A friend called me up the other day asking me to help her sell her home. I told her that even though I could technically list it, I really wasn’t the right guy for the job; that someone local would be better. She then asked me for a referral to a Realtor in her area. She knows I have been selling homes since 1990 and wanted me to help her make the right choice. I asked if there was someone she knew specializing in her neighborhood? Of course there was, she said, but in this case she wasn’t sure she wanted them because it was a father-son team, with the son having taken over the dad’s business and that the dad was mostly retired. Thus I set out to find the best match for her, with little or no knowledge of whom to interview. This is a position that many would be buyers and sellers find themselves in: who to work with on this most important transaction and how to go about selecting the right representative?
The first thing I began my search with was finding a CRS, a Certified Residential Specialist. In full disclosure, I am a CRS. So what is that? A CRS is a designation for an agent or broker who has sold $25M in real estate over a 5 year period. Pretty easy for a decent California Realtor, not so much if you are in most of the other states. A CRS also has to complete 75 transactions within that same 5 year period. Easier if you sell $75,000 condos in Ohio, not so easy in place like Southern California. But that’s not all. A CRS also has to take a slew of 2 day CRS classes as well. So to become a CRS designee, you have to have completed additional educational reuirements, plus achieved a certain dollar and sales volume. Fact: CRS represent just 4% of all Realtors yet they handle 80% of all transactions. In other words, a CRS is a pro’s pro.
The second thing I look for is broker vs. agent (and yes, I am a broker too). Though most Realtors are commonly referred to as a “Broker,” in fact most are only agents. The difference? Education, responsibility and liability. To become a broker in California, an agent must have either a college degree, be an attorney or have been an active practitioner for at least 2 years. A broker has to take a ton of additional classes and only then, be eligible to sit for the 2 part, 8 hour State Broker’s Exam. A broker can hang their own shingle and sell whereas an agent must practice under the supervision of a licensed broker. There’s a joke I like to tell my clients when I meet them for the first time: What’s the difference between a California driver’s license and a California real estate license? Not everyone in California has a driver’s license. Sadly this is not entirely untrue, however a broker’s license is down right uncommon and frankly hard to get.
Once I have pared my list to brokers and Certified Residential Specialists, I look at them on the web. I want to see if they have a site. I want to see if they are active on Trulia and Zillow; I look them up on Facebook, LinkedIn and Yelp. I’m looking for someone who is somewhat on top of social media. This is especially true for sellers because the days of putting a sign in front, placing the listing on the MLS, and getting top dollar are long gone. Today’s agents need to be savvy, use professional photos, use social media to market properties and even use video through vehicles like YouTube.
Premier Service is another tool to use. Premier Service is like the JD Powers for the real estate industry where clients review their experience with their agent. The information is compiled by a neutral third party and then publicized. I have been a Diamond Award winner in the past, the highest possible ranking, but it’s very hard to achieve that distinction every year. It’s requires great reviews, a minimum volume and a high percentage of client participation. Many real estate companies don’t want to be responsible for dealing with bad reviews so they don’t participate in this industry leading survey group. If nothing else, Premier Service is a good tool to weed out certain agents and agencies.
Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to begin the interview process. Some people are going to want the “heavy hitter;” the agent that is doing 75 or more transactions a year. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, I tend to prefer the agent who is going to provide more personal service. I mean let’s face it, if I’m doing 100 transactions a year, you’re dealing with one of my assistants and not so much me as I am out soliciting new business. Their operation may be completely professional, but I prefer a more boutique approach. By the same token, I don’t want someone who used to be really busy and now is semi active. You’ll find this a lot in real estate. It’s said a Realtor never retires, they just fade away and I don’t want that agent either. The internet and social media research should help to weed this type of agent out. I also need to look at their dollar volume productivity. If I am selling a $700,000 home, I probably do not want someone who is selling $75M a year. The reason is that this type of agent is likely specializing in the high end and wouldn’t be attentive enough to my smaller, lower priced property. Conversely if I have a $5M estate home, I don’t want the agent who’s not doing big dollar volume because a property like this costs significant money to properly market.
Lastly is the issue of personality. This is pretty hard for me as a referring broker to assess, but something you are going to want to take into account. My wife for example will run from anyone who’s a fast talking salesperson. She wants someone who listens and carefully explains the process and importantly doesn’t talk down to her if she doesn’t understand something. If you don’t feel a connection with the agent you are interviewing, as hard as it is, you need to thank them and let them know that you don’t think it’s a good fit. When you hire someone to sell your home, the listing agreement will lock you up for 6 months or longer so you have to feel good about the person you hire. Can you get out of it? Maybe, but a contract is a contract so you don’t want to assume you can cancel at will. When you engage an agent to help find a home, though such a contractual agreement is not that common, it’s still not easy to fire an agent. In fact it’s downright awkward. Honesty is always the best policy, so if you start feeling that your agent isn’t doing what it is you want, let them know what you’re expectations are and if you don’t like how they respond, email them and let them know, you’ve decided to go a different direction.
Though this process as I’ve described it is a bit time consuming in the beginning, it will pay off in the long run with better satisfaction and most importantly, success. Thankfully with all the information available for you to do research, hiring the right agent has never been easier if you just take the time.