or problem arise..

17) Can you give me some reference from other clients you have worked with?"   

Don't be afraid to ask for references.  This is not confidential information, even though many sellers would never think to ask for it.

Any agent who provides good service and is proud of his or her work will be happy to provide references.

18) "What does the listing agreement entail?"

Have the agent go over every detail of the listing agreement with you before you ever sign it.  This is a legally binding document and your agent should be open and up front with you about exactly what you are signing.

Ask to know exactly what each portion means and be aware of what the contract will legally obligate you and the agent to do.

19) "What are the beginning and expiration dates of the listing agreement?"

This information should be included on the agreement itself and, should a dispute arise later, could be crucial in determining commission payments.

Good agents work hard for their commissions and deserve just as much open communication and straightforward dealings as you do.

20) "What are the amount of brokerage fees I will be paying?"

The customary fee is seven to eight percent.  Brokerage fees are not fixed by law and are negotiable as price ranges increase.

However, whether you pay a fee that is higher or lower, you generally get what you pay for.

21) "What other fees or charges do I need to be aware of?"

Title insurance, escrow charges, closing costs and prorated insurance, taxes, rent, home owner's association dues, etc.  The individual circumstances of your transaction and the needs of your buyer will all impact your final financial obligation.

Be sure your agent goes over all of the costs that may be incurred so you'll be prepared.

22) What disclosure laws apply to me and what do I need to provide?"

You and your agent will both need to provide specific disclosure forms regarding your transaction and your property.

Your agent should be able to help you locate professional inspectors for the various mandatory home inspections.  Most agents will help you organize a home marketing file - including a property fact sheet, a property transfer disclosure statement, etc.

23) "How will you determine the qualifications of potential buyers?"

Ask what procedures the agent will use to make sure that you don't waste any time dealing with dead-end offers or escrows that can't be closed.

24) "What happens if my home doesn't sell in the allotted time or if I decide not to sell my home?"

Much of the answer to this question should be spelled out in the listing agreement.  Make sure your agent goes over it with you.

25) "What's the best way for me to get in touch with you?"

In this age of expanding technology and instant communications, most agents have pagers, email, voice mail and voice message services.

You should know exactly how to get through to your agent, his or her assistant, or a messaging service for 24 hours a day service.

Your agent should not only provide you with prompt responses to your calls, but also should have a step-by-step plan regarding how he or she will keep you informed about the status of your home sale, including reports on the actions taken to sell your home and the resulting responses from prospective buyers and other agents.

 Now, the only question you have to ask yourself is: What are you waiting for?  Lets get it SOLD!