What Interview Questions to Ask a Realtor Before you Sell a Home?

questions to ask interviewing realtor

About to interview a Realtor to sell your home? Whether you were recommended to this real estate agent by a friend or you found the Realtor online, the next best step is to interview the agent at your home. Yes, you could interview the Realtor online or on the phone, but we recommend the first step (as long as everyone is comfortable) is to schedule an appointment at the home you are considering selling. This will help you gauge the Realtor’s reaction to your property and help you know if the agent is a good fit for your home sale.

1. What are the Exact Terms of your Cancellation Policy?

Okay, I know that sounds like a strange place to start, but it will tell you a lot about the Realtor you’re talking to. The Realtor’s response can be tricky too, so let me help you with that.

Realtor: Oh, you can cancel anytime, we don’t hold anyone’s feet to the fire.
Seller: But what is the term of your contract, how long does it go for?
Realtor: We have 90-day contracts.
Seller: So what happens if I cancel on day 5, can I sell it with another Realty company or by myself on day 6?
Realtor: No it doesn’t work like that, you can cancel, but then you have to wait until the contract expires before you can sell it by yourself or with a different Realty company.
Seller: Oh, so I can’t really cancel anytime then can I?

Realtor: Oh, you can cancel anytime, we don’t hold anyone’s feet to the fire.
Seller: Is there any fee if we do cancel?
Realtor: Yes, it is customary for you to pay for our expenses if you cancel, we spend a lot to hire professional photos, order the yard sign, print material, etc.
Seller: No, actually that isn’t customary in the industry.

Realtor: Oh, you can cancel anytime, we don’t hold anyone’s feet to the fire.
Seller: What happens if a buyer who visited the home when you listed it for us, comes back after our contract with you is cancelled and makes an offer later on?
Realtor: Well, in that case, we’d be due our commission, up to 120 days after the initial term of our contract expires.
Seller: Oh, so then it really isn’t a cancel anytime policy, is it?

As you can see from the above example, not all cancel anytime policies in the real estate industry are equal. In fact, what you’re reading above is common (not standard) practice. Over the years (licensed since 2003) I’ve had to add to my cancellation policy in order for future clients to see in the written text that we do not employ any of these false cancel anytime policies. Our contracts are actually cancel anytime no charge. We don’t ask for the seller to reimburse us for our expenses. We never charge any fees anyway (just our reasonable commission rate if we sell). If a seller cancels with us they can list the home with another Realty company 24 hours later or sell it by owner if they want. There is only one exception to our cancelation policy, if our seller’s home is current pending (they accepted an offer) from a buyer, then the seller can’t unilaterally cancel, it is a multi-party contract at that point and the seller has to follow the rules of the signed home purchase contract. However, if that deal with the buyer falls apart, then we go right back to our cancel anytime, no charge policy with that client.

If in doubt, ask to see the Realtor’s cancelation policy in full, in writing. This will help you know if the real estate agent you’re interviewing is in the industry to serve clients and help people transition well, or if they are most interested in their own paychecks.

A true cancel anytime policy is protection against a fantastic sales pitch.

Some real estate agents are very skilled at making compelling pitches, they make all sorts of wonderful promises and seem to back it up with proof during the presentation, but then after you’ve signed, after you’re locked in, maybe they don’t perform. Maybe you can’t get a hold of them anymore. A true cancel anytime policy protects you from real estate agents like this (and they’re out there).

2. What year did you first get your license? How many homes did you represent as a sellers agent in the last year? How many listings have you sold in your career?

Most real estate agents will be ready to side step a question like this. So I’ll give you some examples:

Seller: What year did you first get licensed?
Agent: I’ve been working in the real estate industry for the last ten years.
Seller: Yes, but what year did you first get licensed?
Agent: I got my license in the state of ___ two years ago, but my Principal (Reviewing/Managing/etc.) Broker has been licensed for 25 years now and he oversees every transaction I’m a part of.
Seller: True, but I might never hear from that person. They typically don’t get involved with the transaction unless something goes wrong right?

Seller: How many homes did you sell in my neighborhood in the last year?
Agent: My team represented hundreds of home sellers in the last year.
Seller: Let me ask you again, how many homes did you represent in the last year?
Agent: I represented clients in twenty home sales last year.
Seller: Okay, I’ll ask just one more time, how many home sellers did you personally represent in the last year?
Agent: Four.

Most real estate agents have prepared answers for these sorts of questions and so a home seller has to ask very specific questions and sometimes repeatedly to get a true picture of the level of experience the agent has across the table from them. It is not enough to ask how long they’ve been licensed, as many licensed agents perform no sales in a year and there is no minimum requirement of sales for them to meet in order to keep their license. It is a good question though, simply needs to be combined with a sales history question.

Verify the real estate agent’s sales record. This is tougher than it might first appear. You can check Zillow’s agent finder as it often shows agents’ sold homes. Be aware the map Zillow displays of the agents’ sales only shows their sales in the last year, you have to scroll down to see their total sales count (as recorded by Zillow). Typically the local MLS system keeps track of all real estate agents’ sales, and is the only official source for this, but there is no public access to the information. The home seller can ask the Realtor to provide an email or print out from the local MLS system that shows their sales, matching what the Realtor told them in the sales pitch.

Verify there isn’t anything nasty on their license. You can verify a Realtor’s license in Oregon (called Broker and Principal Broker) on this site. You can verify a Realtor’s license in Washington (called a Broker and Managing Broker) on this site.

3. What are my total Sellers Closing Costs, what is my Net?

Any professional Realtor should be able to calculate a net for you on the spot, at the appointment, based on the sales price. Sellers closings costs are not as simple as they might first appear. It depends on what state you live in for sure, but it also typically depends on what county and sometimes what city you live in. There is nothing worse for a home seller than to get an offer at your desired sales price and then find out right before you’re about to close on the sale, that you’re getting less money than anticipated. This is also a way to start up the real estate commission question, which we’ll get to next.

