If you’ve identified a few real estate agents who seem like good candidates to sell your house and have checked out their websites (see the Nolo article “Choosing a Real Estate Agent to Sell Your Home”), the next step is to arrange an in-person meeting. Allow at least one hour to show the agent your home and discuss possible prices and issues in the sale. Here are the topics you want to discuss:
The agent’s training and background. You should only consider someone who is licensed by your state, meaning the agent has met minimum levels of education, training, and testing. You'll get someone with even more education if you hire a "broker" (someone with the power to oversee ordinary agents). Ask whether the agent is a member of a respected trade association such as the National Association of Realtors (NAR), or has special credentials, such as "CRS" (Certified Residential Specialist).
The agent’s experience. Look for at someone who has at least three years’ experience selling residential real estate, and a track record selling homes like yours—both in terms of geographic area and type of property. For example, someone who has sold lots of new homes in a planned unit development might not be the best match for your 50-year old suburban ranch house.
Recommended sales price for your home. Each real estate agent should come to your meeting with a comparable market analysis (CMA) of homes similar to yours (in size, amenities, and location) that are either on the market or have sold within a reasonable recent time period (ideally three months, but no more than six). The CMA should also include comparable houses that were listed but expired (most likely because the house was priced too high and no one bought). When it’s close to the date you actually list your house, the agent will update the CMA and suggest a range of prices. You’ll want to ask lots of questions about the CMA and make sure you feel the listing price seems reasonable. Unless it’s a seller’s market, with little competition and lots of buyer demand, you’ll want to be careful not to overprice the house. Underpricing is usually less of a concern, as prospective buyers will spot a bargain, swarm in, and drive the price up. Whatever you do, don’t choose the agent who thinks they can get the highest price for your house! They may be just trying to get your business with big promises.
Also do your own homework on home sales, by checking out websites containing real estate listings, such as www.realtor.com, by the National Association of Realtors (NAR), and websites that collect data on actual selling prices, such as Zillow or Trulia. For more on the subject, see the Nolo article “Listing Your House: What List Price Should You Set?”
Houses that the agent has sold within the last year (addresses and prices). Listing and sales dates and prices will give you a good sense of the agent’s success selling homes. If there’s a big gap (in a negative way) between the listing price and the selling price of homes the agent sold in the past year, the agent might be unrealistic when recommending a listing price. Or if the agent’s listings took an unusually long time to sell (if at all), this may tell you the house wasn’t priced appropriately (or marketed enough). Of course, if none of the agent’s properties are similar to yours, this might not be a good match.
Suggested marketing plan. Find out how the agent plans to bring your house to the attention of interested buyers—and why the agent believes past strategies will work for your home. If the agent doesn’t do open houses or take out ads in local newspapers, and you think those would be good ways to sell your house, find out why.
Recommended prep work you’ll need to do before listing the house. A good agent will provide specific advice on what would make your house more marketable—such as a major downsizing of house furniture, yard cleanup, painting, and other spiffing up. In cases of older properties, the agent may suggest you arrange a professional inspection by an experienced contractor so that you are aware of any hidden problems. (This won’t be the same person who does an inspection for the buyer. See the Nolo article “Getting a Home Inspection” for details.)
References. Ask the agent to provide at least three names of current or former clients who sold their homes within the last year. Then call these people and ask how they liked working with the agent, whether there were any problems, and any other relevant questions.
The agent’s commission. Expect to pay somewhere 5% to 6% of the home’s sales price (to be split between your agent and the buyer’s agent), but this may vary depending on many factors, including the selling price of your home.
Your final decision should be based on the above factors as well as intangibles, such as how easy you feel it will be to work with a particular agent and how organized and detail-oriented the agent seems. If an agent comes late to your initial meeting and is interrupted by constant phone calls, think twice. (Of course, if the agent is in the middle of closing a deal, there may be urgent calls the agent needs to take, but the agent should explain this before you start your interview.) If you sense an agent seems overbooked with clients and won’t spend the time and attention you need, keep looking. You don’t want your agent to push you off to a less experienced associate because he or she doesn’t have time to handle key details of your house sale.
Once you’ve found the agent you want to work with, you’ll draw up a formal agreement that spells out details, including the commission you’ll pay. See the Nolo article “Negotiate the Agent’s Commission When Selling Your House” for details.
For more on finding and choosing the best agent to sell your home, including checklists of interview questions, see the Nolo book Selling Your House in a Tough Market, by Ilona Bray and Alayna Schroeder.