A real estate agent is your trusted guide, bulldog negotiator, and project manager of the homebuying process, so selecting the right agent for you can make or break your homebuying experience. There are thousands of real estate agents in the Twin Cities who want to work with you–so how do you choose? And what questions should you ask as you interview candidates for the job?
First, it helps to understand what a real estate agent does and how they bring value to your homebuying experience.
Here are some of the things they’ll do:
- Share their knowledge of the market to help you select the neighborhood and home that meets your needs.
- Recommend professionals to join your team (including your mortgage broker, home inspector, and title/closing team).
- Negotiate (and re-negotiate) the terms of the sale with the sellers’ agent.
- Draft the binding contracts that ensure the successful closing of the property.
- Keep in contact with everyone in the process to ensure a smooth and timely closing.
They’ll also be a friend to talk to as you go through the process. You’ll be spending long hours over the coming weeks with your agent, so it’s especially important to make sure you have a good working relationship. Here are some questions we recommend you ask:
1. How long have you been working in this area?
There are dozens of pocket neighborhoods in the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs, and it’s impossible to know them all. An agent experienced in the areas that you’re attracted to can help you find hidden gems. They’ll also know other agents who specialize in those neighborhoods to get leads on upcoming listings and use their knowledge to help you during the negotiations.
2. Do you regularly work with first-time homebuyers
Real estate agents have different specialties–some work exclusively with sellers, and some work exclusively with buyers–but most have a good mix of buyers and sellers in their client roster. Looking for an agent who works with first-time homebuyers is a good idea because they’ll understand the programs that are out there for you (including mortgage options, down payment assistance, etc.). They’ve been down this path before and can help you navigate the process in a way that someone who works exclusively with home sellers might not.
3. What is your process like, and what can I expect from you?
Real estate agents are self-employed, so they set their own working conditions and hours. Understanding what working with the agent will be like will help you decide if they’re a good fit for you. Consider following up with questions like the following:
- What hours do you work?
- How often will you be in touch with me, and how often can I expect to see new listings?
- What is the best way to get a hold of you?
- When we find a house to look at, how quickly can we go see it?
4. How many other clients are you currently working with?
Rarely will you be your agent’s only client. The buying process takes a minimum of 30-45 days, so agents are constantly juggling multiple clients. Knowing how many other clients they’re working with can give you a good idea of the kind of priority you will be.
5. Will I be working with you or an assistant?
Many real estate agents work on teams with people who specialize in different areas. Working with a team can have significant benefits for buyers and sellers. Still, you want to know exactly who you will be working with. If you meet a big name agent and decide you want to work with them, they should tell you upfront who you’ll actually be working with day to day.
6. What is your negotiating style?
Find out if your agent is a pit bull who wins at all costs–or more of a win-win negotiator. Once you’ve found a property to buy, your agent will handle negotiations on your behalf. It is important to know how they operate in negotiations and that you feel comfortable with their style.
7. What is your commission?
The vast majority of real estate agents are self-employed and paid on commission–they’re not drawing a salary–so it’s important for you to understand where their compensation is coming from. As a general rule of thumb, your agent will be paid out of the proceeds of the sale, but occasionally there are hiccups, and you can be held responsible for their pay. Understanding how this works and if there are any additional fees you will need to cover is important.
8. Do you have references I can call?
Just like any other job interview, check an agent’s references. They should have a few names of people you can call and ask about what it was like working with them.
According to the National Association of Realtors, the typical homebuyer in the Twin Cities lives in their home for more than a decade–so you’re making a decision that’s going to affect you for a long time to come–and selecting the right agent to help guide you through the process is essential.