Top Five Questions for Buyer’s Agents: Avoiding Knuckleheads and Hiring Superstars

Last Sunday it was snowing, again, yet all the open houses were still open. I hosted my own open house in Newton, Massachusetts when a colleague of mine, Carl, came in to preview the house for his clients who were on a ski trip.


Observing the four feet of snow on the deck he said, “We real estate agents are such an optimistic bunch.  We call this, ‘Spring Market.’”

As far as the real estate community is concerned, spring is here. The buyers are out and about, the sellers are finally thinking of selling. Judging from the traffic at an open house during a blizzard, we are in for a busy few months.

In the past few weeks I met many new homebuyers, poking around online, thinking about homes and locations. Homebuyers are more knowledgeable than ever, and more prepared for the market than in past years. Still, with all the information available at their fingertips, homebuyers are not hitting the nail on the head with their buyer’s agents.

Often, very little conscious thought goes into hiring the right buyer’s agent. It is usually an unplanned situation, working with an agent who followed-up after an open house, or someone’s cousin with a part time real estate gig. Those candidates may be great, but did you really think this through?

Here are the top five questions you should ask a prospective buyer’s agent before hiring anyone:

  1. What is your experience working with home buyers?

There is no magic number of years or transactions. New agents need the work, and will probably serve you more enthusiastically.  You may choose experience over enthusiasm, but the ideal is to have both.

If a new agent impresses you favorably, make sure he or she is part of a solid office. For example, William Raveis is very selective with its new hires. New agents have a manager and a seasoned agent both looking over their shoulder, helping them through every step.

An experienced agent will be able to give you insight and help. Count experience in the number of transactions than years. Just because someone has had a license since the Carter administration doesn’t mean they understand the subtleties of your needs.

  1. Can I have some references?

Don’t just resort to online research, but ask for references. A past home buyer can give you insight and will be great help to learn if this agent is right for you. A new agent may have one or two references, but if those buyers felt heard and well cared-for, that may be all you need.

  1. How do you work differently?

Every person on earth has a different personality and a unique talent. Every agent has their own way of doing things.  If someone can’t tell you why he or she is special, well, this person has a problem much bigger than a real estate career. You will be spending a lot of time with your agent, so you should work with someone you like, you trust, and whose methods make sense to you.

  1. Do we need to sign a buyer agency contract?

This can be a touchy subject. Some agencies push new agents to have a buyer agency contract signed before you even look at a property. I personally think that’s nuts. Buyer agency contracts are a bilateral agreement, which obligates the agent to the buyer and the buyer to the agent.

Exclusive buyer agency agreements should be short term with an agent you just met, and extended upon expiration if you wish. Beware of agents overly concerned with signing paperwork before you can remember their names. They are missing the point of the word, SERVICE.

  1. How is the market?

You should have little tolerance for any agent who doesn’t understand the real estate market economics in their local niche. To understand the market they should know where to find the statistics, be interested in the trends, be actively working, and maybe keep up with some trade magazines.

If you ask about the market and get a short wishy-washy answer, run. You don’t need to be an expert, but you have to hire someone who is an expert. Market knowledge will affect:

  • The offer you write
  • The negotiation of offer to closing
  • The advice you receive along the way

For example, some buyers hired agents who were not able to handle the aggressive seller’s market in Boston in 2013-2014. They ended up not buying new homes, even though they had the desire and the money.

If you are thinking of buying a home, start by considering who you want to hire to manage the process for you.  Don’t be shy about interviewing agents, learn what they can offer, and make a thoughtful decision.

Ruth Lerner is a REALTOR® with William Raveis Real Estate in Brookline, MA.  Ruth Lerner specializes in condo sales in Brookline and Boston.  Ruth and her team represent many first time homebuyers and are happy to answer your questions.



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