Before signing on to work with a particular real estate agent, it's par for the course to suss out how this pro will meet your needs by asking some questions. For example: How many homes have you sold? What neighborhoods do you specialize in?
While these are all perfectly fine questions to ask, they'll take you only so far.
To really know which real estate agent is right for you, you'll need to throw a few curveballs and dig beneath the surface. To get you started, here are some more surprising questions you probably never thought to ask a real estate agent but totally should—because they can shed a whole new light on this professional's abilities, weaknesses, and personality.
1. Who has been your most challenging client, and how did you handle it?
This is a great question because it sheds light not only on an agent's biggest horror story, but also on how the agent deals with the inevitable challenges and tensions that crop up when buying a home.
“Any potential client who sees their prospective agent trashing a former client should immediately wonder what the agent might eventually say about them," points out Kevin Deselms with Re/Max Alliance in Golden, CO.
All in all, you want an agent who shows he has patience with all personality types, and who is happy to teach his clients what he knows. In particular, “First-time home buyers tend to be skittish and cautious about every item, but an agent's job is to reassure and educate them,” Deselms says.
2. If you were looking to buy a place, where would you move and why?
This can give you some insight into what neighborhoods are being buzzed about as “up-and-coming.” But you also want to consider the source: Do your agent’s needs necessarily align with yours? Having an agent with a similar lifestyle can make it easier for the pro to pinpoint factors that might matter to you, too, says Brian Simmons, CEO of Ask a Lender.
For example, if your agent has kids, she'll be clued in to which neighborhoods have the best parks and schools, or if she's outdoorsy, she can point you to locations with hiking trails and bike paths.
Another way to get a more personal viewpoint is to ask, "If I were a friend or family member, where would you recommend I live?" This question is telling because it prompts the agent to put his loved ones in your shoes.
“It’s liable to lead to more detailed observations and maybe a more specific pro/con list than an agent might initially have offered," says Michael Edlen, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker.
3. How can you help me narrow down my choices and fit house hunting into my busy schedule?
Visiting house after house is not only exhausting, but also time-consuming. So it's smart to find out if—and how—your agent is willing to do some of the legwork for you, suggests real estate agent Kerri O’Hara, relocation specialist and new construction specialist with BHGRE 43 Degrees North.
"I’ll go to a new listing when my buyers are at work and shoot a video, then give my honest opinion on any positive or negative features, which can help us eliminate a visit to a home that doesn’t work from the start,” O’Hara says.
See if your agent is able to help you whittle down your options and save you time. If all he says is, "Why don't you just look through listings and tell me what you'd like to see," that could be a sign he won't go the extra mile.
4. What are some ways to make my offer more attractive besides just increasing the price?
If you want to nab a house in a hot market, money talks, of course, but home buyers should expect their agent to have more tricks up her sleeve than just upping the offer, says Deselms.
For instance, your agent should be able to ask the right questions that can give you an advantage, such as whether the sellers need a quick closing because they’re relocating, or conversely if they want to wait until the school year is over before moving their kids.
All in all, Deselms points out, “Good agents will have a laundry list of possibilities, based on the information they can get."
5. How do you help buyers come to a decision?
A list of pros and cons can take you only so far sometimes. What you may need is some professional input from a third party, so make sure your agent is someone you will feel comfortable using as a sounding board, O’Hara says.
“When you see a lot of homes, it’s easy to get distracted by the pretty fixtures or the great backyard," O'Hara explains, "so you want agents who help their clients focus on what they really need.”
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