5 Simple Questions Every Realtor Should Be Able to Answer

by | BiggerPockets.com

In the real estate investing community, there are a lot of mixed emotions about realtors.

We all have different levels of experience with these folks, and there are differing options on the impact (for better or for worse) a realtor can have on one’s real estate investing endeavors.

Some investors are raving fans of the work that realtors do, and others think of them as nothing more than unnecessary “middle men” who stand by and wait for their cut after each deal is done.

Personally, I understand where both of these perspectives are coming from. In my investing experience, I’ve found that there are certain situations when realtors are highly beneficial and others where they just aren’t necessary.

The truth is you can’t lump all realtors into one category of “worthless” or “worthwhile.” It’s not a black and white issue, and there are many different variables that need to be measured in order to determine whether it makes sense for you to put one of these folks to work in your business.

iStock_000024180672XSmallSome realtors are amazing at what they do. They understand how to sell properties (both in good times and in bad), and they know how to find new investment opportunities that you most likely would never find on your own. These people can offer solid advice based on their years of experience in your market, and they’ve learned all the right ways to make themselves indispensable by bringing incredible value to the table. THESE are the kinds of realtors you want to find and retain for your business.

Most markets also have their share of realtors who have no idea what’s going on. It might be because they’re new to the business, or it’s also possible that they’ve been around too long and have failed to change with the times. Either way, a lousy realtor can waste a lot of your time and money, so if you’re looking to enlist the services of one in your area, it important to know what a “bad apple” looks like so you can avoid bringing one into your business.

Do you know how to tell which realtors will bring the right ingredients to your business? A lot of them know how to “talk the talk,” but can they really deliver what you’re looking for? If you aren’t sure how to separate the wheat from the chaff, I’d like to offer you 5 simple questions you can ask when you’re interviewing realtors. With any luck, these will help you determine when you’ve found one who will work seamlessly with your operation and leave your business better off than when they found it.

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5 Simple Questions Every Realtor Should Be Able to Answer

1. Why do you want to be my realtor?

It’s a pretty simple question, but you might be surprised at the kinds of answers you’ll get on this. Some people will respond with the completely unhelpful and overly generic, canned response:

“Because I want you to help you find the home of your dreams!”

And others will just be honest about it:

“Because I’m looking for new business, I understand what you need and I think we can help each other.”

(Word to the wise: If someone claims to know what you need, they should also be able to spell it out for you with some clarity.)

Now, I’m not here to tell you that any particular answer is right or wrong, but I do think the answers you get from this question will tell you very quickly whether you’re talking to someone who knows how to be honest with you (even when the truth hurts) OR a someone who is a people-pleaser (and has no idea how to contribute anything new to your thought process).

Beware of anyone who feeds you a sugar-coated answer. If someone can’t be real with you in this simple conversation, will they be able to challenge your thinking and help you grow as an investor?

Related: How to Find an Investor Friendly Realtor

When I think about the best realtors I’ve ever worked with, half of the value they brought to the table was purely in their honesty.

If my asking price is too high, I want to know!

If I’m trying to buy a property in a terrible location, I want to know about that too!

If I’m trying to do something that doesn’t make sense, and if I legitimately need re-direction, constructive criticism or sage advice, I want someone on my side who is both experienced enough and honest enough to give it to me straight. It does me absolutely no good to build a team of “Yes Men” who are going to tell me what I want to hear.

2. This past year, how many properties did you sell as the seller’s agent?

Are you looking for a realtor because you need to get a property sold? If so, you may want to know how often this person has actually sold their own listings.

Anybody can throw a listing on the internet and wait for another agent to swoop in with a buyer, but this is a very limited marketing strategy. When a realtor creates a good listing AND finds the buyer on their own accord (and they’ve done it on multiple occasions), this is a strong indication that they’re probably doing something right.

Of course, there are many variables at work here, and the answer to this question isn’t entirely conclusive, but an agent’s ability to drum up new business and make things happen is something that can help you decide whether you’re talking to the right realtor for your situation.

