10 Money-Saving Questions to Ask a Real Estate Agent

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DON'T BE SHY ABOUT ASKING

When perusing the listings of homes for sale, it may seem easiest to just contact the first real estate agent who pops up or whose name appears in the mailer you received. But the truth is, real estate agents have widely varying styles, strengths, and fee structures. You can save money by doing a little digging before hiring a salesperson to represent you. By asking the following questions, some of which pertain to sellers as well, you'll get a better sense of whether the agent is a good fit for you.

WHAT ARE YOUR FEES?

Real estate agents charge a commission based on the sale price of the home. Usually this is about six percent for the seller's agent. A buyer's agent typically gets another two to three percent, but that figure varies. Make sure you know from the get-go how much your agent takes so there are no surprises.

ARE FEES NEGOTIABLE?

A six percent seller's agent fee can wind up being a lot of money. Find out how willing the agent is to negotiate on the commission, and whether he or she factors in local market conditions when setting fees. Remember, anything having to do with real estate is, by tradition, negotiable.

WHAT IS THE TERMINATION POLICY?

If the relationship with your agent isn't proceeding as expected, it's important to know in advance what your options are. As Realtor.com notes, a signed contract is legally binding, and neither real estate agent nor client can simply change their mind without consequences. Be clear about the specifics (get them in writing) of your commitments and that of the agent before entering into a formal relationship.

WHAT ARE YOUR NEGOTIATION STRATEGIES?

Understanding the agent's business approach can help with common home-buying situations. How aggressively will the agent advocate for you in the face of an unbending seller? Will he or she advise you to just pay up or do everything in their power to negotiate a price closer to your bottom line?  Such questions also ensure that you're on the same page as the agent about the buying process before embarking on it.

WHAT PRICE RANGE DO YOU USUALLY WORK WITH?

An agent familiar with your price range and what it buys is likely to do best by you. A real estate salesperson who typically handles multi-million dollar listings may not give a first-time home buyer with a budget of $200,000 the same care and attention. The opposite also holds: Agents used to working in the entry-level market may not provide the level of service expected by buyers with millions to lavish on a home.

HOW MANY SALES HAVE YOU MANAGED IN THIS NEIGHBORHOOD?

The agent you choose should have a proven track record of recent deals in your target neighborhood. You may also want to ask how much of a discount from the asking price the agent typically secures for buyers.

HOW MANY CLIENTS DO YOU TAKE ON AT ONCE?

An agent with an overload of clients may not be able to give you the time you need, especially if a little extra hand-holding is on order. Conversely, an agent with too few clients may not have as good a hold on what's happening in the local market.

WHAT SERVICES DO YOU PROVIDE?

A real estate agent should be able to provide a range of services that go beyond showing homes. In addition to educating you about the market, he or she should also handle tasks such as closing, inspections, and advice on possible repairs. A well-rounded agent plays the role of your personal advocate through all aspects of the home-buying process.

WILL YOU REPRESENT BOTH BUYER AND SELLER IN A TRANSACTION?

If an agent represents owners of the homes you'll be looking at, this can create a real conundrum. After all, the seller wants to sell high and the buyer wants to buy low. If the sales agent is willing to work with you when bidding for homes they currently represent, tread carefully. In the best case scenario this could work to your advantage because the total commission may be less. Still, it's hard to know who the agent is really working for.

WILL I WORK WITH YOU ONLY?

You'll want to know beforehand if some of the agent's duties will be handed off to an assistant. This is not necessarily a red flag, but it's important to make sure you can reach the agent when necessary and not be passed along. The assistant or team member may not have the experience to negotiate or handle money matters on the same level as your agent.