This article is part of a larger series on How to Become a Real Estate Agent.
The majority of states mandate that agents must find a sponsoring broker in order to conduct real estate transactions. However, it is important not to rush the selection process, as the firm you choose plays a role in your success. Therefore, we’ve compiled 20 key questions for real estate agents to ask when interviewing brokers to help skyrocket your career.
In addition to these questions, we’ve also included several examples of answers an agent might expect to hear from a high-performing real estate brokerage versus answers that could indicate time for caution. Keep in mind that every brokerage is different, and even if they give you a bad answer, it doesn’t mean that you should immediately rule them out. Take it, instead, as a sign that you should ask additional follow-up questions for further clarity.
1. What Is the Commission Split?
A commission split simply refers to the amount of commission the agent and the brokerage receive when they complete a real estate transaction. Commission splits can range from 50/50 all the way to 100%. There is no single type of commission split that is more beneficial than others. However, you need to get an accurate picture of how your income and expenses will vary at each different brokerage.
In order to get all of the information upfront, consider desk fees and expenses for training, tools, marketing, insurance, and travel.
2. What Is the Desk Fee?
A desk fee is a payment you make to your brokerage for having physical space at an office. While you are never required to use the office, many brokerages still require a desk fee. Other brokerages, like Keller Williams, make desk fees optional. If you do not want space at a physical office, you can choose not to pay for it.
3. What Are the One-time & Ongoing Fees?
Unfortunately, no matter which real estate company you choose to work for, there are going to be costs associated with doing business. Membership and marketing fees are expenses every real estate agent has, but each brokerage handles the finances differently. Make sure you have a clear answer, preferably in writing, as to what costs you would be responsible for when you leave the brokerage interview.
In addition to desk fees, other common expenses are:
- Annual National Association of Realtors (NAR) membership
- Printing fees for mailers, business cards, and so forth
- Errors and omissions (E&O)insurance
If you don’t ask questions about these fees, you may not get the full picture of how each brokerage will impact your income.
Good answer: “E&O insurance must be paid in a lump sum, you must pay for an annual NAR membership, and the technology fee is $100 per month.”
Proceed with caution: “I don’t think there are any other fees.”
The word of caution in this example of a bad answer is “think.” A high-performing broker should be able to provide you with a list of recurring expenses so that agents under his or her supervision can budget accordingly.
4. Are Commissions Negotiable?
Legally, everything in a real estate transaction is negotiable. However, according to a 2019 report from the CFA, 73% of agents are not willing to negotiate their commission. Even though negotiations between buyers, sellers, agents, and brokers is uncommon, it’s still important to ask your broker for details. Even if they do not negotiate, they must be open and honest so that you can express the same thing to your future clients.
Good answer: “We don’t negotiate commissions, and here’s exactly why.”
Proceed with caution: “No, fees are not negotiable.”
While in both of these examples, the broker is unwilling to negotiate their commission agreements, the fact that the first broker offered to provide an additional explanation makes it clear that he or she values transparency. It can also indicate that, by sharing this insight, this broker values training and mentorship.
5. What Kind of Training Is Provided?
As a new real estate agent, training and education might be the most important question for real estate agents to ask when interviewing brokers. If you don’t have experience or many connections, training and mentorship opportunities can make or break your success in real estate. Some brokerages have pre-established training programs for new agents, while at other brokerages, it falls upon the agent to find a mentor.
If you’re already a licensed agent but are struggling to get your career moving and find a specific direction, you may benefit from Kaplan’s professional development courses. The Career Accelerator was designed to help new agents create a business and marketing plan from scratch to get their career up and running quickly.
6. Is There a Company Policy Manual?
All companies should have a company policy manual. Whether you are interviewing a franchise brokerage, boutique, or a virtual brokerage, it’s important to read over the manual before making any agreements. This manual can show you the standards and values of the brokerage, as well as their rules and expectations.
It’s also a good idea to review the manual before agreeing to join a brokerage if you have any desire to expand your real estate experience beyond serving as a buyer or seller agent. For example, you can check the manual to see if the brokerage has set rules and restrictions about agents investing in real estate. If you decide to purchase an investment property, you should know in advance how the listing and commission will be paid.
Good answer: “Yes, here’s a copy for you to look over.”
Proceed with caution: “No, we don’t have a policy manual.”
7. Is There Administrative Support?
Most brokerages have a licensed real estate assistant or administrator who helps with paperwork, answering phone calls, scheduling appointments, organizing supplies, and much more. Having an office assistant will save you time and help you stay organized during your first few listings.
On the other hand, great real estate brokerages may not have a real estate assistant and still be extremely great places to work. If the brokerage does not have an assistant, it is likely that many of those duties fall on the real estate broker and agents. In this case, be sure to get complete details about what administrative tools and support will be offered to help balance your work.