3. This past year – how many transactions did you get involved with as the buyer’s agent?

Over the past few years, my primary use for realtors has not been to sell properties; I’ve been using them to help me find new buying opportunities.

If you’re in “acquisition mode” and you’re looking to find the best real estate deals in your area, it’s important to know if your realtor is skilled at identifying good investment opportunities (i.e. not just any property, but properties that are actually worth buying). This kind of question can help tell the story of whether a realtor knows how to bring value to the table in the form of finding great deals.

One of the best realtors I’ve ever worked with is extremely gifted at finding new investment opportunities. He is able to explain his opinion and rationale as to why a deal is worth my consideration and he sends me multiple listings (and some deals that are unlisted) per week and when I ask him to, he bombards me with value and that’s why I love the guy. He is hungry for business, and he knows how to deliver exactly what people in my position want.

4. What percentage of your clients are investors vs. owner-occupants?

This question is important because it will give you an idea for how a realtor’s thought process works.

Most investors (“absentee-owners”) have very different reasons for buying real estate than those who intend to live in the property they’re buying (“owner-occupants”). If you’re approaching this business like an investor, it’s important for your realtor to understand an investor’s motivations because when they understand how an investor thinks, they can cater to your needs much more effectively.

I’ll give you a couple examples from my own life…

Example 1:

When my wife and I bought our house, there were some very specific things we needed to see in the house we bought:

  • A nice kitchen
  • Cathedral ceilings
  • A washer & dryer on the main floor
  • At least 3 bedrooms & 2 bathrooms
  • A big backyard
  • An awesome neighborhood
  • The best school district around

We were pretty particular in the kinds of “luxuries” we wanted to live with. They made absolutely no sense from an “income generation” standpoint (because they didn’t make money; they cost money!). Nevertheless, we wanted the best possible living experience we could afford without breaking the bank.

This is how owner-occupants think. In this situation, we were best served by working with a realtor who thought like we did. Since our realtor understood our priorities (and was accustomed to working with people in our same situation), it was very easy for them to understand serve us effectively.

Example 2:

When I bought my first duplex, there were some very specific things I needed to see in the property I bought:

  • High Rental Revenue
  • Historical Profitability
  • Low Vacancy Rates
  • Low Property Taxes
  • Minimal Improvements Needed
    • OR a significantly lower purchase price
  • Tenant-Paid Utilities
  • Low Ongoing Holding Costs

This is how investors think. Their primary concern isn’t about having an award-winning floor plan or state-of-the-art kitchen appliances. Investors are looking for properties that are “cash cows” (to put it bluntly). Their priorities are completely different from an owner-occupant and as such, they need a realtor who understands their needs and knows how to bring them new investment opportunities that will serve the right purpose.

5. What can you do for me that I won’t find anywhere else?

With all the realtors I come in contact with, it can get difficult to understand what makes one better than another.

Generally speaking, they’re all in business to do the same basic thing, right?

Is there any unique value proposition that one realtor can offer over the other?

Are there any “special skills” you should be looking for, or does it ultimately boil down to which realtors you like the most?

Related: The Case for Being a Realtor and Investor

To answer this, you need to know what’s missing in your business. Think about it: Why are you looking for a realtor’s help in the first place? What’s holding you back from just doing this whole thing yourself?

For example, some investors might struggle with one (or more) of the following things…

  • They aren’t good at getting properties sold.
  • They need help facilitating the closing process.
  • They aren’t good at marketing and advertising.
  • They don’t know how to find motivated sellers.
  • They aren’t good with communication between various parties.
  • They don’t have any connections with title companies, attorneys, contractors, etc.

It’s okay to admit it: We all have certain things we’re just not good at —  but have you taken the time to figure out what you really need? Is there some kind of specific solution you’re looking for? If you don’t already have these issues nailed down, it’s worth your time to think this through. Once you know what’s missing, you’ll know exactly when you’ve heard the “right answer” to this question.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

From my years in the business, I’ve found that different realtors are great at different things. In the same way that you aren’t great at everything, you shouldn’t expect one realtor to be the solution to all of life’s problems.

