Some people put less thought into selecting a real estate agent to sell their home than they do into picking a restaurant for dinner. They hire an agent they know socially or the one who has the biggest ad in the Yellow Pages—then wonder why their home doesn’t sell quickly or for as much as their neighbor’s home.
Property values finally are stabilizing across much of the country, but the days when every listing received competitive offers aren’t coming back anytime soon. In this market, an agent’s ability to properly price and market a home can make a substantial difference in the amount of attention it receives and its eventual sales price.
Here’s a five-step plan for selecting the right real estate agent for you…
1. Ask for the “relocation coordinator” when you initially contact agencies. Sellers who call agencies typically are routed to whichever agent happens to be up in the rotation that day—it’s like spinning a roulette wheel to decide who sells your most valuable asset.
In contrast, relocation coordinators can be objective because they don’t sell homes themselves—their job is to assist executives who are moving to the area. The relocation coordinator often is willing to provide an insider’s opinion about which of the agents at the agency is most appropriate for a particular listing, given the home’s location and approximate value.
If you’re not certain which agencies to call, lean toward those that seem to have lots of homes for sale in your neighborhood, based on yard signs or listings on Web sites such as www.Zillow.com or www.Trulia.com. These are likely to be active, respected agencies that have a strong knowledge of your specific area. Real estate is extremely local—an agency that sells lots of home in your neighborhood likely understands the nuances of home values in the neighborhood.
Helpful: Small agencies often do not have relocation coordinators. If this is the case, ask to be represented by the broker/owner or at least obtain the broker/owner’s guidance in selecting the agent most appropriate for you.
2. Research agents before you meet with them. Experienced agents should have Web pages detailing their background and recent sales, typically on their agencies’ Web sites—be wary of those who don’t. Use this Web page to confirm that the agent has extensive experience selling homes in your price range and area—familiarity with homes much like yours is crucial. Also confirm that this is a full-time real estate agent—you don’t want to trust your home to a part-timer.
Do a Google search of the agent’s name and agency, too. Choose a different agent if this turns up numerous complaints from prior clients.
3. Interview at least three agents from different agencies—ideally four or five—before settling on one. Interviewing three or more agents lets sellers weed out those whose opinions on the listing price and needed improvements diverge significantly from the consensus. Why avoid these outliers? If your agent’s views differ greatly from those of most other agents, your home is likely to seem mispriced or flawed to the agents who represent potential buyers, too.
Example: Two of the three agents you speak with say your home should be listed for $450,000 and that the dingy carpet in the living room should be replaced. A third says that it should be listed for $500,000 as is. There’s a good chance that the third is either misreading the market or telling you what he/she thinks you want to hear to win the listing.
4. During interviews, ask agents about their marketing strategies, pricing recommendations and background. Agents should be able to lay out fairly detailed marketing plans that may include open houses, brochures, advertising and online marketing—and be able to explain their reasoning for each element of this plan. Often it’s the explanation of why the strategy has been selected that’s most telling.
Example: Perhaps the agent has learned from earlier sales that placing ads in a specific publication that caters primarily to vacationers visiting the area is a great way to find potential buyers for area lake homes.
Steer clear of real estate agents who recommend a listing price immediately upon viewing your home. An agent might reasonably discuss a general pricing strategy or a price range when asked about recommendations for a listing price during this initial interview, but a responsible agent should take some time back at the office to review recent comparable sales before citing a specific listing price. Don’t work with an agent who asks you what you want to ask for the home. Agents who solicit clients’ opinions about listing price often set listing prices based on clients’ desires rather than on reality.
Helpful: When agents call back later with their proposed listing prices, ask how they arrived at the figures. It should be based mainly on the closing prices of homes such as yours that recently have sold or that are in the process of closing. It should not primarily be based on the prices being asked for homes still on the market. Savvy agents understand that what matters most is what buyers are paying, not what sellers are asking.
Eliminate agents whose guidance deviates significantly from the consensus, then chose the one who most impressed you throughout the process. If your initial interviews produce no clear consensus about your home’s listing price or needs, continue interviewing agents until a consensus emerges. If you don’t have time for that, lean toward an agent whose opinion is in the middle of the pack.
A more experienced real estate agent usually is preferable to a less experienced one—particularly if that experience includes many homes sold in your home’s price range and neighborhood. An agent with limited experience might be acceptable if he is working closely with a more experienced colleague, however.
5. Ask for contact information for the agent’s five most recent sales. Contact at least a few of these sellers to confirm that they had a positive experience with the agent.
Helpful: If the agent lists recent sales on his Web page, use these to confirm that you really have been given the five most recent sales. If not, ask about the missing seller—the agent might be hiding a less-than-satisfied client from you.