It’s good to be a seller in a sellers’ market.
That said, it’s still critical that you hire a list agent who will understand your particular goals and needs, net you the best outcome and manage the process effectively so that all goes smoothly through the closing. And ideally, your agent should be someone you enjoy working with — you will be spending a lot of time together, after all.
So how DO you find the best agent?
There’s certainly no one size fits all, but here is some advice that will help you know what to look for, what to ask, and ultimately how to decide on the best agent to meet your particular needs.
My apologies in advance for the length of this piece — I was originally thinking it would be a concise bulleted list, but as I got writing, I realized that it would be of limited value without context and explanations, soooooo… pour yourself a drink and grab a comfortable chair!
STEP 1 — Sourcing potential agents
Start by asking your neighbors or local friends who’ve recently sold a home if they would recommend their agent – getting a referral from someone you trust is a great place to start. It’s also worth checking in with any realtors you know outside of your market — many will have a strong referral network of agents around the state, country, and even around the globe. Another approach is to look up recent sales in your neighborhood and find the agents who listed those properties.
Before you actually contact any agents, do some due diligence on them – visit their websites (assuming they have one; many agents amazingly still don’t). How does it look? Professional and well-designed? Is the information clear? Does it appear to be current? Remember that this person is going to be responsible for marketing your home, and you can learn a lot by seeing how they market themselves.
Read the agents’ bios to get a feel for their background, experience, any specializations, and general personality. Check for testimonials from past clients. If there are none on an agent’s website, try Googling her online and see if you can find any reviews on Realtor.com, Zillow or Yelp. It’s always good to hear what past clients have to say about their experiences.
Look up prospective agents’ current and past listings online to see how they are presented – do the photos look professional? Is the home’s description appealing? For past listings, how much did they sell for as a percentage of the list price? In this market, most places receive multiple offers and sell over asking, so if you notice a trend of high list prices and below asking sale prices, consider that a red flag.
STEP 2 — Pre-screening your agent pool
When reaching out to book a meeting with potential list agents, call them on the phone. Do they answer? If not, how do they sound on their voicemail? Professional? Curt? Or is their mailbox full? Put yourself in a buyer or buyer’s agents shoes when calling because this is also what they will be experiencing when they call to set up a showing for your home.
If you call and leave a voicemail, does the agent respond in a timely manner? (This is somewhat subject to interpretation, but for me, I’d expect to hear back at least the same day.) If not, unless they have some great reason, I wouldn’t even bother meeting with them.
When you do get agents on the phone, consider how you feel talking with them? Are they professional and personable? Rushed and frazzled? Rude? Obviously, you should feel comfortable and respected by whoever you end up hiring, so if you get a bad first impression on the phone, you can probably skip meeting with them in person. That may sound harsh, but I believe in trusting your gut.
STEP 3 — Meeting with agents
As an aside before I delve into the next step… how many agents you decide to meet with is up to you — if you get a good referral from someone you trust, and all goes well when you talk to them on the phone, maybe one is all you need. Sometimes it makes sense to meet with two or three. Beyond that is probably superfluous if you’ve done the pre-screening, but if you’ve got the time and inclination, there are plenty of agents out there who’d be happy to meet you!
Typically you will have two meetings with each agent. The first will be a visit to your home, so that they can walk through it with you to collect the information they will need to put together a comparative market analysis to determine your home’s current value. If an agent skips this step and simply shows up and tells you your home’s market value on the fly, take it with a grain of salt. Unless you live in a large condo building where all the units are very similar, and the agent does a lot of sales there, it’s unlikely he can arrive at a realistic value before visiting your home.
Agents may or may not sit down with you to talk about their marketing, etc. at this first meeting – some prefer to save that conversation for the second meeting. In either case, there will be a time when agents will give you their “presentation” (generally with printed materials or a PowerPoint) describing their process for pricing and marketing homes and managing the process. They will likely cover the following points, but if they don’t volunteer this information, make sure you ask:
What experience do they have that qualifies them to sell your home?
How many years have they been in real estate? Are they a full-time agent? (You definitely don’t want someone who does this as a side-gig.) How many sales do they typically do in a year? What markets do they specialize in? Have they sold many homes similar to yours (condo v. single v. multifamily, price point, etc.)?
What is their strategy for pricing their listings?
Agents take many different approaches and there is no one right answer, but you want to know that they have “comps” to back up their predicted market value and a well-thought-out process for choosing the list price that will yield you the beset results.
How will they help you in preparing your home to sell?
Unless your home already looks like it is straight out of Architectural Digest or Dwell Magazine, you are likely going to have to do some things to get it “photo- and showing-ready.” (In my ten years of doing real estate, I’ve had ONE HOME that was perfect as is.) A good agent will guide you with reasonable suggestions (whether that means having it painted, professionally staged, or just doing some decluttering and depersonalizing) to make your home shine. Note that I said “reasonable.” There are a lot of houses out there that could benefit from a new kitchen or full landscaping job, and sure those things will make it easier for the agent to sell your house, but do you have the time and resources to get them done? And in the end, will you get your money back?
How will they market your home?
Do they use professional photographers? Will they produce floor plans, videos, 3-D tours? What social media, advertising and agent outreach do they do? Ask them to see some samples of their printed marketing materials — brochures, “just listed” postcards, etc.
How will they handle showings and open houses?
Sure, the first person that walks into your home may want to buy it, but you’ll only know that you’ve gotten the best offer if you have exposed your home to the full market, and that means allowing ample opportunity for people to visit. A good agent will schedule open houses both weekend days, and if customary in your town, host a broker open house a day or two before. They will also allow for as many private showings as you can accommodate. Too many agents nowadays restrict showings to the open house hours, which can preclude many qualified and interested buyers from being able to see your home.
Also, will the agents be accompanying showings or will they put your home on a lockbox? There are different customs in different markets, so make sure you know what’s the norm in yours. In Cambridge and Somerville, your agent should be present at showings. In the suburbs, lockboxes are more usual. Ask so you know what to expect.
What is their strategy for handling offers?
Will there be an offer review deadline? If multiple offers come in, how will the agent help you evaluate them and negotiate? It’s not all about the highest number and you will need your agent to guide you in selecting the best offer overall because the last thing anyone wants is for a deal to fall apart half-way through the process.
Who will be managing the transaction?
Once you have an accepted offer, someone has to manage it to make sure deadlines are met, the ball is moving forward, and any potential issues that arise are handled. Some agents do this work themselves, while others may have an administrator doing this part — either way is fine but you’ll want to know and have confidence that these details are being attended to so that you can get to a successful closing.
Okay, so we’ve gotten this far and you’re probably wondering when I’m going to talk about fees. I’ve saved them until the end because if you don’t have a good agent who is able to address all of the above aspects of selling your home, does it really matter what their fee is?
In competitive markets like ours, there will always be agents and brokerages willing to offer a discounted fee to sell your home because they simply make up the difference in volume. But think about what that means in terms of how much time and attention they will give to your home — probably not much. And is saving 1% on the sale price of your home worth it if that sale price is 10% lower than it should be due to poor marketing or lack of access for showings?
So yes, you should definitely ask agents what their fee is to sell your home, as well as what is included in that fee (e.g., are marketing costs factored in or do you pay that separately?), but give the answer its proper weight in the grand scheme of selecting the best agent.
Well, I know this was long, so thanks for reading through to the end — I hope this information was helpful. And of course, if you are considering selling your home and would like to speak with me about listing it, I’d love to hear from you, so please get in touch!
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