Choosing a realtor is an important decision, one which you want to take your time making. The right realtor can help you score the best deal when you buy or sell. The wrong realtor can slow down your process, fail to secure the best price, and charge a hefty commission. Before you allow your brothers’ former college roommate to serve as your realtor make sure you do some homework. Here are some questions and issues you want to look for as you screen potential realtors.

Are they Licensed?

Realtors, like so many other professions have a licensing process to help protect customers. They don’t give out those Century 21 jackets for free! We would suggest that you always choose a licensed realtor, and one that represents you throughout your purchase or sale. There may be instances in which your realtor is being assisted by an unlicensed assistant, just be sure you know what that person can or cannot do. In most cases they can help with simple administrative tasks. If you’re ever unsure of what a unlicensed assistant can do, your state will have specific limitations.

Ask your potential agent “are you licensed” and “when was the last time your license was updated? Then go out and look up their license. You especially want to do this with independent agents that don’t work for a real estate company. Don’t take someone’s word for it, do some research and find their license. Each state has a database of licensed agents. A quick Google search for “licensed realtors in …” will help you get the information you need. Or if you prefer a one stop shop can help you find licensed agents in your area.

What’s Their Commission?

This is a big one, how much will your realtor make off your transaction? Buying or selling a home may be your most important financial decision. Make sure that you know what your realtors cut is going to be. Be straight up with them as you are looking at properties. If you aren’t sure how to ask without offending your agent (good agents shouldn’t be offended) here are some suggestions:

  • Can you tell me about how you make money through this transaction?
  • Would you mind telling me about your commission structure?
  • Walk me through what money will be going to you?

Your realtor should be paid for their work, but many people don’t know the going rate for those services. Average real estate commission is 6% of the purchase price. A $200,000 home will cost $12,000 in realtor commission, and this is usually split between your agent and the seller’s agent. If you are able to secure a lower commission,  that will save on your overall transaction. Ask what your realtors commission is and don’t be afraid to shop around for the best deal.

How Many Deals Have They Closed In Your Area?

Experience is worth paying for when it comes to real estate. Ask your realtor about their track record in your area. Do they have a specialty in terms of their client base or properties? It is perfectly fine to specialize but if you as a client are outside their expertise your experience can suffer. A new realtor may be hungry to cut their teeth but let them learn with someone else. Find a realtor who knows the neighborhoods you’re most interested in and refuse to compromise. You’ll know you’ve found your realtor when you find the right combination of competence and fit with your personality. Depending on your home search you may be spending a ton of time with this person. Make sure your personalities are compatible.

Ask to Speak With Recent Clients.

This may sound a little unusual but finding first hand reviews for a realtor is priceless. Most realtors will have online reviews for their services but they can’t always be trusted. Ask your potential realtors for some recent clients who would recommend them. If they are proactive they will have cultivated this list to give to future clients like you. Speaking to previous customers will let you ask all the questions you want and get real answers.

What has been your experience with realtors? Any suggestions for future buyers and sellers? Post a comment below and share a little bit of your home buying story.