Choosing an agent to sell your home

We meet with home owners almost everyday who are looking to sell their home. These prospective sellers want to learn about our services, our fees, and ultimately what we will do to help them sell their home quickly, while getting as much as possible from the sale. There are a number of factors that we see sellers use to choose an agent. Here is our take on how to pick a listing agent and some pitfalls to avoid in the process.

How NOT to select your listing agent

  1. Based on the highest recommended selling price – The first agent says they can sell your home for $400,000. The second agent thinks they can get it sold for $450,000. Don’t automatically choose the second agent with the highest price recommendation. A price recommendation is simply an opinion from the real estate agent, and those opinions are based on their recent experience and knowledge of market data, which is always imperfect in real estate. The agents with the higher proposed selling price do not have access to a “magical” pool of buyers willing to spend more to buy your house. The market will determine the price. Some agents will tell you a low price because they want to price it aggressively and sell it quickly, maybe too quickly. Others will tell you a number that you want to hear to get your listing, knowing full well that once they have the listing in place, they can get you down to a realistic number over time while still retaining the business. At the end of the day, price is your decision. You should listen to the market knowledge and experience of the agents, but you should not blindly choose an agent because they are promising more money. Often those are false promises to get your business.
  2. They promise that they have access to a great pool of buyers – There are many variations of this pitch. The agent will tell you that they “work with lots of buyers in the area” or will “expose your listing to all of the agents in their office who do business in the area.” This approach may be valid in small towns with a handful of agents, but it is simply untrue in larger cities with thousands of agents. Actual sales data simply does not show this result. In the Seattle area, 95%+ of sales are closed between agents from totally random and unrelated offices and is almost never sold by your listing agent. In the rare event that your listing agent actually does find you a buyer, it is not because they are currently working with a buyer for your home. It is simply because an unrepresented buyer happens to call their name on the sign.
  3. Picking the “neighborhood expert” – Some neighborhoods have a few agents who “own” the neighborhood. You see their signs on all of the neighbors houses, and automatically assume that they have some special expertise in getting home sold quicker. Some of these neighborhood agents are quite good and some are not (see criteria below), but once again they do not have some magical power to produce a buyer for your particular house. In the age of the internet listing, the most important factor is to present an appealing product at a reasonable price to the broadest possible audience of buyers. Buyers could care less who the listing agent is if the house is right for them. If a buyer’s agent has a buyer for your house, they will find you through internet listings, not through consultation with some neighborhood expert.

Selecting the right listing agent

  1. Comfort level – Personality fit is critical to picking the right agent. In today’s market, selling a home can be a long and emotional process, sometimes fraught with negative news along the way. You want an agent who you feel comfortable with and are willing to listen to, even if they are delivering news that you do not want to hear.
  2. Marketing plan – Does your agent have a plan to expose your listing to the maximum number of buyers? Note that this is different than actually finding a specific buyer (which they don’t do). Buyers and agents will almost certainly find your home online, and a successful listing agent will have a plan to get your listing into every corner of the internet.
  3. Presents your home professionally – The agent’s job is to make your listing as attractive as possible and get buyers in the door. Outside of price and location, photos are what bring buyers to your door. There is no excuse for listing agents that do not take professional-quality photos, and thousands of examples of listings with extremely poor photos. The other critical task here is helping you to get your home to “listing condition.” A quality listing agent will not be afraid to tell you what needs to be cleaned, de-cluttered, painted or repaired. Take a look at their current listings and see how they are presented before you make a choice.
  4. Has a rational, well-researched approach to pricing – Price is the single biggest factor to getting your home sold quickly. It is a balancing act between wanting to sell quickly and not leaving money on the table. While pricing is ultimately your decision, you want to work with an agent who has a well-thought out approach to pricing your home. Have they researched homes that have actually sold? Are they taking current competitors into account? Have they viewed your competitors in person? How do they adjust prices based on the unique characteristics of your home (positive or negative)? A reputable listing agent will also refuse to take your listing if they think your proposed price is way too high for current market conditions.
  5. Doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – You are paying the listing agent for their advice. You are not required to take their advice, but you want someone who will be open and honest about what they think of your home and current market conditions.
  6. Listing fees – Listing homes for sale is a competitive business. Some agents are inflexible on their fees, while some will negotiate them. Remember that all fees are negotiable, and you need to feel comfortable with the value you are getting from the agent in exchange for those fees. Choosing the lowest fees is not always the right choice, unless you are prepared to sacrifice service levels to achieve the lower fees.
  7. Negotiation, persistence and follow-up – When buyers express interest in a property, you want an agent that will follow-up diligently with all potential leads. Buying a home is not like buying a car. An agent cannot convince someone to buy a home that they originally don’t like, but a good agent can sometimes coax an interested buyer through persistence and follow-up. When you do receive an offer, you want an agent who is a strong negotiator that looks out for your best interests. They are able to effectively state your case to the buyer, hopefully resulting in a higher sales price, while not scaring the buyer away in the process. They are also effective negotiators during the property inspection, seeking creative and fair remedies to both parties to ensure a successful sale. Being a strong negotiator does not always mean being aggressive. Selling a home is a cooperative and often emotional process between your agent, the buyers agent and the buyers. Your agent needs to be able to balance assertiveness with professionalism and courtesy to the other parties in a transaction.
  8. Strong communications – You want a listing agent who regularly communicates the progress of your listing and any recommended actions. It will likely take a number of months to sell your home, and you want to be in tune with what is happening with the listing. You should also use agents who have a feedback mechanism for agents and buyers who have seen your house. The most important market advice you can often receive is direct feedback from recent showings.
  9. Access to contractors – Selling a house, particularly an older house, may require some home maintenance and repairs to make buyers be willing to purchase the home. Sometimes these are simple fixes, but other times are extensive repairs requiring numerous contractors. A good listing agent can be a valuable resource for getting this work bid out, scheduled and completed. Everyone has busy lives, and having a reliable agent who can make these fixes happen without your involvement will save you lots of time and hassle.
  10. Experienced, full-time agents – Selling homes is a full-time job. Part-time agents will give you part-time service. A dedicated agent will always make themselves available to show your home to prospective buyers and has a team of people in place that can help when needed.

Selling a home, particularly in today’s slower real estate market, is a sometimes daunting and emotional task. Doing your homework and selecting the right agent to list your home can pay off with a quicker, relatively pain-free sale, so choose wisely.

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