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Sitting through countless listing appointments over the years, I have discovered a pattern in the questions sellers ask while interviewing me as a potential listing agent. Some of the queries are meaningful, including: How many homes have you sold in the past 12 months? Can you provide a list of past clients I can contact? How do you plan to market the home? What is included in your services?
Unsure of what to ask a listing agent, homeowners frequently turn to the internet for help. Turns out, Google is your friend, it offers lots of “helpful suggestions,” including “24 Questions to Ask a Real Estate Agent Worth Their Salt” (HomeLight), “Top 30 Interview Questions to Ask a Listing Agent” (UpNest), “Interviewing Real Estate Agents: Best Questions to Ask Listing Agents” (Zillow) and more.
Sellers will frequently download a list of questions and then go through them line by line with prospective agents. As a result, during my hundreds of appointments over the years, I have frequently encountered the same list. Although many of the questions are valid, others are bogus. The irony is — they sound so good. Here are our top eight bogus questions.
1. Can I see your real estate license?
Most agents I know do not carry around their license. In fact, it’s usually hanging on the wall in their office. Although some states provide a handy credit card-sized license, most Realtors already have enough cards in their wallet.
In our state, finding out if an agent is licensed and in good standing is incredibly easy. We are required to have our license number on everything: emails, websites, business cards and so on.
All a homeowner needs to do is type “verify a real estate license” into Google, and the applicable state’s department of real estate website will pop up. Most have a button on the front page to click to verify a license. Type in the agent’s number, and the info will immediately appear, along with details that will never show up on an actual license, including any disciplinary actions, suspensions and so on.
2. What is the average days on market (DOM) for your listings?
Sounds like a great question, right? The seller wants to know how long they can expect their home to sit on the market. There are a few problems, however, that have nothing to do with how effective any given agent might be.
- Part of an agent’s job is to coach sellers to launch their home onto the market with an effective and realistic price. Some sellers, however, have an inflated idea of the value of their home and insist on listing way above current values. These homes typically languish on the market and run the DOM counter up like the altimeter on a rapidly rising airplane.
- A home might get knocked out of escrow for any number of reasons and need to return to the market, therefore increasing the DOM.
- In this current overheated market with limited inventory, agents frequently keep homes on the market longer than necessary to prime their properties for multiple offers. It’s not unusual for us to get calls within hours of putting a home on the market with requests to allow preemptive offers. Simple fact: Currently, we could sell most of our listings within a few hours, but to maximize exposure and get the highest prices and best terms, we post an offer deadline and leave them on the market approximately a week. Instead of the DOM showing zero days, it typically shows six to eight days. Some agents in our region only allow three to four days.
- How long a home sits on the market is a direct reflection of what type of buyers are actively looking at the exact moment a property goes live. This is especially true of higher-priced homes or properties with unique features. If you have a horse property listed, but no one is currently looking for an equestrian facility, you may be sitting there a while.
- With most buyers giving listings only 7-10 seconds, if a seller does not allow effective property prep or staging, or the agent choses to upload shoddy pictures, most buyers will swipe left and go to the next listing.
The bottom line to this question is this: There are many factors affecting DOM for any given listing, and high numbers are frequently not the fault of the listing agent.
To use this number to validate any given listing agent’s capabilities is simply not realistic. A better question might be: “How many homes have you listed this past year, and how many have closed?”
3. What is your list-to-sale price ratio?
Based on the previous question, you might already be able to see a few problems with this question.
- If a seller lists higher than the current market reality, offers — if they come in at all — will usually be lower than list price, providing a negative list-to-price ratio.
- Some agents and sellers list homes at artificially low prices to generate significant interest and prompt a massive number of offers. Agents who use this tactic brag about their homes selling significantly over asking and highlight their staggering list-to-price ratios. This practice skews the data and produces list-to-price ratios that are meaningless. Personally, I think this practice is deceptive because no seller will accept an offer at their ridiculously low list price, prompting accusations of “false advertising” and in our state, disciplinary actions against some Realtors who perpetuate this practice.
- If a home is priced correctly, then the price at which it sells is directly related to two very specific facts:
- The nature of the market at the time of the sale. In a buyer’s market, any given home can sit on the market for a long time, regardless of how nice it may be. Offers, if they come in, will usually be below list price. If the market suddenly shifts, your list-to-sale ratios will shift as well, making the previous ratio numbers invalid.
- The local practices in the region where the home is located. In some parts of the country, most homes do not sell above list price.
As with the previous question, this is also not a valid gauge for assessing a listing agent’s capabilities.
4. Where is your office located?
This question baffles me, but I get it on almost every listing appointment. It is probably because we are in a large metropolitan area, and sellers want to know if I had to drive across three counties to get to their house.
Over the years, my office has been in three different cities, but it has never made any difference. To be honest? For this past year, my office has been in my dining room, and it has not in any way affected my ability to fully service our clients.
5. Where do you live?
Same as No. 4 above. Where I actually park my pillow should have no relevance to my clients, but I get asked this question repeatedly.
I know one agent who actually lives in a different state, owns a small plane and routinely flies into town for appointments. My bookkeeper lives three states away, and my attorney lives in the opposite part of the state.
6. Have you sold in this neighborhood before?
I understand this may have relevance in some neighborhoods with unique characteristics such as historical properties or totally custom homes. However, the vast number of homes in our region are cookie-cutter tract homes with the same floor plan repeated every third or fourth house.
A simple search on the MLS for historical sales will typically bring up the same square footage numerous times. Quite frankly, this idea of a “neighborhood expert” is seriously overrated. I know of one local agent who services a large area and hangs a “local expert” rider on every one of his listings regardless of the location.
Again, going back to the 7- to 10-second rule, awesome marketing trumps local expertise in almost every case. Buyers do not care if you have sold a home in any given neighborhood before — they want the list price to be in line with area comps, and they are looking for awesome pictures that will give them a reason to show up in person.
7. How long have you been an agent?
Some of the top agents in the country who run large, effective teams have been agents fewer than 10 years. On the other hand, I know agents who have had a license hanging on their wall for 30 years who sell two to three homes a year, refuse to hire professionals to take listing photos and so on.
As a professional Realtor who owns homes across the country, when I’m looking to buy or sell, I’m not looking for someone who has been in the business a long time. I want someone who has demonstrated the ability to sell a lot of homes and who has a ton of five-star reviews — regardless of their age or years in the business.
8. Are you full-time or part-time?
My simple answer to this question? “I wish I were only full-time …”
There are more, but these are the ones that occupy prominent positions on many of the lists a seller can download to quiz potential candidates and are frequently encountered in my appointments.
Take the time to prepare for these questions so that when they get asked, you can divert their question with more meaningful questions of your own that will actually showcase your true capabilities.
Carl Medford is the CEO of The Medford Team.