Until relatively recently (the last twelve to eighteen months in many regions), sellers across the nation have enjoyed a pretty robust “seller’s” housing market. Certainly, in the Pacific Northwest, competition for good inventory in most price ranges remained stiff until only a few months ago. I have builder/investment clients who bought their first home to remodel in October of last year. We were successful with our third offer after having competed on two previous properties for which the sellers reviewed nineteen and fourteen offers respectively.
In such a superheated selling environment, some home owners consider the need for a listing agent more an annoyance than a necessity, hence the increase in discounted services being offered by so many limited service brokerages. However, as the market has turned and inventory is sitting, finding that skilled, competent full service agent takes on huge significance. We are reminded of why it is so important for sellers to be very deliberate in selecting the right real estate professional to market their property. I, as a full service agent, believe there is plenty of room for both full and limited fee providers. Analogous to shopping at Nordstroms versus Sears, the experience between full and limited service should be commensurate with expectations and cost.
Sellers interviewing full service agents might consider the following:
· When selecting an agent, look for that all important referral from friends and family. There is no stronger endorsement of an agent’s abilities than a satisfied past client.
· Even if you are considering working with a referral, don’t be shy about interviewing other agents and from competing brokerages. One person’s favorable experience could be another’s disaster. However, please be up front with the referred agent that you are interviewing others. Experienced agents, typically confident and not fearful of the competition, are likely to ask if you are regardless.
· Ask candidates how long they’ve been in the business. A new agent can be a terrific asset because he’s hungry and eager to offer his fullest attention. However, as we are held to the same standard of care legally regardless of how long we’ve been licensed, new agents should be mentored by seasoned ones. I am a mentor in our office. If my mentee is securing a new listing, his client can be confident he is backed by an experienced team.
· A seasoned agent should have a dependable and balanced track record. Ask her what her average market time and sales-to-listing price ratios are for her sold properties. You want an agent whose record is well above, not at or below standard.
· Determine if her listing experience is appropriate to your price range. An agent specializing in marketing entry level homes might not be the best choice for your multi-million dollar chalet.
· How busy are they? An agent who has too many irons in the fire without enough support may not be your best choice. Volume is not always a reliable indicator for quality of service. An office with award placards on a wall does not guarantee excellence.
· What designations does the agent possess? Most states have a basic licensing requirement. As an associate broker in my state, I am licensed to open and/or manage my own office. Only eleven percent of agents have this level of licensing in Washington State. Agents who have spent time educating themselves and securing additional industry accreditations are demonstrating a deeper investment in their careers and level of service.
· What is their marketing plan for your home? Putting a sign in the front yard, flyers in the box and creating a local multiple listing service listing are simple matters. What about staging, advertising, open houses (both public and private)? Ask how your agent plans to bring buyer’s representatives to the property. Does the agent use silent talkers, those cards displayed throughout the house bringing its features to a buyer’s attention? I always recommend a thorough home inspection to my clients. Doing so allows a seller to learn about and address issues before they become buyer concerns negotiable during the inspection contingency period.
· Consider how you like to be communicated with and to. Do you want to be updated frequently, on a weekly basis? What kind of activity reporting system does the agent maintain? Does your agent return phone calls and e-mails in a timely manner? What is the agent’s plan for showing your home?
· How did the candidate show up for the interview? Was he organized, well presented and did he arrive on time? Your time is important. Are his materials well considered, thorough and truly reflective of market conditions in your area?
· What is her knowledge of your neighborhood? As I’ve written in previous posts, working with an out-of-area agent is not necessarily a bad thing if, in the balance, the services and knowledge she brings to the table are greater than her lack of experience in your particular neighborhood. However, an out-of-area agent should clearly articulate any risks to you, the seller.
· And, of course, there is the taboo question, commission. I charge a fixed fee for which I detail my services clearly and without confusion. Commissions are negotiable, to be sure. I just don’t negotiate mine. If flexibility in commission is important to your decision-making process, then consider this. An agent who eagerly negotiates away his own livelihood before even representing you may not be inclined to negotiate aggressively on your behalf when that purchase and sale agreement arrives. So, what may have looked like savings on the front end becomes money left on the table when your house sells at a lower price for lesser terms.
Sellers’ needs are as varying as agents are plentiful. Your agent should be knowledgeable, confident, experienced and committed. If she is these things, you will be well-served.