If you haven’t already figured it out, the best thing you can do (before you ask these questions) is to understand what you need. Once you’ve identified these areas in painstaking detail, finding the right person will be easier than you think!

Your turn to weigh in:

  • What has your experience with realtors been?
  • Have you found the perfect fit?
  • What questions would you add to my list?

Leave a comment, and let’s discuss!

About Author

Seth Williams

Seth Williams (@retipsterseth , G+) is an experienced land investor, commercial real estate banker and residential income property owner. He is also the Founder of REtipster.com - a real estate investing blog providing real world guidance for part time real estate investors.


  1. Larry Letizia

    Seth I think as an investor the first question you should ask your Realtor is “Are you an investor?” the second is someone you are related to an investor or builder? i.e. husband, brother, cousin, etc. In other words how far down the food chain are you at receiving the information you seek!

    To think that a successful Realtor doesn’t have other clients is naive. Are you their first call on a hot listing or their twentieth! You may never know.

    If you don’t know what you’re doing continue to pursue a piece of the food chain, stay in touch with them their knowledge will benefit you. If you know what you’re doing look for Agents hungry for business. A newly licensed motivated individual could be the one to build with. You may need to teach them but you’ll have their attention. The seasoned “Super-Agent” may have too many mouths to feed or be too busy to help you.

    A Realtor only earns if they close. Finance a young agent into prospecting for you. You want him to do all the prospecting then turn the “cash cow” over to you based on a phone call to his office? Earn the right! Invest in him and / or the relationship.

    Call his Broker and ask who’s hungry, who’s new or building a business and describe the relationship you want to build, start there. Get his Brokers opinion of who to work with. If you want the Salesperson to do certain tasks for you pay them through his broker or do it yourself; after all this is business and “you get what you pay for in this world.”

  2. Tommy Lorden

    As a real estate broker myself (that works exclusively on the buy side) I’d add a #6: What do you charge or how much is this going to cost me? If the agent replies “it’s free, don’t worry about it”, as the vast majority do, you know they have an inclination to not tell the whole story, they just plain don’t understand the ins and outs of broker compensation, or they have no intention of genuinely discussing the amount of money they will make relative to the specific services they intend to provide.

    You see, here in Colorado anyway, and nearly 40 other states, the buy side broker can rebate, or refund, part of their commission back to the buyer at closing. So while the listing agent is generally offering to pay the agent a fixed percentage, that doesn’t mean your broker has to keep it all! They can use it to pay down your closing costs as long as it’s all done on the HUD. (This is subject to some lender limitations, including that your broker can’t rebate you an amount more than your closing costs and pre-paids, but heck, if you can get all your closing costs covered, that’s a great problem to have, right!)

    I just think telling people that buyers agents are free is the biggest lie in real estate. If we all know there is no free lunch, why do we think real estate agents are free? While buyers don’t write a check directly to their agent, they are paying for us…it’s baked into the deal. After all, every seller considers the commissions due before deciding what offer price to accept.

    This isn’t to say every broker should give back part of their commission on every deal, because they shouldn’t. My point is that when you interview an agent, at least in the 40ish states where they can give you back part of commission, you should definitely inquire about how much it’s going to cost you. For a list of the states where this legal, please see search online for “commission rebates Department of Justice” and you’ll see a list there. Of course, if you are in Colorado, I’m happy to be a resource. But you’ll want to go to an authority on this because there are a lot of agents even in the states this is legal that will tell you it isn’t permissible.

  3. Joseph Cox

    Some excellent insight there, Seth. It certainly helps me in areas I need to focus on working with investors. I had to laugh at #1. I can’t belive some people would give a canned response like that—straight out of a (Zillow?) commercial!

    Thank you!

