by Flint Adam, Nolensville resident & Realtor®
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Last week, we covered why so many people dislike real estate agents. Poor public opinion was a contributing factor why the National Association of Realtors paid for an independent study analyzing the real estate industry. That report found that “the industry is saddled with a large number of part-time, untrained, unethical, and/or incompetent agents,” among other inadequecies.
One of my recommendations for combatting the problem of ‘problem agents’ was better due-diligence on the part of the Nolensville home buyers and sellers who hire them. This week, I’m going to arm you with the questions you need to ask when interviewing a prospective real estate agent in Nolensville.
8 Interview Questions for Your Prospective Realtor
1.) Are you a real estate agent or a Realtor®?: A lot of folks don’t realize there is a difference between the two. A real estate license grants you the ability to call yourself a real estate agent, but calling oneself a Realtor® requires that an agent accepts and practices a Realtor® Code of Ethics meant to protect the public and diligently represent them throughout a transaction. (Bonus points for printing out the Code of Ethics and holding your Realtor® accountable to it throughout the sales process.)
But wait – isn’t just about every real estate agent out there also a Realtor®? In the residential real estate industry it’s pretty ubiquitous, and here’s why: agents must join a Board of Realtors® in order to gain access to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) that is the primary means of listing properties for sale and analyzing sales data. So, there is great incentive in paying the annual dues to the local, state, and national Realtor® associations for membership. C’mon – it’s not like everyone is clamoring to have extra ethical standards imposed on them!
But those of us who take this profession seriously applaud the ethical standards because they are consumer-friendly and ultimately should lead to a better transaction for everyone. Unfortunately, there are still agents out there calling themselves Realtors® who are not ethically sound.
So, here again is a reason why you should print out the Realtor® Code of Ethics yourself and understand what it says. If your Realtor® doesn’t adhere to its requirements, you can file a complaint with their Realtor® association.
2.) How long have you been in the real estate business? Is this your full time job?: Okay, yes this is a two-part question, but it’s about clarifying experience.
Some new agents may re-direct this question and instead discuss the expertise their brokerage offers, or talk about other applicable skills they have. Others may fib about length of service and whether they do this full time.
You can do your own due diligence on how long they’ve been licensed by checking out www.verify.tn.gov. When you visit this website, you’ll enter in the agent’s first and last name, and then under the ‘Profession’ section, make sure to scroll down to Real Estate Broker/Affil/TS. You’ll then be able to pull up that agent’s license record, including the date they were licensed and what state-credited continuing education they have completed.
If they’ve fibbed about how long they’ve been in the business, it’s reasonable to expect they aren’t being forthright on other aspects of their credibility, too.
There’s not a great way to fact-check whether they truly work in real estate full-time, but you can always call up their broker at the firm they affiliate with and ask if they are, in fact, a full-time real estate professional. The broker should have a pretty good grasp on the agent’s business-model.
3.) What is your sales track record?: Just because an agent has been licensed a long time does not guarantee they sell very much. Likewise, an agent who has been in the business only a few years may be very successful! You’ll want to understand how much business the agent performs each year. Some bullet points to hit within this question:
- How many sales do you average each year?
- What percentage of buyers and sellers do you work with?
- How many homes have you sold in my neighborhood/Nolensville?
- What is the average days on market your listings accrue before going under contract?
- What is the average list-to-sales price ratio on your listings?
Do yourself a favor and ask your prospective agent for a print-out of their actual sales for the present and past year. I’ve seen more than one agent hide behind their firm’s sales numbers instead of their own actual production. No reputable agent should fear disclosing their actual MLS productivity report. And if you’re having trouble getting that sheet from the agent you’re interviewing, the next agent you interview will probably be happy to pull that report on the other candidate for you.
4.) What designations and certifications have you earned?: It’s unfortunate that not enough buyers and sellers care about this question. The #1 complaint about real estate agents cited in the DANGER Report I mentioned, above, involves untrained and incompetent agents.
NAR-sanctioned designations and certifications are earned through additional education and experience above and beyond the minimum requirements needed to earn and maintain a real estate license.
Some designations and certifications are more worthwhile than others, but all speak to an agent’s respect for continuing education, customer service, and process expertise.
The absolute, top-notch designation you should care about is the Certified Residential Specialist (CRS). It’s hard to earn, and it’s the highest designation in residential real estate. CRS designees are probably the surest bets in the business. These Realtors® have not only successfully closed a lot of business, they’ve put in a lot of hours in the finest educational courses the real estate industry has to offer.
