Finding a listing agent

Remember when you bought your first home? After signing on the dotted line (all those dozens of times), it was probably one of those moments where you finally felt you could exhale.

Now that you’re looking to sell your home, you can make the experience less of an ordeal by hiring a skilled listing agent.

Who could that be and how can you find them? Read on.  

What is a listing agent?

A typical real estate transaction involves both a buyer agent and a listing agent. While the former (as its name suggests) represents the buyer, the latter represents the seller in a property transaction.

A listing agent makes the selling process smoother. They work to sell a home at a price and terms most favorable for their clients (i.e., you). From setting a competitive price to listing the home and negotiating offers, a listing agent is the ideal companion to have on your home sale journey.

Finding a great agent

Finding a listing agent to sell your home is a life-changing decision. Who you choose could get you a fabulous return on your biggest investment.

Here’s how: You benefit from their experience, extensive network, and resources. You’ll likely collaborate with the agent for weeks or even months. So finding someone highly competent who you can trust implicitly is non-negotiable. 

Finding the right one and vetting them, though? That’s another story. Here’s how to do it.

Factors to consider while picking an agent

When everyone seems qualified, you might not be sure who to choose. What professional qualifications should you be looking for? What makes someone the best of the best?

1.       Go beyond numbers

Often, people choose a seller’s agent based solely on numerical qualifications. A quick search in a real estate licensing database will reveal a candidate’s sales credentials (years of experience, number of homes currently listed, previously sold and their price ranges, etc.). These are indeed very important and relevant statistics. But is it all there is to finding the best agent? 

Of course not. Apart from a person’s qualifications, skills, reviews, and references, you’ll want to consider an agent’s characteristics like honesty, commitment and passion.

An honest listing agent will advise you on realistic prices for your home based on their intimate knowledge of local market trends. They’ll be committed to selling your property faster. Passionate candidates always work by keeping their clients’ best interests in mind. However, identifying these key virtues depends on your intuition.  

Or you may be gifted with the ability to read people.

In either case, you’ll want to meet your listing agent either on a video call or in person, where you can take cues on their sincerity from their body language (especially facial expressions) along with the intonation of their voice. Besides reviewing the qualifications, it’s important to trust your gut before trusting the person.

2.       Make sure it’s a full-time agent

There may be a listing agent at just about every corner of a neighborhood. You’ll often find ‘transitory agents’—folks who take up the job as a part-time gig. For ideal results, you should always pick a full-time agent, however. A hobbyist might be someone you can depend on, but if this isn’t critical to their livelihood, they’ve got less skin in the game.

A full-time agent isn’t just more experienced. Because they’re immersed in the field, they’re more likely to know the ins and outs of the trade and possess solid negotiation skills…which will come in handy when closing a sale on your home!

Also, a full-time realtor will have the necessary educational qualifications and certifications to back their credentials. Not to mention good staging skills for marketing your home better (this isn’t a dealbreaker, though; you can always hire a staging expert for that particular job).

Who should you select? Go for an agent with a proven track record of shorter closing times and better pricing skills. Say, if you want to sell your home as-is (a tricky proposition), an experienced agent will set the right price so that you can both make a profit and not have your property languish on the market.

3.       Be smart about agents’ commission fees

Real estate agent commission fees hover around 5%-6% in the U.S. Typically, the buyer’s agent and seller’s agent share these fees.

Are the fees negotiable? Yes. However, most top agents aren’t willing to budge on their commission because of the expert services they provide to their clients. And considering their high marketing budgets, you may want to rethink even attempting to negotiate in the first place! Such agents can help you in myriad ways, though, including tapping into a larger pool of buyers who may have more spending power.

Yet, you can try to negotiate with a variety of candidates in order to find common ground. Some might consider a discount in certain circumstances, such as:

  • When you do much of the legwork, marketing, and advertising
  • When you’re willing to pay the sale expenses
  • When you’re selling multiple properties (and they stand to earn more commissions overall)
  • When there are low home sales in your neighborhood, the agent might accept a discounted commission to create local inventory

Agent interviews: What to ask?

Now that you’ve made a list of potential agents, how would you pick the best one among them?

It’s time to line up some interviews.

The general thumb rule is to speak with at least three agents. Since a major investment is at stake, these interviews should be in-depth. (A casual, laid-back approach is not advised.)

Ask the prospective agents the following questions to better gauge their track record and commitment.

1.       “What is your list-to-price ratio?”

You can determine the level of a listing agent’s negotiation skills by their list-to-price ratio.

List-to-price ratio (expressed in percentage) = final sales price / last listed price of the home

A list-to-price ratio of over 100% means that the home is closed for a higher price than the listed price. The current list-to-price ratio in the U.S. is close to 103% (in June 2021).