Good answer: “Yes, our assistant is licensed, works from 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and takes care of specific tasks.” OR “No, we do not have a real estate assistant, but here is how we balance the administrative tasks.”
Proceed with caution: “No, we don’t really worry about the administrative side of things.”
8. Where Do You Focus Your Online Marketing Efforts?
A 2019 study from the NAR showed that 93% of all homebuyers used an online website to search for their home, and 76% of all buyers found their home on a mobile device. It is absolutely vital that your real estate brokerage is using an online marketing strategy to generate leads and get their listings seen.
Having an effective marketing strategy means that you are generating new leads, turning them into clients, and consistently growing your network and reputation. However, the best way to do this will depend on your location and your target market. A successful managing broker will have valuable expertise about what marketing strategies do and do not work in your location.
Good answer: “We have found that social media outreach is the best way to connect with first-time millennial homebuyers, and our email list helps us nurture previous clients.”
Proceed with caution: “Our business comes from friends and family, so we don’t focus on being seen online.”
While the strength of a referral network will play a key role in the success of any agent, more and more business is being conducted online each year. In addition to the risk of running out of leads, a brokerage that doesn’t care about its online presence also runs the risk of being seen as out-of-date or not credible.
9. What Kind of Software or Technology Is Provided?
It’s common for franchise and virtual brokerages to give agents free access to real estate tools, such as customer relationship management (CRM) software. Boutique brokerages, on the other hand, sometimes don’t have the same level of funding to provide the same tools for their agents. You can be extremely successful without having every tool on the market, but make sure you know what tools are the most important and how your brokerage will help you.
Good answer: A successful and trustworthy brokerage could use any number of tools and technology. Look for brokers who can tell you the exact tools they use and the specific reasons they chose them.
For example, when we asked Laura Rittenberg, President of Coldwell Banker Realty in Atlanta and the Carolinas, to describe the tools offered to agents, she said:
“One such example is Listing Concierge. This is an exclusive marketing program delivered by marketing specialists on our agents’ behalf that helps agents reach buyers quickly and virtually, with a property video tour, dedicated property website, online advertising, customized email distribution, social media posts, and more. Properties marketed using Listing Concierge sell 50% closer to the listing price and had a 2% to 7% higher sales price. Market Leader is another fantastic tool that enables agents to track their leads and keep in touch with their clients. We also provide exceptional products to help our agents stand out among agents from other brokerages and leverage as part of their value proposition, such as RealVitalize, a program where Coldwell Banker has partnered with HomeAdvisor to provide homesellers with home improvement resources by prescreened home service professionals prior to or during the home listing period with no upfront costs or interest charges.”
Proceed with caution: “We don’t use technology tools because we don’t think they’re important.”
10. Are There Mandatory Meetings?
As a real estate agent, you are an independent contractor and do not have the same requirements and expectations as an employee. However, you will still be responsible to meet certain guidelines from your sponsoring brokerage, like mandatory meetings.
Carefully consider what you want your real estate career to look like. If you enjoy meeting with your co-workers and are looking forward to getting training and creating mentor relationships, this may fit your needs. However, if you want complete freedom with your time, then you may prefer a virtual brokerage like Real. This 100% mobile brokerage gives you access to tools and support, but does not have a physical office or required meetings.
11. How Many Agents Work Here?
Keep in mind that the number of agents at each brokerage depends on the type of brokerage you are interviewing. Boutique brokerages may have only a few agents working with them. Even though franchise brokerages have thousands of agents across the country, there is probably only a small number that you will work with at your specific office location.
12. How Many Agents at This Brokerage Work Part Time & Full Time?
Carefully consider how you plan to work in your real estate career. This question can reveal what kind of agents and work habits fit the best in that brokerage. For instance, if you are planning to work part time, you probably don’t want to join a brokerage where every agent works 40-plus hours a week. It’s important to evaluate how your brokerage will fit in your lifestyle.
13. What’s the Average Number of Years of Experience of Your Agents?
If you are a brand-new agent, you may get a lot of valuable expertise from working alongside more experienced agents. Zillow found that 80% of new real estate agents fail in the first two years. If you want to be in the 20%, you need to surround yourself with agents who have learned the ropes and know how to succeed in a difficult market.
Good answer: “We enjoy having new agents, but many of our agents have 10-plus years of real estate experience.”
Proceed with caution: “All of our agents have less than a year of experience.”
While it might sound great for a newly licensed real estate agent from a team building perspective to hear that the majority of other agents in the brokerage are at a similar point in their career, an agent joining a young firm like this one will miss out on mentorship opportunities. In addition, if the brokerage is established, but the team is young, it can indicate a high degree of turnover that could be a result of poor management.
