When it comes time to select your real estate agent, whether you're buying or selling a home, you should have many questions regarding the agent's knowledge of the market, skills as a professional and ability to advocate for you as a client.
Many in the industry recommend one particular question to pose in an interview: Do you work full time in real estate?
This is intended to ensure the agent you hire has enough knowledge of the market and a flexible schedule to meet your needs. But does the number of hours an agent works really matter?
It might, and it might not. The part-time versus full-time agent argument can get heated, as agents on both sides of the fence have valid points. Working full time in real estate doesn't guarantee better service, but fewer hours can be limiting for a profession that requires ongoing education, training and practice.
For Kevin Ward, a real estate trainer and founder of YesMasters, an industry coaching program, working with a part-time agent can be risky for many homebuyers and sellers. "It's too big of a transition and too big of a transaction in my life for someone that doesn't know what they're doing," says Ward, author of "The Book of YES: The Ultimate Real Estate Agent Conversation Guide."
There are exceptions to that rule, of course. But Ward notes anyone considering a part-time real estate agent should closely assess his or her track record as an agent, commitment to the task and whether the agent follows through with guarantees of availability. "If they don't say what they're doing now, they're only going to get worse," he says.
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There are more part-timers in the industry than most think. According to the National Association of Realtors, the typical real estate agent had 11 transactions in 2015, which would generate a sufficient commission in a luxury market, but in most cases , the professional would need another source of income. The association's 2016 Member Profile notes the majority of members report working 40 hours per week, though the median gross income for Realtors nationwide is $39,200.
"Chances are you are working with a part-timer and don't know it," says Jason Ross, owner of J. Samuel Ross Realtors in the Los Angeles area. He adds that most agents who work part time don't market themselves as having limited availability. And if they work with clients who fit well with their schedule, buyers and sellers may never know.
Many agents avoid announcing the topic for good reason. Working fewer hours or holding down another job (that may or may not be full time) can appear to be a distraction for the person assisting you with such an important investment.
"Most agents do everything to protect their image," Ross says. "You'll never hear an agent say, 'I hope you hire me because this will be my first listing.'"
But often being a part-time agent simply means working with a smaller number of clients, says Andrea Sutten, office manager for Ready Real Estate in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Sutten says about 20 percent of Ready Real Estate's agents are part time, which works well for the brokerage because its payment structure keeps the firm from having to focus on agent sale volume and total value. Part-time agents at the firm include a full-time teacher who encounters many people looking to buy or sell.
Sutten says the role of a part-time agent can also be a great fit for pensioners who enjoy staying active in business, or stay-at-home parents who can be at home with the kids "and still have that freedom and flexibility to work with clients."
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Before you choose someone to help with your next real estate deal, consider these pros and cons of working with a part-time real estate agent.
Pro: A good agent is a good agent. As in any other profession, there are good agents and bad agents regardless of the number of hours per week they work. What matters is the individual's knowledge of the market, industry savvy and willingness to advocate for his or her client.
"Not all real estate agents want to be the next 'Million Dollar Listing' agent," Sutten says. "Different agents have different goals. A part-time [agent] can work with fewer clients and at the same time and still give those fewer clients a high level of service."
Con: Missed nuances in negotiations. If agents don't frequently negotiate with others in the industry, it may be difficult for them to pick up on posturing in negotiations that can make it difficult to achieve the best result for their client.
If your agent works part time, it can be beneficial to inquire if they regularly consult an advisor or colleagues to ensure their next move in a deal is the right one. Ross, who advises many agents and brokerages that work both full and part time, says additional insight can make a big difference.
The last thing you want as a client is to feel like you're taking your next steps blindly. "Nobody should ever feel that way when it comes to selling houses, whether you're the client or the agent," Ross says.
Pro: Teamwork means someone is always available. There's always strength in numbers, and the common real estate team dynamic, where multiple individuals work with you throughout the process, can serve as a great way to offset some obstacles a part-time agent may face, Ross says.
If you sign on with a real estate team, you'll interact with not just your agent but also other agents, assistants and specialists for marketing, scheduling and finalizing paperwork, so you won't have to worry about your agent's limited schedule.
Con: Lack of personal brand marketing. One of the biggest challenges for part-time agents is a lack of marketing budget when it comes to getting his or her name out there.
Many full-time agents connect with a high number of clients because "they have a gargantuan marketing budget that the part-timers don't have," Ross says, which makes them a recognizable face on billboards, sides of buses and online ads.
But unless you're looking for an agent with all the hot pocket listings in your market, it likely won't hurt your homebuying success if you've already selected a part-time agent .
If you're selling, be sure to discuss a thorough marketing plan for your home. As with any agent you consider, if you don't feel the agent has the resources to market your home to the right buyers, it's best to keep searching for a better fit.