Your partnership with your real estate agent is an important one; they’re your guide through the jungle that is the housing market, and their advice can make or break your bottom line. Whether you’re looking to buy a new home, sell your existing one, or both, it’s vital to have a qualified agent on your team.
But not all agents are created equal. While they must all be educated and licensed by their provincial provider (for example, the Real Estate Council of Ontario), their individual qualifications, specializations, and even ethics can vary greatly—and it’s important to be able to connect with your agent on a friendly, personal level, too.
Here are the top questions you should ask when considering whether a real estate agent is the right fit for your home transaction.
What are your credentials?
As noted, your real estate agent must have a valid license to practice in your province and they must have received certification from that governing body—but their expertise needs to go far beyond that piece of paper. For example, some agents work in the industry full time, while others may only do a few deals per year. Some may work solely in residential homes, while others may specialize in commercial properties, or work mainly with real estate investors. Agents may also work mainly in specific territories (for example, downtown Toronto condos or Hamilton condos).
Show me your numbers
Perhaps the most telling stat your agent can divulge is how many homes they’ve sold over the past year, for how much over (or under) asking, and how long those listings lingered on the market. Don’t be afraid to ask for a list of addresses and sale prices—after all, that’s the agent’s portfolio. If there are properties that raise red flags—they sold for a large amount under asking or took longer to sell, for example—what was the reason?
How will you market my home?
If choosing an agent to help sell your home, it’s extremely important they have a plan to get the word out about your property beyond just listing it for sale on MLS. Will your agent invest in marketing materials, both traditional and online, to promote your home? Will they leverage blogs, social media, and premium print flyers and handouts? How will they go above and beyond to ensure there are enough eyeballs on your listing?
Do you work alone?
Your agent will likely work as part of a brokerage and may have access to additional support teams, which can make the process smoother for their clients. For example, do they handle all details on their own or is there a team to help with marketing, scheduling, and paperwork? If they handle these details, are you being charged an administration fee?
How often will you be in touch?
Being able to reach your agent easily is a must, especially for buyers scouring the market for the perfect listing. How quickly can you expect your agent to act when a great property becomes available? Their level of support and attention to detail will also be very important when it comes time to submit an offer to a seller—timing is everything, especially in hot markets like Toronto and Hamilton real estate.
Can you recommend great contractors?
Whether you’re buying a property in need of some work or sprucing up your home for sale, access to great, trustworthy contractors is key. Does your agent have a solid network of real estate lawyers, mortgage brokers, home inspectors, carpenters, or painters they can recommend if you need them? Do they receive compensation for these referrals?
Are my expectations realistic?
A good agent won’t hold back the truth—if you’re a buyer with expectations that exceed your budget, or a seller asking for too steep a price, they should be able to set you on the right track. After all, it does no one any good to waste time pursuing properties out of your budget, or to let a home linger because it’s unattractively positioned. Your agent should give you a concrete idea of what to expect, based on market factors, location, and property type.
What do you think about current market conditions?
Your agent should be up to speed on the latest real estate headlines, and particularly attuned to sale and price trends in your neighbourhood or desired area. They should be able to leverage that knowledge to help you hone your buyer or seller strategy, whether it’s targeting a certain type of property, timing when your listing comes to market, or pricing your home effectively.
Will you represent me exclusively?
This is an important detail—in some provinces (including Ontario), it’s currently legal for a real estate agent to represent both a buyer and seller in the same transaction. Called “double-ending,” to do so they must have informed both parties and received consent in writing. However, even if you’re aware of the practice, you should know how it may impact your bottom line. For example, only showing your home for sale to an exclusive group of potential buyers could limit the opportunity to receive multiple offers and ultimately result in a lower price.
Where can I turn to if I have a complaint?
It’s crucial to foster an open and honest dialogue with your agent from the very beginning. The most they understand about your housing needs and desires, the better a job they can do. In Ontario, for example, agents are bound by the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act 2002 (REBBA), which means they have a fiduciary duty to always act in their clients’ best interests. If you ever feel your agent has not acted in this regard, you can report it to the broker of record at the agent’s brokerage, or escalate it to the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO) for further action.