  4. Sean Williams

    Being that I am a Realtor/broker in Louisville, KY I can definitely speak to this article. Just like anything else you’ll find true pros and your fair share of “wanna-be’s”. I would say 80% of the real estate business is handled by about 20% of the agents for any particular area. You’d be surprised how many agents are part-time and just do a few deals on the side.

    You certainly want someone that not only knows the areas, but stays current with market trends and what buyers are looking for in today’s market. And just because a Realtor says “they work with investors” doesn’t necessary mean they know investing and the parameters that most investors are seeking.

    I have been fortunate to work with a variety of different investors to learn their tricks, their preferences and they specific way they run their business which has given me tons of real world, 1st hand knowledge on investing in our local market whether is be rehabs, rentals, wholesaling or a combination of each on single family and multifamily units. These are all great questions to ask your Realtor when you’re seeking to bring on an agent as part of your investment team. I can promise you a smart, experienced agent will not only help save you TONS of time but lots of energy, headache and $$.

  5. Fred Ramos

    All good questions to ask. What I’ve found is that it is very difficult to find a good “Investor Minded” relator (Let me explain). Maybe I’ve gone about it the wrong way or just say or ask too much but the majority of realtors I’ve tried to talk to about acquiring investment properties have mostly seemed disinterested. Most have looked at me or talked to me as if I’m disillusioned or talking beyond my means. The majority never call back!
    I think after 8 years of investing, we’ve finally found one that has an idea (we’ve purchased our last 2 properties with him and he has saved us enough money in those deals where we know we will be calling again).
    My opinion, and my opinion only is that yes I do believe that a realtor can be a very valuable resource (we don’t all have the time to find deals) but at the same time, I think a lot of realtors could find it very beneficial to get themselves educated in what we do and what we look for. The bottom line is that we need a good realtor on our teams but I think many of us are finding it hard to fill that roster position.
    I guess the saying that “20% of the realtors, do 80% of the deals” is true. Our experience says the numbers should be more like “1% of the realtors do 99% of the deals”. Love them anyways!

    • Drew Cifrodelli

      Great stuff here!

      I’m compelled to give you the Realtor’s point of view on investors, because of this last post about the glazed over look that you might get from Realtors at times.

      Many (80%) of the people say they are “investors” and then you find out they are looking for no money down, seller concessions, owner financing and they they want the property for 30 cents on the dollar that’s in move in condition. They probably went to some seminar offered by a famous TV host or read a book about investing with no money down. I’m sure these deals happen some place in the world, as they say a sucker is born every minute. The problem is an ethical one for Realtors.

      It is unethical for us to sucker a seller into selling you their property for less than market value, especially if we approach them as a seller’s agent. As a seller’s agent it is my duty to get the seller the highest and best. On the other hand, I could tell the seller that I represent an Investor who is interested in their property and the ethical issue is resolved, but a new issue is created.

      The new issue is; I need a buyer’s agency agreement with an Investor before I can claim to represent the Investor. Otherwise I can be sued. I’m also exposing myself to working for nothing, because Investors are very picky. It is highly likely that I need to have 8-10 investors that I’m working with, because their investment criteria is so different that they almost never compete with each other.

      Think about all the variables; price, location, buy & hold or fix and flip, single family or condo…. No two investors see eye to eye on the type of property they want and their needs change according to the market conditions, capital on hand, band width for processing a new deal when it comes along….. Also keep in mind that the property values are typically lower than average for investment properties, and so are the commissions. Plus, the deals tend to be more complex with damage to the property or distressed owners with all kinds of personal issues. Bottom line is that you are typically asking a Realtor to perform at a very high level for a limited potential gain.

      From a Realtor’s point of view, we need to have a steady stream of high quality investment opportunities that we can feed to a large pool of potential investors, if we expect to make a living as an buyer’s agent that sources deals for investors. Fortunately, “real” investors are serial investors, so that’s why I work in this space. I like repeat business.

      Investors are also very pragmatic and will typically buy if the numbers work. That’s very appealing to me, because owner occupants are very emotional.