4. What do you offer the buyer’s agent in the MLS, and what do you charge in commission? Does your commission rate change for any reason?

All real estate commissions are negotiable and there is no set standard. That’s good for the industry, but it also means you’ll want to be aware of what your sellers agent is offering the buyers agent if they bring an offer. Many sellers assume the commission is split 50/50, but that would be wrong! More often than not, there is no 50/50 split happening. If you can, find out what buyers agents are offered in the MLS in your area.

Commission rates can also change based on circumstance. In fact, it is a good thing if they do so! Let’s say the seller brings a buyer, will the commission be less? What happens if the buyer represents themselves and there is no buyer’s agent to pay? Will the sellers agent take the full commission amount for themselves? What happens to the commission rate if the sellers agent represents both the buyer and the seller (if that is something you want to allow as the seller)? If the real estate agent you’re interviewing has one set commission rate that doesn’t change no matter what circumstances might arise, that’s a red flag. It means they want full commission no matter what, and personally, I don’t think that is fair to the home seller. Our commission rates change (only go down) depending on certain circumstances.

5. How will you market my home for sale?

This is another question all real estate agents will be ready for. Best thing I can do here is point you to NAR, National Association of Realtors, Research on how homes actually sell every year – what makes them sell. Here is a quick summary:

97% of home buyers search online. 51% of buyers identify the home they will end up buying online. 28% of the time real estate agents send them a house the buyer looks at online first, then they buy it.
6% of home buyers purchase a home because they saw a yard sign or open house sign.
2% of home buyers purchase a home because they already knew the sellers.
1% of home buyers find the home they purchased any other way.

The reason the above adds up to over 100% is because everyone basically shops online for their next home. The 6% that found the home they bought because of a yard sign or open house event – also looked online.

Looking at the research, you’ll quickly want to know and somehow be able to gauge the effectiveness of that Realtor’s online marketing efforts on behalf of your home.

Seller: How will you market my home online to the public?
Agent: Oh, your home will be EVERYWHERE online. Thousands of websites.
Seller: Right, that’s how it works though. The Realtor puts the home on the MLS and it goes EVERYWHERE. What do you do that is different?
Agent: We have 10,000 social media followers and we’ll feature your home on our socials and everyone will see it.
Seller: Right but, no one uses social media to find their next home. They use Zillow, Realtor.com, Redfin, etc. Social media is for your fans, not really for online home shoppers. I heard Zillow alone has a 36% share of all home buying traffic online.
Agent: We post the home on craigslist.
Seller: Hmmm. I don’t think craigslist is in the top ten of major real estate portals.
Agent: Well your home will be on all those sites!
Seller: Right, like all other Agents who use the MLS.

Seller: How will you market my home to the agents licensed in this state?
Agent: Yes! We email the top 2000 agents in the state featuring your home in an email.
Seller: Oh. I thought agents used their local MLS systems to find homes for their clients, not shop for them in their email inboxes.
Agent: They are really nice-looking emails, grabs their attention.
Seller: Probably lands in their spam folder.
Agent: Well I’m a part of the biggest network of agents in the country / world!
Seller: Fantastic. How many of those are actually licensed to sell a house in my state? And if those agents are in my state, how will you get a hold of them with my home’s information? Send them a postcard, send out an email blast?
Agent: Yes and yes!
Seller: Interesting. I’m sure they are waiting by their mailbox to find out what new homes are for sale in their state.

Know what works and what doesn’t.

A lot of what real estate agents do to market your home, other than putting it on the MLS (and providing proper media like professional photos, 3D, drone, etc.) exists to have something else to say in a listing presentation and has no material effect on the home sale itself. I’ve spent many years as a sellers agent specialist, trying to figure out what actually moves the needle for my clients.

Three Common Mistakes Home Sellers Make when Picking a Sellers Agent

  1. Going with a friend’s or family’s recommendation without vetting the Realtor for themselves. Any real estate agent can get lucky in one transaction. Perhaps they had easy to work with home buyers on the other side or the market conditions were so far in the seller’s favor the home sale had no hurdles to overcome. You want an agent that didn’t get lucky that one time. You want an agent with a consistent, extensive success record.
  2. Going with the agent that emotionally appeared to love their home the most and told them the highest sales price. As a home seller it can be easy to get wrapped up in the emotions of a home sale and picking the agent that seems the most excited about selling the home. Emotional excitement over the home is not the same thing as a valid sales strategy. Many agents will list your home at any price tag because they know their contract will lock you in and isn’t really cancel anytime.
  3. Going with the agent who answered the phone first. Do not assume all real estate agents are the same and will give you equal advice, an equal home selling experience, and an equal chance to sell your home for a good price. Real estate agents are more experienced than one another, have differing levels of customer service, and have differing marketing strategies (and different commission rates).

If your home is in Oregon or Washington State …

We’d love to be interviewed by you! You can see a good summary of what we offer home sellers here, but we definitely would prefer to meet you in person at your property (when possible) and answer all of your questions to see if we are your best fit for your next home sale. Give our main line a call to set up an appointment today! 503-714-1111

May 21, 2021

Stephen FitzMaurice

Stephen FitzMaurice, Realtor is a top 5% real estate agent in the U.S. A Principal Broker in Oregon, Managing Broker in Washington, he has been licensed since 2003 for residential real estate sales. Call his team in Oregon at 503-714-1111 or in Washington at 360-345-3833.

4% max to sell a home in Portland and SW Washington.
4.25% max to sell a home in Salem and Bend.
Over 2,000 homes sold.