How many agents does a home seller interview? According to the National Association Of Realtors 2012 profile of home sellers and buyers, not many. While 88% of US sellers sold their homes through an agent, the interview process was brief for most. Sellers don’t do much “agent shopping.”
65% interviewed only one agent and 20% interviewed two agents. Should they interview more?
At first this might sound like giving due diligence in vendor selection short shrift. When I had a deck built at my last home, I got three bids from different companies, all of which were recommendations of friends. I chose the one that I thought would do the best job based on some criteria I established and questions in my interview process. One thing that was important to me was schedule, another price, and a third was the reputation of the company and the examples of the work I could see.
So if a home sale is one of the largest transactions most people entertain, surely 65% of sellers are doing themselves a dis-service by not interviewing more agents? The transaction costs in most real estate transactions in Austin dwarf my deck building costs, so why aren’t people interviewing more? I have a few theories as to why so many people hire the first Realtor they meet:
- Agents are such good sales people and “closers” that they get a signature on the first visit
- Consumers want to spend as little time with Real Estate agents as possible and don’t want to meet any more than necessary. Kind of like vampires.
- Most consumers don’t know what to ask when they interview an agent and the listing pitch makes sense so they move forward with the first agent
- Many of the first agents to meet with consumers have either worked with them before or are a personal recommendation so the consumer wants to work with them before they even arrive
- Consumers don’t know the difference in results between a good agent and an average agent
Perhaps it’s a bit of all of these, and I fear that first-time home sellers in particular don’t know exactly what selling a home entails. The (Un-)Reality TV shows might depict an agent putting out a few balloons and baking cookies at an open house, and then signing a contract with one of the attendees. Depending on your market and your agent, your results may vary.
So what ten questions would I ask an agent interviewing to list and sell my home?
- Who wants to buy my home? If the agent doesn’t have a picture of what types of people might buy in the area or in that home style, how are they going to be able to market it to them? For example, if the school is right next to the worst or best public middle school in Austin, are families going to want to move there? Knowing the likely buyer allows the agent to interact with them appropriately – perhaps choosing to invest in a mobile marketing strategy to reach younger buyers on their mobile devices.
- Are you a full time agent? This might seem like something to be taken for granted, but with the 10,000+ real estate licensees in Austin, it’s amazing how many of these are held by people with full or part time jobs. Personally I prefer someone who is an expert full time Realtor. Becomes I’m a stalker, I would look up their license information with the local Real Estate board, and make sure they didn’t have anything untoward in their history. But that’s just me.
- How many homes have you sold of this type / in this neighborhood in the last year? I see a great deal of agents who sell homes in my areas of expertise who have never helped another buyer or seller ever. A lack of local knowledge is evident in the marketing and results for the home owners – especially when the market is not as extremely hot as it is in Austin right now for sellers.
- If I don’t hire you, who should I hire? That’s a bit of an aggressive question, but the answer determines whether the candidate really knows who is selling homes in the area. And if they don’t know that, then how do they plan to approach these other agents to market your home? Over a third of buyers buy a home that their agent finds for them according to the NAR Profile 2012, so marketing to the agent channel is not to be overlooked.
- What’s your marketing approach for this specific home? I would like to think that the days of sticking a sign in the yard, and putting a home in the Multiple Listing System and waiting for an offer are gone, but I still see this. Ask for a marketing plan so that you can understand at least in layman’s terms what activities are going to occur to get your home sold. Do they help stage the home, recommend a pre-listing inspection, advertise on real estate portals like Zillow and Trulia?
- What pricing and negotiating strategies will you use? Pricing strategies determine a great deal about the final results for a home listing – how long it sits on the market and what the eventual price will be. Overpricing in any market, even a sellers’ market, yields worse sales prices than pricing near the market. The agent’s understanding of the current market will inform the pricing strategy, so make sure they’re clear on the current market too! How does the agent negotiate – how do they deal with multiple offers? What are some of the key other terms in the contract that can make a difference? All of this isn’t hard, but some agents have no background in negotiation. I like to see some evidence that they are going to negotiate hard on my behalf. Maybe a designation like Certified Negotiation Expert or substantial work experience that demonstrates it. I like statistics such as “what is your average sales price to original list price ratio?”. It shows whether the agent prices above the market, at the market or below market historically. And that helps me understand what my sales price might be, and also what other agents might expect of the candidate’s pricing approach.
- Can I see some of your marketing media for recent listings? I like to snap a nice photograph or two, but I don’t have a camera and lens appropriate for real estate photos, and many agents don’t. After pricing, photos are one of the most important things you can get right or drastically wrong for a home listing. You can add more photos in the Austin MLS than ever before, and I never hear a buyer client saying that they wish a home had less photos to look at online. People search for houses online, and your home only has one chance to make that first impression. A good agent will show a myriad of inviting photos in each of their listings, and video too.
- What has been your biggest failing in a real estate listing? This is an interview after all – make them sweat. What I’m looking for here is to build rapport with someone – I want to be able to trust an agent, and see how they respond to stress and how well they communicate. If the agent can’t share a good war story and show how they’ve learned from it, do you feel they can be trusted with your home sale?
- What are the best and worst parts of my house? An agent needs to be able not only to convey their own unique selling point to you at a listing interview, but also to convey those of your home. Again, I’m looking for honesty here. It annoys me when someone will only tell me the positive side of things, so I want to see if they will tell me what the challenges are too. If my home is on a busy street, or is an ugly color, they should be able to tell me.
- What’s your communication strategy? How do you communicate with me, and will I be working with you or your team? I know that I’m glued to my phone, but most of the time not using it for voice-calls, so I would prefer someone who can let me know of things by text and email where possible, and who will give me status updates without prompting. I also like to know if I’m going to be handed off to a junior colleague as soon as the meeting is over, or if I’ll be dealing directly with the person I meet throughout the process. You may prefer phone calls after 7p, so make sure your agent is able to connect with you in the way you want to be reached.
Those are some of the questions that I would ask, and even if my best friend’s uncle was an agent, I’d make it clear that I was interviewing two or three agents before I made a selection of the right agent for me. Agents are used to it – no matter what they tell you. Ultimately, I have to have a rapport with someone I’m working with.
Garreth Wilcock runs Sherlock Homes Austin – a PLR company. He helps people sell their homes and is a Certified Negotiation Expert. You can see his Texas Real Estate Commission License here. Get in touch if you would like to discuss your Austin home sale. 512 215 4785