      You want a Realtor to take you seriously? Here is my recommendation:
      a) Offer them a buyers agency agreement that enables them to write all your offers that you make on any property within a geographic area for a specific period of time, so they know their work is valued by you.
      b) Offer to assist with sourcing data about distressed properties within the same area from third party vendors like foreclosure.com or stage events for estate planning attorneys, etc.
      c) Offer to assist with mailing hand written letters to the same people.
      d) Make them agree to do the door knocking and phone calls (if you can get a working number)
      e) Make them agree to give you first right of refusal on deals.
      f) Allow them to pursue listing the properties that have no value to you.

      Realtors need transaction volume to stay in business. I’d say 2-4 transactions a month at an average sale price (for your market) would keep a stand alone Realtor busy, so;

      a) How much volume can you give that Realtor each year?
      b) Can you give him steady business?
      c) Are you willing to show him your business plan?
      d) Do you have the capital to walk the talk?
      e) Do you have the band width to capitalize on the deals when they surface?

      If this doesn’t get your Realtor’s attention, then your are talking to the wrong one.

  6. Drew Cifrodelli

    In item #2 you mention something about a Realtor selling a large percentage of their own listings and that alarms me for a few reasons:
    a) The “A1” best buyer is typically an owner occupant that is looking to buyer your property, especially if their house is already sold, they are about to become homeless and it’s really great if they have children that need to get into the school system or want to stay in the school system.
    b) It’s a huge conflict of interest when I have both sides of a deal and I can do a lot of unethical things, if I was that type of a person. For example: I could withhold other offers, I could negotiate poorly with other agents, I could block showings from competing agencies so that buyers are forced to come directly to me, I could feed information to my client to help them get a better deal. I can rebate a portion of my commission in some states so I make more money by locking up both sides of the deal.

    Let me tell you that “Top agents” have pulled these stunts on me and that’s how I’ve encountered these little tricks of the trade. Ironically the public thinks that an agent who “owns” or controls and area is a good thing for them and they list with them because of it. Little things like electronic lock boxes are portrayed as security for the home owner, but they are actually creating barriers to competition in the industry. Showings are the life blood of getting top dollar for your property. Anything that inhibits showings will give your listing agent and upper hand.

    On a national average, I read that 1 to 2% of listings are sold by the listing agent. Is your agent beating the odds? If so, is he bringing you “A1” buyers? If not, you could be leaving money on the table.

    I’d rather have a Realtor that is looking out for my best interest. Beware of the conflict of interest.

    • Seth Williams

      Only 1% – 2% of listings are sold by the listing agent?? Wow – there must be a lot of lying agents out there (or maybe I’m just talking to the small handful “A1s” in my market). I don’t think I’ve ever heard those kinds of statistics from the realtors I know!

      I will say, that’s an interesting perspective you bring to the table (it’s one I definitely hadn’t though of before). It’s good to be aware of these other “angles” that aren’t overly apparent in the mind of an investor. Thanks for sharing Drew!

  7. I found question four really interesting. \”What percentage of your clients are investors vs. owner-occupants?\” I would have never thought to ask a realtor this question. We are playing with the idea of moving soon, my wife and I are ready to move out of apartments and into a real house. We\’ve never worked with realtors before so I thought it would be smart to look up some tips. Thanks for the help!

  8. I appreciate your tip on being wary of a realtor who sugar coats their answers. It seems that you would want someone honest, upfront and positive selling your home. My wife and I are thinking about selling our house, we should probably look for a realtor who is straightforward with us and doesn’t sugar coat things.

  9. Next week, I will be sitting down with a realtor and discussing house buying options and so I really like your first question about why they want to be my realtor. I especially like how you mention how if they claim to know what I need that they should be able to tell me what that is. I think that it would be interesting to test different real estate agents’ opinion of what I need, because I think that that would actually help me get the best house possible.

  10. Thank you so much for your statement that says you can’t lump all realtors into bad or good categories. You are right– the issue itself is not black and white. In fact, I’ve personally found that different realtors are better suited for different clientele. It all depends on the personalities and how they professionally work together.

