These are tough times for home sellers — but they can be even tougher if you don't have the right real estate agent on board. Though it may not be fair to expect miracles from an agent in this market, you do have the right to expect genuine expertise along with hard work and effort in your behalf. The following tips can help you choose an agent who's right for you.
1Consider going with an objective source. According to one estimate, about one-fifth of home sellers across America choose a real estate agent who is a friend or relative. It's nice to help your friends and family members, but it's also important to preserve your relationships for years to come. Remember that a real estate transaction can trigger almost unthinkable levels of stress and unpleasantness.
2Select a local expert. Look for an agent who has a thorough knowledge of your neighborhood's schools, stores, recreation centers, parks and other amenities. Agents armed with such ultra-specific information will be in a position to market your home in the most effective ways.
3Have agents compete for your business. After examining ads and for-sale signs, compose a list of the busiest agents in your area. Visit their open houses and make a mental note of how they treat potential buyers. Call the agents who impressed you the most and ask them to spell out how they would market your home. Be sure the marketing plan you discuss is included in any written agreement you sign.
4Figure out the agent's track record. Have your prospective agent show you the original asking and selling prices for homes they've recently sold. Also be aware that if you overprice your home, knowledgeable agents will be less likely to bid on it.
5Ask plenty of questions. Ask prospective agents how many transactions they've closed in the past 12 months. (In an ideal world, the answer would be about one per month, but that may not be realistic in this market. The agent you choose should have experience with homes in your price range, though.) Also, ask the agent to show you brochures and ads that will be used to sell your home, and find out how many ads the agent plans to run.
6Take the time to check references. Contact the agent's recent clients and ask them if they would use that agent again.
7Have a heart-to-heart about the commission early on. A Consumer Reports survey revealed that many agents are willing to accept a commission of 3 or 4 percent, as opposed to the standard 6 percent. The survey also indicated that sellers who paid lower commissions were just as satisfied as sellers who paid the full 6 percent.
8You might want to keep your options open. You could choose to have an "exclusive agency listing," which would mean that you would agree to work with one broker, but you wouldn't have to pay a commission if you sold your home yourself. The other option would be an "exclusive right-to-sell listing," which would mean only your broker could sell your home and you couldn't sell it yourself.
9Make sure the contract meets your needs. Sign on for the shortest possible period — three months, for example — and renew your listing contract at that point if you wish. Reserve the right to take legal action and to remove any statement requiring you to arbitrate disputes with the agent. Add a sentence to the contract that lets you cancel if you aren't satisfied with the agent's performance.
10Get on the market right away. Have your agent place your home in the multiple listing service within 48 hours of your signing the listing contract. It's crucial that you expose your home to the full market of buyers.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at email@example.com.
Sources: Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine; National Association of Realtors; Consumer Reports.