What Should I Expect From A Listing Agent And How Do I Choose?

There’s an old adage when it comes to sales, under promise and over deliver.  I guess this approach originated at some sales training course back when master salesman Zig Ziglar was still selling pots and pans.  While probably the safer method, I don’t believe it to be the correct one.  I believe in making big promises and then keeping them.  I like to set the bar high and then do the job.  I do try to measure the expectations of my clients because they may not fully understand the job of listing a home for sale but rather only what’s at stake: the successful sale of their home.  So when hiring a listing agent to sell your home, what is the job and what should you expect?

It is often said that a home seller should interview 3 agents.  This allows them to get several approaches to marketing as well as a cross section of pricing opinions.  This is not necessarily a bad way to go about choosing an agent, but it’s not necessarily the best way either.  What I mean is, if you don’t know a real estate agent and are starting out cold, then yes, interview a few.  However, if you know someone you trust, and they refer you to a Realtor that they had a good experience with, you may not need to look any further.  Provided that is, they show you what they do and have done in the recent past.  How did they articulate the listing? How did they market the home and how did they manage the selling process?  You must also develop a rapport with them and some level of trust.

Let’s start with by looking at their recent success.  Why recent success?  According to the National Association of Realtors, the average age of a Realtor in 2012 was 56.  That suggests that there are a lot more agents above 56 than below.  Think about it, if you had 200 agents and 100 agents were 30, the other 100 would have to be 82 to average 56.  Age in and of itself is not necessarily a good thing nor bad.  Age suggests experience, but is no guarantee of such.  In fact age does not reflect at all upon experience since many Realtors find real estate as a second career.  Looking at years in the business however, and reviewing recent sales activity, will give you an indication of their level of success in today’s market place.  I would guess that the average good Realtor in my market probably does 5-8 transactions a year.  Our very top producer might approach 100, but most top tier agents fall in the 15-30 category yet only represent 10% of all licensees.  But there’s more to it than just numbers.  An agent selling REO’s (foreclosures) for the banks for example, means higher sales numbers by volume, while an agent selling high end estates equates to higher gross sales dollars.  Since you are not a bank, and may or may not be selling an estate property, the type of property you want to sell makes a big difference in agent you’ll want to select.

When examining recent sales activity, ask to look at their most recent few listings.  First and foremost, review their pictures.  Not all agents are blessed with the ability or have purchased the necessary equipment to give your home the photographic representation it deserves.  That’s OK however, so long as they hire a photographer.  If, and I see this a lot, they can’t take a straight picture and they do the photos themselves, you are cheating yourself out of the single most important marketing element of selling a home.  If a picture paints a thousand words, you better have good photos.  This is an absolute necessity and especially true in this day and age where 90%+ of all buyers begin their search on the internet where quality pictures are a must.  You’ll also want to read the descriptions of their listings.   This reflects the attention they have spent on looking at the homes they are listing and also gives you an idea a to their creativity in marketing.  In doing this, you’ll see what you can expect when they market your home.

Speaking of marketing, you’ll want to know just exactly how they intend on exposing  your home to the masses.  Do they pay for extra display photos on Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow, or are they relying solely on their company website and the Multiple Listing Service?  Will they still utilize print media?  If you have a single story home that might be marketed to a senior for example, print media has more value than if you are a move up, family home and your buyer demographic is a 30-something with two kids and iPad in their hand.  This is part of the analysis required to be a successful Realtor, and one of the things you are hiring your agent to do.  Understanding market dynamics and marketing are not the same thing, but both are equally important.   And remember, homes don’t sell themselves, you are also hiring your agent to be a sales person.  Just because an agent  was formally a CFO of a fortune 500 company or has an MBA, doesn’t mean they can sell themselves out of a wet paper bag, let alone, your most valuable asset.

To recap, we’ve said your agent has to have recent success; possess an understanding of market conditions; have a sense for the dramatic when it comes to describing your property in both word and photograph, and have the ability to sell.  As you can see, there’s a lot more than meets the eye when hiring an agent to list your home.  It’s not just the old days of putting a sign in the yard and a post on the MLS.

Perhaps more than anything else you’ll ever do, selling a home is high stakes and stressful.  It’s confusing and it’s downright scary.  Most of us just don’t do it very often.  Having an agent that you trust to help navigate the crazy amount of paperwork, the selling process and most importantly to represent your best interest, is absolutely essential.   That’s why if you are referred to an agent by someone you trust; have a good feeling after sitting down with them and reviewing their qualifications as I’ve described, interviewing 3 agents really isn’t all that important.

When I’m meeting a prospective seller for the first time, I like to tell this joke: “What’s the difference between  California driver’s license and a California real estate license?  Not everyone in California has a drivers license.”  It’s funny because it’s true.   So when you start the process of selecting a Realtor to list and sell your home, remember the words at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when the bad guy-industrialist wants to drink from the chalice that is the Holy Grail, the Knight of the Templar says to him, “Choose wisely.”  You owe it to yourself to do the same.

About Tim Freund

Tim Freund has been a licensed real estate agent/broker since 1990. He spent 14 years as a new home sales rep, ran his own boutique resale brokerage for 5 years and is currently an Estates Director for Dilbeck Estates/Christie's International Estates in Westlake Village, Ca. Tim is a Certified Residential Specialist (CRS), an Accredited Buyer's Representative (ABR), a Corporate Mobilty Specialist (CMS) and a Senior Real Estate Specialist (SRES). Tim has successfully negotiated a loan modification for a client and has been a professional short sale negotiator. Tim sells along the Los Angeles and Ventura County lines, “from LA to Ventura..”. Tim has been married 31 years, has 2 children, is a native Californian and has been a resident of the Conejo Valley since 1991.
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