  11. I agree that you would want to ask a real estate agent how many properties they have sold. I would imagine that if they have sold a lot it would be really good. I\’m looking to buy some property so I\’ll have to find someone who has sold a lot to represent me.

  12. I appreciate this article about answers every realtor should know. It is good to understand that real estate agents should be familiar with the properties they sold during the previous year. This would show their success and their determination through statistics. Something else to think about would be to ask where the realtor has worked to ensure that he or she is familiar with the area in which he is selling.

  13. I am looking for a realtor to handle selling one of my properties, but it is a challenge finding the right one. I think it is important, like you mentioned, to find a realtor who can give you redirection or constructive criticism. You want somebody who is going to tell you how it is, and not baby you.

  14. I appreciate your tip to ask your real estate agent whey they want to be your realtor. I’ve never thought to ask such a direct and simple question in order to get to know the personality of the real estate agent. I’ve heard it’s a good idea to contact past clients of the real estate agent in order to see how satisfied they were with the realtors service, wold you agree with that?

  15. Years ago, I had a really good friend help me find the house that I currently live in. She was an awesome realtor and helped us out so much! This article is spot on when it comes to finding a realtor that is going to help you out.

  16. My husband and I are looking at selling our current home and finding a larger home for our expanding family. In doing so, we want to find a real estate agent that we can trust for a price that fits our budget. I think these 5 simple questions will help us find someone that will really help us. I think asking how many properties they sold this last year is a great way to see their experience and efficiency. Thanks for these great questions!

  17. I like that you pointed out that some realtors are very efficient and good at what they do. I think that everyone should try hard to find someone who they trust and who knows what they are doing. I’m looking for a realtor because I’m building a new house and will need help selling the one I live in now.

  18. I had not thought of asking a real estate agent how many properties that they have sold as an agent. However, it seems like it would be a great gauge to see how successful the realtor is. If you are planning on selling your house and you are looking for an agent, you are going to want to find someone that has been successful at selling homes. Another question you could ask them is what percentage of the market price of the homes that you sold did you list them as to make sure that they good a good deal on the sale.

  19. In your article, you suggested that when a realtor creates a good listing AND finds the buyer on their own accord (and they’ve done it on multiple occasions), this is a strong indication that they’re probably doing something right. For the past two months, my cousin and his wife have unsuccessfully tried to sell their home. I wonder what types of tools most real estate agents use to find potential buyers.

  20. My husband and I are looking to buy a new home. We want to make sure we find the right realtor to help us with this process. Thanks for the tips on what questions to ask. As you mentioned, asking how many transactions they have been involved with in the past year can help you understand their experience and how they are at finding investment opportunities.

  21. My brother likes buying homes and selling them for more money. He often works with realtors and will be happy to know that a realtor should be able to answer the question of why they want to be an agent. It is good to know that one should look for someone who can provide an honest answer. Avoiding people pleasers would be smart. I will tell my brother to start asking realtors this question.

  22. I like that tip to ask how many of their own listings the agent moved. That way you’ll have an idea of their competency and work load. The house buying process is really complex since it involves paperwork, loans, and the transfer of lots of wealth. I can see why an agent could be really useful.

  23. Sandra Hexner

    Thanks for mentioning that the biggest value is a real estate agent’s honesty. My sister wants to buy a home and I’m helping her find a real estate agent. I’ll be sure to show her this article and to remember to dig deeper than a fluffy response.

  24. I like that you mention to ask the question about how many investors vs owner-occupants they have sold to. If I am buying a home for myself to live in, I wan to make sure I am working with someone who can listen to what my needs are and run with it. Since I am looking to buy a new home, I will be asking my new realtor these questions.

  25. Can ho the avila

    I read your question and I wondered the same thing myself. Because I focus on helping new investors avoid being scammed, I probably shouldn’t worry about this too much, but I could be wrong so here’s what I found…

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