So you have decided that it is time to sell your home. The first thing you will want to do is run to the drug store to refill your Valium prescription. Wait, that’s the second thing; the first thing you will want to do is select a real estate agent to help you.
Maybe you have already exchanged BFF rings with your “Agent for Life,” the one who helped you with your last sale or purchase, one whose framed photo sits proudly on your mantel. In that case, you are in business. But, what about everyone else?
Contrary to popular belief, not everyone has an uncle who is a licensed agent or holds a license themselves. And I am writing to all three of you. Picking the right agent is important. Note that I have italicized the word “important” to underscore just how important it is. And you have so many, many choices. In California, “many, many” approximately equals the population of Wyoming. (Now that I think about it, what if we just reserved Wyoming for agents, like a holding tank? Then, when you needed one, you could simply combine the selection process with a family vacation to the Grand Tetons. If would be so efficient, but I digress.)
Weeding through the thick field of job applicants can be a daunting undertaking. Sure, you can make a beeline to the “Neighborhood Specialist,” but we are all neighborhood specialists if you believe the bus benches, the shopping carts, and the leaflets in the flowering shrubs outside your front door. You could just pick the one with the most attractive glamour shot on their yard sign, but then Steve and I would be living out of your guest room or selling our kidneys while the really pretty agents represented you in your transaction. No, the process needs to be more scientific. You owe it to yourself.
Since our mission here has always been to offer useful information, and sometimes that information is even about real estate, here is a little agent selection checklist to help.
At the Interview
1. Give a pop spelling test. They won’t see it coming, but you need to know that your agent can spell their way out of a paper bag. Start with the name of your community. For instance, if you live in Scripps Ranch, “Schripps Ranch” and “Scripts Ranch” (both of which I saw this week) are not appropriate substitutes. You do not own a refridgerator, you do not have tennants, and you do not have a hugh backyard (unless your name is Hugh).
2. Test their creative writing skills. How many words can the agent come up with for “upgraded” before the egg timer sounds? Like all agents are “Top Producers,” all homes are “upgraded” (yours in particular), and you need to make sure your home will stand out. Ask to see copies of the agent’s previous work. If his MLS descriptions routinely include phrases like “This one will go fast!” or “Hurry, won’t last!” immediately aim your pea shooter at his temple. These calls to action will be somewhat embarrassing in June when the nativity scene is still clearly visible in your primary property photo.
3. Speaking of pictures, ask who will be taking the photos of your home. If the applicant responds with “Huh?” run. If he corrects you, noting that you used the plural form, run. And if she proudly says that she takes them herself because she has a good eye and a fancy new camera yet doesn’t produce the portfolio from her last gallery exhibit or a family tree with Ansel Adams perched atop, suggest that you would like a professional to do the work.
4. Do not hire the agent who gives you the highest opinion of sale price unless he is simultaneously whipping out his own checkbook. Enough said.
5. Ask for references, but be specific. Ask for references from clients who the agent has worked with during the current geologic era (ours is the Googleonian Era). Better yet, ask for the names of the last several clients with whom the agent has worked – in order, current to past, whether they actually closed escrow or not, no exceptions. This may come as a surprise to you, but agents will be inclined to only produce the names of people they know will give them glowing recommendations, and not every client is going to be over the moon with our services. (Note that I said “our” services. It is the truth. Even the best agents will occasionally have a client who was less than ten-out-of-ten-on-a-scale-of-ten thrilled. It’s a bummer, but it’s the law of averages. No one is perfect, not even a neighborhood specialist.)
6. Select the best agent first; negotiate fees second. Rinse and repeat if necessary. You are concerned only with the bottom line and, yes, fees are negotiable. But if I charge you $5.95 and my marketing plan for your home consists of this, your bottom line just got spanked (and I was overpaid).
After the Interview
1. Turn on your computer and do a basic search. Type your agent’s name in search bar and see what you find. You might be surprised. We had one client who, faced with multiple offers, did this for an agent who was representing a would-be buyer for their home, and what they found was a link to a blog where he was trash-talking consumers and other agents. Personalities speak loudly online. You are going to have a long relationship with your agent. It helps to know what they stand for.
2. Since your computer is on anyway, check out the agent’s web site and their blog, assuming they have one. You should be wearing your buyer hat now, because it is your agent’s job to appeal to, and make your home appealing to, those guys. Click on their featured properties. Are the stories they are telling compelling ones? Is your tendency to linger and savor the information or to go watch a Gossip Girls rerun? Assuming you wanted to contact them for more information about a property, could you figure out how to do that without breaking a sweat? You should have several options including email, phone and even instant chat, because buyers roll differently.
3. Pick a listing or two and try to find it on other sites. By virtue of being in the MLS, your home will be “everywhere” online, so it is not the “where” that is important but the “how.” You might look on Zillow or Trulia, Realtor.com or even some of the lesser-known sites. If you wanted more information here, where would you be sent and what does that place look like? And, can you easily find a way to contact the agent?
4. Be a secret shopper. This one may not sit well, because I am suggesting that you be a little disingenuous, but the only way you will truly know how responsive your agent will be is to test them. If you call, do they return your call before the brisket is done? (Note: A good brisket takes 48 hours at 325 degrees.) Do they respond to your email before your three-year-old starts law school? Are they courteous and interested in interesting you in the home you called about, or are they just trying to sell you any home?
5. For the truly diligent seller, consider observing the agent in their natural habitat. Hit an open house or two to see if they doing the job for which they were hired. If you were the seller of that home, would you be pleased with their professionalism, attitude, and enthusiasm? If they beat you over the head with a guest register before you have made it to the front door, or if you get there to find that they eating a burger and watching NASCAR, the answer is probably “no.”
6. Finally, conclude your field trip with a brief moment of Zen at the yard sign. Remember those buyers? They will drive by your home, either because they are trolling a favorite neighborhood or because they found you online and are on a reconnaissance mission. What do the brochures look like? Are there any? Even the sign can tell a story.