5a.) (For Sellers) What is your marketing strategy for selling my home and how does that differ from the next guy?: Too many agents adhere to the same marketing tactics:
- Sign in yard
- Listing on MLS
- Pray another agent brings a buyer
In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of other homes for sale out there. How exactly is this prospective Realtor® going to make yours stand out?
This is your chance to really learn how creative they are. What is the value they’re bringing to the table that exceeds other candidates? Also, think about rapport: you’re going to work closely with this person for the next few months. It would be helpful if you find them tolerable.
Oh, and don’t get suckered by an agent whose practice it is to “buy listings”. This is industry-jargon for the agent who will spout high list prices just so they can win business. Ask a lot of questions about how the agent came up with a list price and don’t be sold simply by a high number. It could be nothing more than a ruse.
5b.) (For Buyers) How are you going to negotiate the best terms for me, protect my interests, and get me the house I want?: In this market especially, there’s a lot of competition among buyers. Multiple offer-situations are not out of the norm, so does your agent have a firm enough grasp on the Nolensville real estate market and confidence in their abilities to negotiate for you when others may be at the same table?
It’s also important that a buyer agent is diligent in the home inspection process and transaction timelines. It’s not their job to understand the intricacies of home inspections, proper, but they need to know the right questions to ask the listing agent. Also, does this agent know what a C.L.U.E. report is? Can they explain why it’s important to send notifications to the listing agent on every step in the buyer’s lending and inspection process? Do they understand the customary (in Tennessee, at least) way to fill out the line in a Purchase and Sale Agreement regarding Title Expenses on resales? Do they ask for HOA bylaws and CC&Rs?
I’ve seen buyer agents miss a lot of opportunities for their clients on offers… and the listing agent sure isn’t going to help them along on these. Even in a seller’s market, there are plenty of ways to protect buyers and remain competitive in multiple offers.
6.) Will I be working with you or your underlings?: The “team” real estate approach has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. I, myself, team up with my in-laws on a three-person group within our brokerage, RealtyTrust Residential. However, it’s our practice to have either myself, or my business-partner, Bill Berkley, be the only people our clients speak with.
There are also some super-teams out there. The team-leader will usually focus on getting listings and then when a house goes under contract, he/she will pass things along to a transaction-coordinator who becomes the go-between for the buyer agent and the sellers.
The team-leader will also often employ one, several, or dozens of buyer agents whom he/she will feed leads to and then take a cut of their earnings. Again, these buyer agents will often pass things along to a transaction coordinator once a property is under contract.
I, myself, am not a fan of these big-team concepts. In my own world, I believe the agent him/herself should maintain direct contact with the client throughout the process, and also be the person negotiating with the buyer agent. Big-team transactions can sometimes suffer from communication problems and leave clients on both sides of the transaction feeling unsatisfied.
This is really up to you, though. If direct contact and accessibility to your agent doesn’t really matter to you, than this question will only carry so much weight.
7.) What is your availability and can you guarantee you’ll return calls?: One of the other big complaints about real estate agents is they won’t call you back. This is usually the sign of an agent who doesn’t care about their business – or you, the client.
Understand the ground rules from the beginning:
- Is the agent available on weekends?
- Does the agent return calls at night?
- Will the agent respond to text messages and emails in addition to phone calls?
- Will someone else cover the agent in the event they are on vacation or have other obligations?
Different agents have different business models. Understand what you’re getting into and keep the agent accountable to what is promised. Heck, get it in writing so that if the agent continually breaches an agreed-to level of service you can fire them and find someone better.
8.) Will you provide me with three recent clients whom I can interview?: It doesn’t hurt to also interview the people who have already worked with the agent you’re considering. Don’t be fooled – you’ll probably be handed cherry-picked former clients who will sing the praises of the agent you’re considering.
You could always throw the agent a curveball and look up their previous sales on a source like Zillow (assuming the agent has the wherewithal to actually keep an up-to-date profile,) and pick three random transactions out yourself and ask to speak with those clients.
So, there you have it – 8 interview questions to ask your prospective Nolensville Realtor®. These aren’t foolproof, but they should help guide you toward making a smarter hire. Good luck and happy buying and selling!
Flint Adam and his family live in Nolensville’s Bent Creek community and he proudly focuses his real estate practice right here in town. Call him today at 615-500-6393 and discuss how he can help solve your real estate buying and selling needs.