Advice: The questions to ask to find a good real estate agent

Belinda Moffat is chief executive of the Real Estate Authority (REA), the independent government agency that regulates the conduct of real estate professionals. Here, she answers your buying and selling questions.

Q: Hi Belinda. We are planning to sell our property in a couple of months as we’re moving to the South Island. We’ve lived in this house for over a decade so feel a bit rusty in terms of the process, and with a cooling market we’re anxious about selling for a reasonable price. How do we make sure we get a good real estate agent to support us and get us the best deal?

A: You’re right, a quality licensed real estate professional (licensee) can be invaluable in helping guide you through a property sale, especially if you’re feeling uncertain.

At the Real Estate Authority, we are the government’s independent conduct regulator for the sector; we license real estate professionals and oversee the code of conduct. We also deal with complaints and discipline issues that consumers can bring to us. Generally, only a few of New Zealand’s more than 16,000 active licensees have had a complaint upheld against them throughout their careers.

* Should I list with more than one real estate agency in a challenging market?
* Can real estate agents take a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach to property defects?
* I’d like to sell to a first-time buyer. Do I have to accept the highest bid at auction?

When you start to look at the licensee options in your area, remember that you’re looking for the person who is the best fit for you. Referrals and recommendations are great to have, but the right agent for you may be someone very different from the person who was the right agent for your friend, colleague or family member.

To find someone you are comfortable with and can trust, you may need to explore options. Instinct and personal rapport are important, (if you don’t find a particular licensee pleasant to deal with, buyers may not either), but remember you’ll be entrusting this person to sell what’s likely to be your biggest asset; you’ll want to base your decision on some tangible factors as well.

The right agent for you may be someone very different from the person who sold your friend's house (file photo).

Alena Darmel/Pexels

The right agent for you may be someone very different from the person who sold your friend’s house (file photo).

So, what should you be looking for? Well, there’s more than one recipe for success; you might be most comfortable with someone with a strong track record, decades of experience in the market and networks throughout the community. On the other hand, you might prefer someone who may be new to real estate, who brings other skills from a previous career in a related industry. It all depends on what works for you.

When you meet a prospective licensee, it’s a good idea to get the ball rolling with some questions, such as:

  • What do you know about my neighbourhood? How are sales in the area and who’s buying?

  • Do you work independently or with other agents?

  • What’s your advertising & marketing approach? What’s going to work for my property and what additional marketing costs will I have to pay?

  • What are your commission rates, and are you open to negotiation?

  • Do you have testimonials or references from people whose properties you’ve sold recently?

  • What do you recommend we do to prepare our home for sale?

  • Why do you think we should hire you?

Asking these questions is about forming a picture of the agent’s experience, knowledge and approach to business.

Belinda Moffat is the Chief Executive of the Real Estate Authority.


Belinda Moffat is the Chief Executive of the Real Estate Authority.

Be sure to find out what their proposed marketing plan will cost and ask them to explain the rationale behind their marketing recommendations. Ask yourself if that marketing would reach and appeal to you – you were once a buyer for your home after all.

Remember that you are entitled to negotiate on the marketing costs and commission.

Once you’ve found the agent or company you think you’d like to work with, I’d encourage you to look them up on our online public register at Through this register you can check that they hold a current licence, and it also shows you any complaints upheld against that individual in the last three years. Confirming their licence status is important; it’s illegal to carry out real estate agency work without a licence, and if you deal with an unlicensed person REA will be unable to help you if things go wrong.

We all know it’s a tricky time to be selling in the market right now. A licensee you can trust will be upfront with you about that, and will give you a realistic picture of what’s happening in your area and how they plan to get you the best price. They are required to provide you with a current market appraisal before you list with them, which is an estimate of the price they expect your home may sell for, based on similar sales in the area and their own knowledge of your property’s features.

If you are uncertain about an appraisal, or you’ve had a range of estimates from different licensees, you have the option of paying a registered valuer for an independent valuation, which is generally considered a more detailed and accurate estimate. But remember: even with all the information you can gather, the true indication of your property’s value is what a willing buyer will pay for it at the given time that it’s on the market. A valuation, a price range or a figure reached by an algorithm is not cash in the bank.

Once you’ve chosen a licensed real estate professional to work with, the terms and conditions of your contract with them will be set out in an agency agreement that you both sign. The licensee is also required to provide you with the agency agreement guide that REA has prepared for all vendors. The guides are also available on, and explain what the agency agreement should contain, our recommended standard clauses, and how to get help from REA if anything goes wrong. We also recommend you get advice from a lawyer before signing any agency agreement so that you fully understand your rights and responsibilities.

Good luck with the sale and your big move!

For information about the process of buying or selling property, and what to expect when working with a real estate professional, visit Have a question for Belinda? Email [email protected]

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