Ask Brian: How Do I Interview a Selling Agent?



Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Question.Riley from Murray, KY writes: Hi Brian, My wife and I are in our early 40s. We are still living in the first home we bought 14 years ago. We’re happy here but can now afford to buy a bigger home with a larger lot or maybe even some acreage. However, we do need to sell this home to afford a bigger one. I don’t recall much about selecting a real estate agent when we bought our home but I do want to make sure I hire the right agent to sell it. Naturally, we want to get as much for it as we can. How do you suggest we go about selecting a listing agent?

Miniature house and keys being presented by female estate agent

Answer. Riley, I appreciate your question and expect many other readers are probably interested also. My first thought is that many people hire an agent on appearance and gut feeling. This is too important of a financial transaction to go with your gut hunch. I suggest you put a short plan together that considers three or more agents and uses pertinent questions to make the best decision.

People that go at least one step beyond a gut hunch often ask friends and relatives for a recommendation. I am a believer in word-of-mouth recommendations but also think this is a beginning rather than the conclusion of the process. First, understand how long ago the person used the agent he or she is recommending? Was it 3 months ago, 9 months ago, 2years ago, or is it your wife’s cousin’s brother in-law? But you’re going to want more information than that about the person representing you in a multi-hundred thousand dollar transaction.

Many agents say few sellers make the effort to ask additional questions beyond how much can they sell the property for and how much the commission is? With those questions in mind,decide about how many agents you want to interview and have an in-depth discussion with. A good number is three. But deciding on those three should begin by telephoning about 9 or 10 agents for a quick discussion. In a heavily populated area, you might need to learn if the person is a buyer or seller’s agent.In rural areas, many agents perform both roles. But whenever you can, you want to go with a specialist.

You also want to know how much experience they have and how many homes they have recently sold? Years of experience can be work both ways. An agent with a lot of experience and a lot of current listings might not have the time to spend with you and your listing as you would like. A newer person might not be as practiced with critical skills such as negotiating and comparative market analysis but could make up for it with personal attention and enthusiasm. Another basic question is how intimately familiar is the agent with your neighborhood?

Next, set up a face-to-face meeting with the agents on your short list. Plan to spend close to an hour with each. I’ve seen sellers simply hand over a written list of questions to be answered but you really should engage in a conversation to learn each other’s communication styles and to ask follow on questions when needed. Depending on local traditions,your preference, and the agents’ preference, this meeting can take place in their office or at your home.

Although you don’t simply hand over a list of questions, you should have questions prepared as a guide.

  • What is the marketing strategy? Besides the MLS, will a video tour be made? Where will videos, photos, and other marketing materials be posted online besides through the agent’s website? What are the other elements of the marketing strategy?Even ask to see marketing materials from previous listings.
  • What makes you different from your competitors? A good agent knows his or her strengths and weaknesses. It could be marketing, industry contacts,communication, negotiating, or something else. They should be able to quickly rattle off three or four. At a minimum, you want an agent who is honest, trustworthy, and assertive. They should also have a plan to bolster weaknesses.
  • What marketing changes will be made if offers aren’t being written within 30 or so days? Most listings are for 90 days. If you don’t see any action within several weeks, you probably want a “plan B.” Plan B should be more than just reducing the asking price.  
  • This doesn’t happen often in large markets but you want to know how the agent handles a situation when they are representing both the buyer and the seller?This can be a conflict of interest. Most listing agents will hand off a buyer that approaches them to another agent.
  • Will the agent be able to help understand the pros and cons of different purchase offers if more than one comes in? You probably want to dig a little deeper into the agent’s knowledge and resources regarding mortgage loans and lenders. Interest rate volatility can impact even a prequalified buyer’s ability to close the deal. A good seller’s agent can rescue a faltering deal when they’re financially wise and well-connected with quality lenders.
  • Ask about the agent’s statistics. Agents should know their numbers. At least ask about his or her list-to-price ratio. This is the final sale price divided by the most recent listing price. Another important statistic is the average number of days on the market.
  • Once the agent has seen your home, ask what small improvements will help achieve the highest sales price. Also, ask for staging advice.
  • Ask any other questions that are important to you.
  • Finally, what haven’t I asked that I need to know?

Riley, don’t make a spur of the moment decision about hiring an agent. When you are pleased with an agent, it’s time to ask for a comparative market analysis. I recommend at least three. Make sure you get a recommended sales price specific to your home.

Your final decision should not be based only on answers to these questions. Also, consider less concrete observations such as how comfortable you feel it will be working with the agent along with how organized and detail-oriented the agent seems.

Please comment with their thoughts and experiences about selecting a listing agent. Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company.Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, a few short miles from a national forest. With the Pacific Ocean a couple of miles in the opposite direction.