Questions To Ask A Real Estate Agency

The real estate industry can be intimidating, and there’s a good chance you’ll be brimming with questions at every turn of your home buying or selling journey. Choosing a real estate agency and subsequent real estate agent you can trust is one of the most important decisions you can make to ensure a smooth process. Fortunately, we’ve got some questions that will give you clear, practical information on the real estate agencies you’re considering.

What is your agency’s specialty?

Usually, deciphering a real estate agency’s specialty is easy. Larger, more prominent agencies will market with that in mind. That makes sense, right? An agency that focuses on something lucrative or particularly attractive like luxury Miami real estate would want people to know that. Same with successful companies in other sought-after markets like New York or San Francisco.

Emphasizing specialties can help with an agency’s sales volume or sales ability, as well. If an organization is consistently successful in one space, like multi-family, residential, or luxury, they generally have pre-existing connections and specific skills in that area. These agencies and their agents can move through the sales process quickly in that particular space.

The question of specialty holds more weight with smaller, lesser-known outlets. That could be your local residential realtor, or possibly a low-volume agency in the nearest city. It’s important to ask about their specialty, or at least what the representative you’re speaking with views as his or her employer’s specialty.

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Say you’re looking to buy a charming family home in the suburbs. You ask the representative what their specialty is, and they list off great deals they’ve orchestrated for customers in your favorite neighborhood. Perfect! That agency has potential.

Now, if the representative cites a bunch of examples about apartments or country homes, you might want to look for another agency. That doesn’t mean you’re dealing with a weak agency or unequipped agents. It just means that you could find a better fit for your personal needs.

Are all of your agents full-time?

This question illustrates why it’s a good idea to develop your agency interview topics with inputs from experts! Not many people are going to think to ask this one. Did you know that a lot of people use real estate to supplement their income part-time? For some agencies, this is a win-win. Part-time employees require far less compensation and employment benefits than their full-time counterparts. Even if these agents are closing fewer deals, they are still potentially working at a high-profit margin for employers.

What’s wrong with a part-time agent? Well, nothing. They may be able to carry out your deal with the average amount of homeownership hiccups. However, there’s also a chance you might experience some unnecessary setbacks. Think about it. For them, this is a part-time job. By nature, the work is going to take up less focus and concentration. Part-time workers generally have a wide variety of responsibilities on top of their part-time roles. They may have other employment opportunities, familial responsibilities, or any number of additional tasks.

Real Estate Agent

Full-time agents will be able to dedicate more time and focus on you as a client. And they usually don’t have any other part-time work to fall back on. Sure, they have lives and other responsibilities like everyone else, but professionally, you’ll be their only concern. If you need anything, they’ll be available to help!

As a final point on full-time vs. part-time agents, think about what that means for the agency itself. Logically, it would be fair to say that an agency with only full-time agents is probably more serious about success than an agency staffed with part-time realtors. Employers typically invest significant resources in full-time employees, assuming they will be dedicated and successful enough to make profits despite the expense.

How will I be billed?

Before engaging in an official, professional relationship with a real estate agency, you need to understand their billing process. The only thing worse than a giant bill is a surprise giant bill.

Real Estate Agency

Commission

Commission is a widespread form of real estate billing. In almost every real estate transaction, the real estate agent earns a commission. The average commission that agents and agencies charge is 6%.

In the most common kind of sale, between two parties employing real estate agents or realtors, the commission is split between the buying and selling agents. Theoretically, the commission rate is negotiable, so try your best if you’d like. That being said, for a talented realtor, the rate is considered fair.

Flat Fee

Real estate agents who charge a flat fee are relatively rare, but this is the second most common fee structure behind a commission. This option targets individuals who need to sell their home on a budget. The agency or agent will negotiate one flat fee for all services at the very start of your dealings. Then, you would pay at the close of the process, just like paying commission.

Hourly Fee

Being charged by the hour, similar to how a lawyer or consultant charges, is far less common. Depending on how much you’re relying on an agent, this can sometimes help to lower your sales budget. This method can also add up quickly if you’re constantly consulting and meeting with your representative.

Since this is such an uncommon real estate billing method, be sure to do all of your extra homework on an agency that charges this way.

What we’re trying to do here is avoid surprises and mystery fees when your bill comes. You probably hear that phrase on cable and phone service commercials all the time, but the truth is, you can come across unethical charges in any business. Thoroughly inquire and explore possible unforeseen billing issues with the real estate agency before committing to them. It’ll be worth it when it comes time to settle up!