It’s wise to choose an agent whose list-to-sale price is above 90%. But beware of agents who use underpricing strategies to improve the ratio; this tactic might make their stats shine online, but it won’t net you more money in the end.

2.       “Are you a part-time or full-time seller’s agent?”

As mentioned earlier, hiring a full-time agent is more advantageous than a part-time agent. To determine their working status, ask the agents about the homes they have sold in the past several months.

If they have no sales activity to show for the last few months, that’s a clear red flag. It means the agent is either inactive, working as a part-timer or that they’re simply not competent enough.

3.       “How would you go about marketing my home?”

Attracting potential buyers is the key responsibility of a listing agent. Inquire about how the candidate would approach marketing your home if they were to be hired.

Multiple marketing channels, such as MLS listing service, social media marketing, open house hosting, and providing 3D virtual tours are commonly used by listing agents to get more prospective buyers interested.

4.       “Can you identify any drawbacks in my property?”

Home, sweet home. Yes, you love your place and maybe (just maybe!) that love blinds you to some of its more problematic attributes.

A good agent, however, won’t shy way from providing specific and highly useful remodeling suggestions. Like a close friend who tells you when you’ve got something in your teeth, your agent is there to point out problems. Their intention isn’t to criticize, of course, but to fix any significant issues with the property that could turn away potential buyers. They help to make your home much more attractive by cutting to the chase.

5.       Who do you represent: buyers or sellers?

Real estate agents, in general, represent both buyers and sellers. But some agents are more inclined toward (and therefore more skilled with) working with one group rather than both.

Finding an agent with who frequently represents sellers would be most advantageous for you, since they’ll be accustomed to evaluating and negotiating deals based on the seller’s perspective.

6.       Can you provide comparable listings?

Pros do their research. And pro seller’s agents use comparables. Comparables (or comps) can help you to determine your home’s current market value and a realistic-yet-competitive asking price.

A good agent can offer you a comprehensive comparative market analysis consisting of current listings and property sales of similar home types from the past six to ten months.  

7.       When did you last sell a home in my area?

This might feel a little direct, but you can’t absolutely can’t skip asking it! If a listing agent has no recent history of selling a home in your area, they may struggle to sell your property faster. (This could be due to a wide number of factors, such as a lack of familiarity with local neighborhoods, a smaller pool of contacts, or ineffective or insufficient marketing strategies, among others.

But remember: this isn’t a total dealbreaker. A listing agent with a solid ability to understand their surroundings can quickly digest key information and attract buyers…even if it’s their first time in your neighborhood.

8.       What service professionals do you recommend?

As the saying goes, your network is your net worth. By probing into their knowledge of local service professionals can determine whether an agent is active or not.

Active listing agents will stay connected with other property-related professionals (electricians, plumbers, engineers, architects, interior designers, lawncare companies, and others) whom you can then access via the agent.

Mistakes to avoid

Homeowners who are overly eager to close a sale often make big mistakes when picking listing agents.

Here are some pitfalls you should avoid at all costs.

1.       Using the number of properties sold as a qualifier

Consider this: Agent ‘A’ sold 40 properties out of 50 listed in a year, and agent ‘B’ sold 60 out of 100 listed. Which one would you prefer?  

The first one, right? Always check out an agentbased on their sales-to-listing ratio rather than just looking at the total number of properties they sold.

2.       Going by the highest list price

Home prices are subject to various factors. These include the size of the property, location, comps, local and national real estate market trends, etc. An honest candidate will give you a fair estimate rather than claiming a pie-in-the-sky list price.

3.       Choosing kin or a friend

There may be a listing agent in your family or friend circle who you may want to hire.

But if they’re inexperienced, it could hamper your sale as well as your personal relationship (the probable consequence of a failed deal). Go ahead and interview them. Just remember that if you do choose to hire an agent who’s close to you, both parties will need to work hard to remain unbiased through all of it.

4.       Relying on online reviews alone

Something that isn’t true…on the internet?! Gasp! Yes, we know. Even in 2022, you cannot trust online reviews.

An agent with numerous positive comments could be fabricating or buying them. And verifying the authenticity of online reviews is both extremely difficult and time-consuming. So take those with a grain of salt and instead, ask for the agent’s last 8-10 references during your interview with them.

5.       Signing a long-term listing agreement

Timing is everything. If you decide to sign a long-term listing agreement (60+ days), your property may end up sitting on MLS listings for months.

Potential buyers may get the wrong impression that perhaps you’re no longer accepting offers, or that there’s something defective about your property. Either one could wind up being a costly mistake for you.

Use a practical approach

Choosing the right listing agent is the key to profitability in what may easily be the biggest sale of your life. (It’s kind of a big deal, so yes, there’s some pressure involved!) By following a practical approach when selecting your agent, you’ll be smiling at your account balance after a successful and hopefully sweat-free sale.

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