Top Questions to Ask a Real Estate Agent

What are the best questions to ask your real estate agent?After her home in Michigan's Upper Peninsula sat on the market for a year without an offer, Rita Gordon and her husband, Bill, were determined to hire a new real-estate agent. "The first time, our family and friends said, 'Go with this person.' We did no due diligence," says Gordon, who has since relocated to Rocky Point, N.C. "This time, we asked for references from sellers with homes similar to ours, on the waterfront in a rural area. We also asked for the real-estate agents' marketing plan, and statistics of home sales for the agents' companies, versus statistics from their competitors."

As Gordon learned, hiring the right agent is more complicated than just taking friends' recommendations (though that's a good start). You have to do some homework. Here are seven questions to ask before hiring a real-estate agent. The answers will help you identify the agent who's best suited to help market and sell your house.

1. How long have you been a real-estate agent? As with any profession, experience matters. The more seasoned the agent, the better representation you're likely to get.

2. Do you sell homes part or full time? The real estate industry has its share of part-timers hoping to stumble onto a few home sales a year. If you're considering hiring a part-time real-estate agent, ask yourself: Am I confident this agent has tracked local activity closely enough to understand today's unpredictable market? Will he or she be able to give my home sale the time and attention it requires?

3. What training do you have? Has the agent earned industry designations or completed specialized training in areas like negotiation or working with first-time buyers? If not, think hard about whether the agent is dedicated enough to the profession to acquire and develop the skills necessary to succeed.

4. How many homes have you sold in the past month, quarter and year? Sales statistics are a quick way to gauge real-estate agents' competence. "I asked three agents for sales statistics from the last six months, because I didn't think the last month or quarter were fair to evaluate in this economy and my home's market," says Gordon. "The agent I chose sent me a spreadsheet showing his statistics and his company's, compared to others within the last two years."

5. What's the average "days on market" for your listings? The best real-estate agents know their clients and market so well that they sell homes faster than their competitors. Ask agents for data that compares the average time it takes them to sell homes with the average time it takes all other agents in the local market.

6. What will you do to market my home? There's a debate among real-estate agents over the value of traditional marketing tools like open houses and newspaper advertising versus website advertising and virtual tours. "I was looking for a well-rounded plan with print and website ads and Internet virtual tours, along with information on how agents would follow up based on what their web statistics told them," says Gordon. If you're not sure which marketing tools are best, ask agents which tools they think will sell your home, and why.

7. How will you keep me informed? A common complaint among consumers is that after they've hired a real-estate agent, there's radio silence. "That was my biggest problem," says Gordon. "I had to call the agent to call to find out information. This time, I specifically asked agents, 'How am I going to know what's going on?' The agent I chose told me he'd send me market statistics every week. I also told him I wanted to chat every six weeks to see what was selling in my home's market."

Gordon knows that she asked a lot of her real-estate agent, but she offers no apologies. "I probably drove this real-estate agent nuts," she says. "But I've been very active this second time around."

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