Hearken back, if you will, to the place and time when you bought your first home. If you were like most buyers, your best case scenario was to find an agent who was part money manager, part negotiator extraordinaire and part therapist to help you through the process.
But your priorities might be – scratch that – should be a little bit different when you’re looking for an agent to help you price, list, market and sell your home.
There are loads of lists to be found online and in books about the questions you should ask when you interview listing agents. But it’s a lot harder to figure out what mistakes the sellers who have gone before you would avoid, if they could. Fortunately, that’s what we’re here for.
I’ve heard from thousands and thousands of sellers over the years, online and off, about the things they neglected to do when they were selecting their listing agent – the omissions they regretted later. Here are the top nine – and in the comments, I’d love to have you all share more!
1. They don’t totally understand the nature of the challenge. You’re not looking for a new BFF or even for an agent who has the temperament and patience to deal with your cranky husband. Selling a home quickly and at top dollar requires a concentration of marketing and negotiations skill and less interpersonal skill, compared with buying. So your challenge as a Seller looking to hire an agent is to feel comfortable that the listing agent you hire has:
1. a strong, documented track record of accomplishing the results you seek for their recent, nearby listings (which might include some marketing through their local agent relationships, but might not) and
2. a strong, proactive, well-thought-out plan for helping you achieve the same success.
I’ve seen a number of sellers who list with friends or relatives that don’t have such a track record often fail to get the results they seek, even if their agent is a lovely human being with strong skills getting homes sold 3 states over in a totally different marketplace with totally different market dynamics.
2. They fail to understand roles and responsibilities. When sellers have a bad home-selling experience, 9 times out of 10 that means that their home lagged on the market, sold for way below listing or was in and out of escrow a bunch of times. Sometimes, the fault for these things does fall on the listing agent, especially if there was some sort of huge marketing fail, like the place was listed online with no photos or it was somehow otherwise not fully exposed to the market. But many, many times the fatal flaws I see in listings are things that are (a) decisions the Seller themselves ultimately made, and (b) the Seller made in direct opposition to their agent’s advice.
Overpricing a property for the market dynamics, failing to handle some major condition or aesthetic issues and/or making it unavailable for showings are 3 things that listing agents spend much of their working lives advising sellers to do differently – which is advice most unhappy Sellers ignore or refuse to follow.
As you interview listing agents, talk with them about which pieces of the process of getting your home sold are things they are responsible for – and which pieces you are ultimately accountable for. And as you walk with them through their plans for preparing, pricing and marketing your home, if you find yourself feeling like pushing back against every thing they say, consider whether that dynamic will truly serve you well throughout your transaction. Hiring the best agent ever means very, very little if you refuse to follow their advice, whether your reasons for refusing are right or wrong.
3. They omit to ask for the right data – or for any data at all. Sometimes, the power of an agent’s personality or the lore of a longtime locally legendary agent’s prowess precedes them and takes over the conversation. And this isn’t all bad: an agent with a super strong local reputation probably got it by dint of the very skills they’ll need to wield in selling your home, and highly social agents often have fantastic buyer broker relationships they use in getting the right target buyers into their listings (read: your home).
That said, if you are at the dining table with an agent, don’t let the conversation get so derailed that you fail to ask for and review the important data points.
You need to know a few key numbers, including:
1. The average number of days their most recent listings have stayed on the market before selling (and how that compares to the area average)
2. The average list price to sale price ratio they achieve for their listings (and how that compares to the area average)
3. How many listings your home would be competing with if you listed it today (and how they justify which homes they threw into that mix)
4. How many offers most home sellers in your area are fielding
5. How many other listings they currently have, and how many team members are available to service them.
Ask for this data and discuss with the agent candidate how it applies to the decisions you need to make: starting with your agent choice, but also including your pricing and timing decisions.
4. They fail to understand the data. A lot of people who are super smart, Type A folks are so used to being highly competent that even when a listing agent candidate proactively presents data like that described above, they fail to ask questions about things they don’t understand. Let me tell you – if you don’t do real estate all day everyday, there’s no reason to expect that you’ll have mastery over this information at first glance.
If you don’t understand the data, the marketing plan or anything else the agent presents to you: ask. And keep asking until you do fully understand the information and it’s implications for you – even if you think you’re asking a silly question, you think it should be obvious. It’s a great way to make sure the relationship starts off on the right foot, and that you’re picking an agent who is happy and easy about breaking complex information down until you’re comfortable with it.
5. They don’t check references. As with all of the often-omitted items on this list, listing agent candidates often provide references to potential Seller clients as a matter of course. But very few folks actually call and check them. Do. You can come up with a list of questions or just tell the reference contact a little about your situation and ask them to share something of their experience with the agent. Let’s be real – no agent is likely to give you references who are going to talk badly of them. But approaching your reference checks with the intent to have an open conversation about the past clients’ experience creates the opportunity for you to get all sorts of nuanced insights, rather than just a “good agent” or “bad agent” rating.
6. They don’t ask for a detailed marketing plan. It’s essential to know precisely what steps your agent plans to take to market your home, before you hire them. What sites will your listing show up on? How many pictures will the listing include? What about Open Houses or marketing directly to buyer’s brokers? How do they propose to ensure that every qualified buyer who is on the hunt for a home like yours will see it?
Having a written marketing plan in hand (or in some digital format) empowers you to do things. If your home lags on the market, it’s a troubleshooting checklist that might surface what hasn’t happened or where an error might be glitching up your home’s marketing. And if you do the checklist and the home does appear to have been well and fully marketed, the plan can provide a strong proof point in favor of a price reduction.
7. They don’t discuss property preparation. Different agents might have very different approaches to what needs to happen to your home before it goes onto the market. They might also have different approaches to how that work will get done. Some agents manage property preparation from soup to nuts, while others will give you some thoughts on what needs to happen and leave you to do it. Some will refer you to stagers and vendors, while others will bring people in on their own dime to actually execute their vision, and still others might even have access to home improvement contractors who will do some work now for payment after closing (this often depends on your price point and on what practices are standard in your market). Talk to every agent you interview, in detail, about what they envision will need to happen to your property before they list it, and how intensely involved they can and will be in helping you get the work done.
8. They don’t ask about Plans B, C and D. The real estate market wouldn’t be the real estate market if it didn’t throw you curve balls. Some agents are strong at executing a cookie-cutter marketing plan so long as everything goes smoothly, but are not-so-great at problem solving when things don’t go as planned. Unfortunately, it’s tough to know that your agent lacks a backup plan until you actually need it! Ask your prospective agent candidates what complications, challenges and surprises they have encountered recently in their listing transactions and how they resolved a couple of them.
9. They don’t read the contract. One of the most major freak-out moments I see happen with disgruntled Sellers (i.e., members of the club you’re trying not to join) arises when they are very upset with their listing agent and decide to cancel the relationship only to realize they’ve signed a contract locking them into it for 17 years. (I exaggerate, but you get the gist.) Similarly, some listing agreements have terms that mandate the Seller pay the agent’s commission if the Seller receives (but doesn’t accept) an offer meeting certain criteria or if the Seller finds the Buyer themselves.
The moral of the story? Read your listing agreement before signing it. Walk through it with your almost-agent, and don’t sign it until you understand your commitment.