How did your last sale go?

This question has a few layers to it. First and foremost, it’s important to know about the agency’s last sale, and, if possible, your specific agent’s previous sale. Sure, they may tell you a salesy, fabricated tale, but here’s what you should listen for, anyway:

  • Location of sale
  • Open houses attended/hosted (buying vs. selling)
  • Length of the sales process
  • Total cost
  • Total commission
  • Overall tone and demeanor

These details can help you prepare for the journey ahead. They can give you additional information on the neighborhoods where the agency has had success and the kind of real estate deals they generally complete. Depending on how much information is given, you can also start to figure out the commission rate and whether it’s negotiable.

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The second layer has to do with asking a potential business partner about a topic they have an interest in. With this question, you’ll see how the representative speaks about real estate and sales negotiation. You’ll be able to get a feel for their personality, energy, and level of commitment to clients.

Some of those details may come off as trivial. Still, all of that information will help you make your final decision. Especially if everything comes down to a choice between two or three agencies, you’re going to want every detail you can get.

Who will I be working with exactly?

There’s an argument to be made for asking this question first. Ensuring that you can work well with your specific real estate agent is one of the most important steps in the process. At every turn, he or she is your point of contact. Any open houses, frantic late-night questions, and small clarifications go through your real estate agent. You need to know who this person will be as soon as possible.

As soon as you know who you’ll be working with, ask them the same questions we’re outlining here. Gauging this individual’s professional strengths, commitment level, personality, real estate specialty, and experience level will help make your decision. Finding a great real estate agent can also really put a home buyer or seller at ease, cutting through some of the stress.

Real estate agent

Ask your family and friends about real estate agents. Hopefully, you’ll learn about amazing agents who expertly guide nervous people through the stressful world of real estate. Some agents become such a part of the family that they are invited to weddings or birthdays. You’ll even hear about agents selling or renting homes to several members of the same family.

If everything goes well, you’re going to be paying this person a large chunk of money. You should probably like them!

How responsive is your team?

We’ve touched on this a little throughout, but usually when you’re looking for a real-estate agency’s assistance, you’re about to delve into a high-stress situation with large amounts of money involved.

Could you imagine having a burning question about the state of the home you’re buying or the sale price on the home you’re selling and having no answers? What if your real estate agent wasn’t picking up the phone or checking their email?

You can’t expect anyone to be on call 24/7. That being said, real estate agents are expected to be more responsive outside of business hours than your average organization.

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Try to agree on a response window. Something like, if there are no extenuating circumstances, you’d like an answer to your question or a discussion within twenty-four or forty-eight hours of your original inquiry. Sounds fair, right?

What you’re looking to measure with this question are their attentiveness and commitment. A real estate agent or agency with a track record of getting back to clients right away, even during some of those off-hours, clearly cares about their operation.

Describe your most memorable/regrettable sale

Asking about an agency’s most regrettable sale is undoubtedly a bold move. It might give you nightmares, but it might also give you some insight into the agency’s trustworthiness and values.

Real Estate Agent

Talking about the most memorable sale is a much easier thing to do, and it might get you some of the same insight. It also provides another opportunity for the representatives or agents to talk about their dedication to real estate sales.

On top of that, if you ask them to describe the sale in-depth, you can try to pick out specific details of the sale that you’d like to hear more about. If the deal was done in a particular neighborhood, in a similar price range, or had to do with a type of house you’re interested in, it can help clarify what you’re looking for in your own upcoming real estate deal.

Certifications/Licenses

This is another question that could arguably top the list! Don’t forget to double and triple-check an agency’s certifications and licenses! Real estate agencies and affiliated agents must be properly licensed and certified. If they aren’t, it could void your sale and result in a myriad of unnecessary problems that can be very difficult to solve.

Save yourself the trouble and check again. Check one more time, and then check again.

Real Estate Agent Certificate

Conclusion

Equipped with these questions, you’ll be able to get a great reading on any real estate agency. If there are any other more specific questions you have, don’t be afraid to ask. That’s what these agencies are there for! Odds are, they want to help you and earn their commission just as much as you want their help.

Best of luck!

Real Estate Writer
Ricardo Mello is the co-founder and managing partner of Manhattan Miami Real Estate. Specializing in consulting foreign buyers, he works with clients from all over the world looking to invest in luxury residential properties in NYC and Miami.
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