5 questions to ask before hiring a real estate agent to sell your home

Whether you want to relocate for work, downsize, or get more living space, if you've been thinking about selling your home, now's a good time to do it. Spring is prime season for listing homes in most U.S. markets, and with interest rates slowly but surely starting to climb, it pays to put your property out there when more buyers might have the opportunity to bite.

Selling a home, however, can be complicated, which is why many property owners hire a real estate agent rather than tackle it themselves. If you're interested in going this route, here are a few key questions that'll help you vet the professionals you speak with.

1. What fee do you charge?

Real estate agents don't do all that hard work for nothing; they expect a commission, which will typically equal 5% to 6% of the price your home sells for. But there's room for negotiation. When you talk to agents, see what fees they're looking to charge and whether there's wiggle room to come down a little. Even if you get a good feel for a certain agent, it pays to speak to others to ensure that the fee that person wants is competitive in your area.

2. What do you think my home is worth, and why?

It's your real estate agent's job to price your home just right, and that means doing research and knowing the local market well. As you look for someone to sell your home, figure out what methods that person is using to set a listing price.

And don't automatically choose the agent who gives you the highest number, either. Some will tell you what they think you want to hear, list your home at an unattainable figure, get your hopes up, and then dash your dreams when offers don't come in and you're forced to lower your asking price. You're better off finding an agent whose numbers are realistic.

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3. How many homes have you sold in my neighborhood?

Real estate agents can be good at their job in general, but that doesn't mean they know your local area inside and out. Some homes have nuances that make them stand out within their neighborhood, so if your agent isn't intimately familiar with yours, it could hurt you by way of missed opportunities to sell your home for the best possible price.

For example, imagine your home is one of the few in your area that has a basement. That's a valuable selling point. But your agent needs to know that to help you capitalize.

4. How will you market my home?

Most real estate agents, once hired, will take the minimum steps of putting your home on the multiple listing service (MLS), a massive database of home listings, and scheduling open houses for potential buyers to come look. But if you want the most bang for your buck, hire one who will take more than these basic steps. Before signing a contract, ask about the agent's plans to spread the word about your property, whether it's by advertising in local newsletters or even scattering signs throughout the neighborhood. Remember: You're paying a lot in the commission, so there's no reason your agent shouldn't hustle for you.

5. Will you help stage my home?

One good way to appeal to buyers is to stage your home the right way. But home staging can be expensive. According to Realtor.com, it'll cost you $2,000 to $2,400 per month, on average, to hire a professional to stage a 2,000-square-foot property. The good news is that some real estate agents offer this service free, and have the supplies needed to pull it off successfully. Find out whether a prospective agent is willing to set up your home to increase your chances of success -- or at least help you do so yourself.

Choosing the right real estate agent could be the difference between selling your home quickly or having it sit on the market for months on end. The longer your home remains listed, the more that potential buyers will try to get you to come down on price -- so take the time to vet your agent appropriately.