Real estate is a complicated business. Whether you are buying or selling a home, a real estate agent can be a big help through the process. Not all agents are equal though. There is a major difference in training, experience, and quality of service between agents.
Taking the time to find an excellent agent will save you both stress and money. Whether you are looking to buy or sell a home, there are five key questions you should always ask a real estate agent to make sure he or she is right for you.

1. Ask a Real Estate Agent: How Long Have You Been in the Business?

The real estate industry is a high turnover business with many new realtors coming in. You don’t want your deal to serve as training for a brand new agent. We would recommend working with a realtor that has at least five years of experience. At this point, they will have handled enough transactions that they could properly handle surprises or tough situations. Just make sure that all their years have been full-time experience, not part-time.
Also, ask for their average list-price-to-sales ratio. This figure shows your realtor’s negotiating abilities. A good buyer’s agent should have a ratio below 99 percent because this shows they negotiate deals. A good seller’s agent should be close to 100 percent because that means they don’t have to cave on price to make a sale.

2. Can You Provide References of Past Clients?

One of the best ways to test how an agent will treat you as a client is by asking to speak to their previous clients. Ask a real estate agent if they can provide the names of some of their past clients and see whether they’ll let you call them up. If a realtor did a great job in the past, chances are they’ll come through for you as well.
To get a decent sample, we would recommend you ask for five referrals. Most agents have one or two clients that are willing to vouch for them; great agents have many. When you contact any references, ask if they are related to the real estate agent in any way, like a friend or family member. It’s important to make sure your feedback isn’t biased.

3. What is Your Plan for Reaching My Goal?

5 key questions to ask a real estate agent
Your real estate agent should have a clear idea about how to reach your housing goal. In response to this question, they should be able to outline a few strategies for what they plan to do.
As a buyer, expect to hear:

  • How they search for properties.
  • How many homes do they expect you’ll need to look at.
  • How they handle competition from other buyers.
  • How they handle offers.

If you are selling, you need to know:

  • The types of advertising they use (direct mail, classified ads, online ads, etc.)
  • How frequently do they plan on advertising?
  • How long do they expect it will take to sell your home.

A good agent should already have a clear plan in mind. If they appear unsure, that’s not a good sign.

4. How Much Do You Charge?

You’re going to end up paying a fee when you use a realtor, called a commission. The commission will end up being a percentage of the sale price of your home, typically a 6 percent split between the buyer and seller. It can be negotiable, so always ask if you can get a discount.
In addition, ask a real estate agent how they handle cancellations. Will they still charge their commission if you don’t like their service and cancel? Real estate deals occasionally don’t work out, so you need to know how they’ll handle this situation.

5. How Well Do You Know My Area?

At some point during your meeting, ask the realtor for a comparative market analysis (CMA) of your target area. This sheet lists the details of homes in the area that are for sale or have recently sold. Ask the realtor to walk you through the details of these properties. How many rooms do they have? How long did each take to sell on average? What were the average price and square footage?
Beyond these basic questions, also test the realtor’s expectations for the future of an area. Is it growing or shrinking? How are the surrounding schools and job market? What types of properties are in the area? Your realtor should be an expert on your target area. As a buyer, this will help them find the right property for you. As a seller, this means they’ll be better able to market your home to potential buyers.
Keep these questions to ask a real estate agent in mind when attending your first meeting. If they can answer all five well, chances are you’ve found the right person for the job.

Elizabeth Yun
Liz has been a writer and editor for over 15 years. Over the course of her career she has covered real estate, tech, health and wellness, and fitness for a variety of print and digital publications. Her writing has appeared in Men's Journal, Everyday Health, Muscle & Fitness, and HuffPost. She spends the majority of her free time rock climbing, making ceramics, experimenting with new cuisines, and exploring the outdoors.

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