5 Questions Every Homeowner Needs to Ask before Hiring a Real Estate Agent

 "Finding the right agent, whether you're buying or selling a home, has never been more important than in today's challenging market," says Dave Sears, OptHome co-founder and chief strategist. "Not all real estate agents are created equal and the quality of agent that you choose will impact your entire transaction, including the price you may pay for a new home or receive on your current home, not to mention the time it takes to get the job done."

OptHome says homeowners must approach finding an agent the same way they would hire anyone to do a job starting with an interview. When interviewing an agent, ask the following five questions to help determine if they are a good fit for your needs:

1. How will you search for my new home or market my current home for sale? An agent should be able to share his/her plan to help find you the home you want. Most agents are members of their local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) which lists all the homes that are being sold by agents. In addition, many agents can enroll you in a service that will notify you as soon as a home that fits your criteria is placed on the market. To sell your current home, a good agent should advertise through several avenues. Besides the MLS (which should be the bare minimum), such advertising can include: ads in local newspapers and on local television channels, creating a custom website for your home, holding open houses, flyers, postcards, photography and listing your home on multiple websites and other sources.

2. How many transactions do you complete in a year and what's your rate of success? You don't always want the busiest agent in town, as they are frequently great at getting listings but poor at actually selling those listings. You also don't want an 'average' agent, who only does about 2-3 transactions a year, as they are simply not experienced enough to provide you with maximum benefit. You want to choose an agent that has measurable experience, first-hand knowledge of your community, and a proven successful track record.

3. What designations do you have? Many agents continue their ongoing professional development. Like many professions, real estate agents can take continuing education courses to help them be more effective within a variety of specialties such as: high end homes, working with senior citizens, commercial properties, property appraisal, etc.

4. How often should I expect to hear from you? You and your agent should set up a communications plan from the start. If you are selling your home you may want to plan on speaking once a week, or plan one day per week that you will go out and look at properties if you're buying. Ongoing communication is important to both you and your agent and will help keep your home search or sale on track.

5. Are you familiar with the neighborhood I am interested in/selling in? Even if the agent you are interviewing has completed a significant number of transactions last year, it doesn't necessarily help you if they were all located two towns away. Real estate is local, and depending on where you are, it can vary drastically by neighborhood or even by the block. Make sure the agent has a good grasp of the community you wish to purchase in and/or the neighborhood you are selling in.