14. How Long Have Your Agents Stayed at This Brokerage?
Although you are not obligated to stay with one brokerage for your entire career, it’s highly beneficial to choose a brokerage that can help you start and grow your career for many years. Asking this question is a great way to evaluate how well the brokerage can support agents of varying experience levels.
If the brokerage does not have agents who have worked with them for more than a few years, feel free to ask additional follow-up questions. You may discover that the company has a valid reason for their high turnover rates. For instance, you would want to know if the firm has had agents who have retired after skyrocketing into six-figure salaries.
15. How Many Listings Does Each Agent Currently Have?
A brokerage might be able to boast a large number of listings, but the details of the listings are just as important. While most brokerages have a few top producers, it could be a problem if one or two agents have the vast majority of listings and other agents struggle to find any. This could be a sign that the brokerage may not support agents and keep them motivated.
16. What Is the Average Income of Your Agents?
While a managing broker probably does not know the exact figures for each agent offhand, he or she should have a general understanding of how much volume each agent is producing. A broker who gives you an extremely general figure and is unwilling to go into any more detail may not be as informed about his business growth.
Good answer: “Many of our full-time agents make between $70 and $100,000.”
Proceed with caution: “They probably all make $50,000.”
Real estate agents’ incomes can have an extremely large gap depending on the hours they work and the effort they put in. While a larger average income is definitely a positive quality in a brokerage, be careful not to base your decision on this numerical figure. Take that information into account with how many hours the agents work, the overall office culture, and how it fits with the way you will work.
17. Are There Mentorship Opportunities?
Having a mentor as a new agent will be one of the most valuable tools in your entire career. A mentor who knows your area and your target market will be able to offer you extremely relevant and valuable expertise to help you learn more quickly. Some brokerages offer a mentorship program for six to 12 months.
Even if there isn’t a formal program, there could still be mentorship opportunities. Ask the broker to describe their leadership style and management background. A good indicator of a high-performing real estate company is a managing broker who takes pride in the success in their team. For example, Rittenberg describes her experience like this:
“I have over 30 years of real estate knowledge and expertise to offer new and experienced agents, and prior to joining Coldwell Banker, I managed sales offices for two national franchises, owned and operated two independent real estate companies, a mortgage company, and a real estate licensing school. I love this industry, our agents and support staff, and Coldwell Banker’s Core 4 Values. More importantly, I have assembled an unparalleled leadership team that is committed to supporting our agents and helping them realize their potential.”
18. What Is the Company Culture Like?
You want to get a good idea of the company’s values as early as possible. Although you can’t judge everything from one meeting, you can pay attention to the interactions within the office and listen to the broker describe the culture. Some brokerages have more competition than camaraderie, and you will benefit from being aware of that in advance. Follow-up questions about their history and values can also provide you with insights about a brokerage’s culture.
When asked to talk about the company’s history, values, and what sets them apart from other brokerages Rittenberg was able to provide the following insight into Coldwell Banker Realty’s culture:
“Our company’s founders believed that a successful real estate company could be operated doing the right thing for buyers and sellers. Our Core 4 Values (production power, coaching to confidence, wealth builder, and culture of awesomeness) ultimately serve our clients’ every real estate need, especially during the current pandemic. The health and safety of our communities, employees, affiliated agents, and clients we serve remains our top priority, following the guidance of the CDC and local government entities.”
19. What Are the Brokerage’s Short- & Long-term Goals?
All successful people and companies have specific goals and plans to achieve them. The brokerage you choose should also be working toward growth at every stage. Listen for how specifically the broker talks to you about their goals and their plans for the future.
20. How Are Leads Distributed & Qualified?
When a buyer or seller contacts a brokerage for help, there are many ways they can choose to hand off the lead. The way they do this can reveal a lot about the way the brokerage is run. A study from Inman found that 60% of real estate agents felt that their brokerage distributed leads unfairly.
Many different systems of distributing leads can be effective, but it’s important that your brokerage has a clear and fair method established. For example, at Coldwell Banker Realty, Laura advised they use an application called CBx Seller Leads to give their agents lead insights. Therefore, if you want to find a brokerage that will help you gain a large quantity of high-quality potential clients, this is a vital question to ask the brokerage.
Good answer: “We use an automated system that rotates the distribution of each lead.”
Proceed with caution: “I tend to just give them to anyone who’s near me at the time.”
Your real estate brokerage interview is a great opportunity to get important details about each brokerage. Make a list of your questions, write down the answers and things you notice, and then take the time to consider what type of brokerage may be the best fit for your real estate career.