If you are buying or selling a home, getting set up with the right real estate professional can be the most important part of the process.  As you are out interviewing potential Realtor candidates, keep these questions in mind to make sure they are the right fit.

What are your credentials? / What experience do you have?

Your agent should have a state license and belong to the local real estate trade association. You might want to look further and find someone who’s also a member of the National Association of Realtors which requires additional training and adherence to a code of ethics.

An agent’s experience is more than just how many years they have been in the business. One aspect of an agent’s experience you shouldn’t overlook is the type of properties they’ve helped with in the past. Maybe all of their experience is in condos, but you have a single family home. Many agents specialize in commercial, rather than residential property, so their experience could be deceiving. Appropriate advertising strategies and knowledge of the market vary depending on the type of property you’re buying or selling, and their expertise may not be best suited for your particular situation.

Whether you are buying or selling, finding a professional with experience in a particular area will also be a big part of your search. An experienced listing agent will have knowledge of neighborhood trends and a quality buyer’s agent will be able to take your present and future needs into account to find you the area and home that fits you best.

What is your current workload / activity?

This is very important to find out, but before you ask, you need to know what you are looking for as there is no magic number to the amount of active clients or deals an agent should have. If they tell you they are currently helping 20 clients you might have concern that they will be spread too thin and unable to help you, but on the other hand if they tell you only one client, you may also be concerned that they are inexperienced or unqualified. Before you start the process you should have an idea of the kind of agent you want to work with and if you are comfortable working with a team. You will need to weigh the pros and cons of each situation and decide if a busy agent can meet your needs or you’d prefer a more personalized experience.

What were your sales like last year?

While an agent’s past performance doesn’t guarantee anything, a track record of success can at least give you some assurance that they know what they are doing. Also ask about the price range for the homes they have sold, because you want someone who has experience with situations similar to yours.

Can you help with my mortgage?

It’s valuable to find an agent who has a solid grasp of home financing because loan issues can make or break a deal. In a perfect world, buyers should have their finances in order when they make an offer. But realistically, a good agent can salvage a deal if they’re financially fluent and well-connected with quality lenders. That’s why you should always ask a potential agent what they know about home loans before you hire them. Another great option is to find a hybrid loan officer / real estate agent. It can make the process a lot smoother if you find someone who is capable at both.

Chasity Lousteau, a hybrid agent with Lionsgate Real Estate Group, says “When I am involved with the financing from the beginning, the whole process for the client is better. Because I am also in control of the financing side, communication is more transparent, the process as a whole is faster, and dealing with one less person, or often a team of people on the loan side, is more efficient. My team and I strive to create a happy experience for clients and providing both real estate and lending is a big part of that offering.”

Ask for a CMA Report

Any Realtor should be able to provide you with a comparative market analysis (CMA Report). The CMA Report compares the details of your home with similar homes on the market including specifics like price, square footage, number of bedrooms / bathrooms and any renovations to the property. This is your starting point for knowing how your home compares to others in the neighborhood and will give you a better idea of price. An experienced real estate agent will make this part of the process a priority.

CMA Reports can be very valuable tools. They can give you a better idea of what home styles are the most popular, what homes are selling for, how long they are staying on the market, and more. You can use this information to become more knowledgeable about your property and determine if what your agent is telling you matches up to what you are seeing on the report.

What are the market trends?

No one should be more in-tune with housing trends than a real estate professional.  They see all the growth and decline going on in an area. As your window into the real estate world, your agent should be aware of what the growth and decline trends are and help you find an area that has a positive outlook.

Most people would see that a neighborhood with foreclosed, deserted or boarded up homes might not be growing. However, usually the signs are not that obvious, especially in the early stages. Your agent should be able to spot the clues. Things like neighborhood activity, street maintenance and a growing number of small businesses in the area can all point to the neighborhood’s growth trends. A quality real estate agent should be able to tell you if the home you want is likely to be a good investment based on everything else that’s happening around it.

How will you market?

Ask every agent you speak with to spell out their marketing plan for getting your house sold. Anyone can put up a “For Sale” sign outside their house and attract people driving by.One of the biggest advantages that a real estate agent offers you is their access to resources for marketing your home. Most agents will post your house on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) immediately after signing with you. The MLS is a system that lists homes for sale and gives your house broad exposure to home buyers across many sites.

Your agent should market your house in other ways too. There are many ways to market homes online and through social media. Ask them what their online marketing plan would be, including what sites and platforms they will use. Print advertising can also still be effective, like ads in newspapers and magazines, or brochures and flyers. You want to find an agent that is going to actively market for you and has a plan going in.

How will you keep me informed throughout the process?

In any relationship, communication is key. Your partnership with your agent is no different. You need to know right away how they will communicate with you; how they will keep you in the loop. This means finding what kinds of news they will update you on and when and how they will get this to you: email, text, call, etc.

If you’re a buyer, there are a number of details to handle including home inspection, reinspection, mortgage coordination, title search, title insurance, and other items. Will you get a weekly update, or just on an as-needed basis? You may have your own preferences, and the agent may or may not accommodate them. It is better to find out at the beginning before you get too deep into the process.

Ask for details about how accessible the agent will be. Throughout the selling or buying process you will have questions and concerns. Find out what business hours they keep and what is the best way to get in touch outside of those hours. Whether they answer calls and e-mails in a timely fashion will be important down the line.

How do your fees work?

Most realtors don’t charge a flat fee but will take a percentage of the home’s final sale price when the deal closes. This percentage varies with each agent, but the commission is typically around 6 percent of the selling price. This can become a large fee so you may want to ask if it’s negotiable.

How this negotiation goes can depend a lot on the market. In a good real estate market, commissions might be lower because homes are easier to sell. On the other hand, when the market is not as good, an agent might be less likely to negotiate their fee. Either way it shouldn’t hurt you to ask. If the commission turns into an issue, consider ways that you can offer to reduce the agent’s workload or costs in order to get them to negotiate to a lower rate. You might be able to get a discount by using a single agent for both buying a new home and selling your old one. If the agents you interview agree to negotiate the fee, make sure that decision won’t sacrifice the level of service.

Ask for a list of references

Whether you are buying or selling a home you should always ask your real estate agent for references. Like any other professional asked about their business, a real estate agent is likely to emphasize all of his or her positives, including all their experience, qualifications, sales figures, etc. There are many sites online that offer reviews and testimonials that are great tools but it is good to also get a few references right from the source. Ask for a list of references, reach  out to a few, and ask about their experiences with the agent. How was communication with the agent? Did they keep them informed throughout the process? How was the overall experience, and would they recommend them?

References and testimonials in the real estate industry are the best way to find out what kind of person the agent is and if they are worth working with. To get the most honest input, research the names on the list and make sure they aren’t all friends, relatives or co-workers of the agent. Once you have heard some feedback on the agent as a professional and as a person you will hopefully have a much better idea if they are someone you trust to sell your home or help you purchase one.

I hope this information helps as you set out and try to find the perfect real estate professional for your situation. Keep Lionsgate Real Estate Group’steam of friendly, experienced and highly effective hybrid agents in mind.