10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Real Estate Agent

A real estate agent can be instrumental in helping you find the perfect home because they can search, locate and negotiate the purchase of a new property on your behalf. They also help list and sell homes you own. A good place to start when looking for a qualified agent is to ask friends and family for a referral. Once you’ve found someone, be sure to ask these questions before committing yourself to the relationship.

1. How long have you been in the business?
2. What type of training, education, and qualifications do you have in real estate?
3. What is your average list-price-to-sales-price ratio?
4. What is your marketing strategy?
5. Can you provide references?
6. What percentage of your business comes from referrals?
7. How will you communicate with me and how often?
8. What distinguishes you from your competition?
9. Will you help me find other professionals?
10. Will you personally handle the buying negotiations?

Who and What Sells A Home?


Most people think that the listing agent will sell their home. In fact, in approximately 90% of cases, it is another agent who brings in the offer. A fairly typical scenario would be a property listed at a 5% commission. The listing agent would offer half of the commission (2.5% of sale price) to any other agent who brings in an offer.

In our opinion there are five things that will sell your home:


First impressions are lasting impressions. You will want to make sure that buyers looking at your home are left with the best possible impression. Inside and out must be in tip top shape in terms of de-cluttering, depersonalizing, cleaning, repairs, and renovation if necessary. A staging professional can guide you on what needs to be done. Some items bring greater returns than others-


Average Cost

Increase In Home Value

Average Return

Lighten & Brighten
Kitchen/Bath Upgrades
Replace Carpeting
Fix Plumbing/Electrical
Repair Flooring
Paint Exterior Walls
$300 - 400
$90 - 100
$1600 - 2000
$200 - 1100
$400 - 500
$2600 - 2800
$300 - 400
$1500 - 1700
$2200 - 2400
$2100 - 2400
$800 - 900
$3800 - 4900
$2300 - 2900
$1600 - 1800
$3600 - 3900
$900 - 1200
$3800 - 4900
$2900 - 3200

One of the services we offer is a complimentary room by room report from our experienced stager.


One of your listing agent’s main roles is to act as your “marketing director”. They should have a detailed written plan on how to best expose your property to

a) the 30,000 other realtors who are part of the Toronto MLS system and
b) the general public


The four seasons of the year have traditionally resulted in varying real estate activity. Summer and Christmas time are generally slower in terms of buyers due to holidays. Spring and fall listings get more activity and competition.

Based on your unique requirements, referencing historical graphs, and statistics, your agent can make recommendations.


It is a fact of life that some areas are considered more desirable than others. However, your agent should be aware of changing neighbourhoods and factor this into the overall strategies.


Determining price is the single most important decision you will make. An over-priced listing does not encourage offers and languishes on the market. On the other hand you don’t want to leave money on the table!

An experienced agent will spend a lot of time presenting current market conditions, recent comparable sales and current competition. This data must be properly analyzed and adjusted to determine the optimum sale price for your home.

The Five Stages of Home Staging Grief

We were happy living in our crowded, shabby nest. But to make it sell, we had to get rid of half our stuff.

Back in the sixties, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross codified the five stages of grief to help us cope with the loss of a loved one. Recently, I discovered that the emotional turmoil of home staging plays out in a weirdly similar fashion. Trust me, there is a thin line between grief and interior decorating for a quick sale.

In both cases the first stage is shock and denial: What? Pictures of my family are not captivating to prospective home buyers?

Then comes anger: Are you kidding? We just painted the living room and dining room and front hall last year! Followed closely by bargaining: Okay. Fine. But if we strip the wallpaper, can we please, please, keep the blue walls?

Depression comes next: My whole life in this house has been a sham, so full of colour and memorabilia. Finally, there is acceptance. Reality crystallizes, you roll up your sleeves and sweat equity kicks in.

Sentiment aside, as with most people, our biggest investment. My husband and I needed the money out of our three-bedroom bungalow to move on with our lives post-retirement.

But having lived for 30 years in the same home, we were new to the not-so-gentle art of primping your house for the real estate market. We quickly learned there is a simple formula to the task of beautifying the old manse.

First, your house must be de-humanized (family photos packed away), decluttered and cleaned vigorously. Then it must be polished to a hard, minimalist shine with the walls painted, wallpaper stripped and furniture removed to reveal hardwood floors. Only then should the For Sale sign go on the lawn.

This is what the magazines reported and it’s what the professionals told us. We might be perfectly content living in our crowded, shabby nest (in fact we were), but if we wanted top dollar, in a timely fashion, we had better get out the rubber gloves, because the spiders on the windowsill and clutter in the closets must go.

Clearly, our home stager had a practical eye. She waltzed through our house and suggested we repaint every room (except the powder room), replace all the wallpaper and ship out half our worldly goods to parts unspecified.

“You want prospective buyers to imagine their own stuff in the rooms,” she said, and prescribed neutral tones with names like Manchester Tan and Trendy Biscotti for the walls.
  The colours were meant to create a contemporary feel, she wrote in her five-page report, “while adding warmth and spaciousness.” We knew she meant more warmth and an illusion of space to make the house show well and sell successfully, but as we were still then fixated on stage one (shock and denial), stripped down and tarted up is what we read between the lines.

Our real estate broker, a lovely woman who is also an old friend, was sympathetic. “If it makes you feel any better,” she said, “I felt like we were prostituting our own home when we sold it. It was rough. All I can say is, it works.”

I gave her three days to sell my house. We both laughed. She promised fresh flowers for the table. Did I mention the rule of three? Fresh flowers, fresh fruit and fresh baking- these are the sensual treats designed to complete and seduction, er, transaction.

So, the mop and the paintbrush came out, and a series of difficult choices reared their ugly heads: What goes into storage and what goes straight to the dump? Soul-destroying hardly covers it.

Even at stage five (acceptance), after three decades in the same home, feelings are bound to run deep. Would you throw away a pair of slippers just when they got comfortable? We grew to love our house with its rooms painted Chopin Blue and Wooded Path Green.

Thirty years is a long time to inhabit any dwelling in this transient world, but still I never dreamed it would be so difficult to entrust our house to professionals who must focus on the imperfections, not the context. Instead of a cozy family home they saw the dated wallpaper and quirky art and towering trees in the yard that only yesterday, it seems, were saplings bending in the wind.

But this was no time to get maudlin. The kids had married and moved on, with homes of their own. The dog was long dead. We have grandchildren, for heaven’s sake. My husband and I built a retirement home in a village in the country, a place where we can live the next phase of our lives, 30 years if we are lucky, close to nature in relative tranquility.

There will be fewer stoplights (one, in fact), less pollution and a host of opportunities to play and display our quirks and idiosyncrasies before another home stage gets our call.

I guess you could say we finally achieved closure in our five stages of grief. Our house sold in two days.

- Karen Alton lives in Grey County, Ontario
Article reproduced from Leeay Aikawa for the Globe and Mail


© Alan Coulter & Karen Kaiser. All Rights Reserved.