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Realities of Real Estate: Stop, look and list – Choosing a listing agent

With spring just around the corner, this is a time of year when many homeowners think about putting their house on the market. Some might choose to go it alone; others will hire a real estate agent to get the job done. For those who choose to go with an agent, there’s a lot to consider with respect to which agent will be best for you.

There’s a general misconception that real estate agents are all pretty much the same. This idea couldn’t be further from the truth. There are vast differences in the experience agents have, as well as their approach to selling property. Here are a few suggestions on what to look for in an agent and how to avoid some common pitfalls in making your selection.

Be cautious about hiring a friend: There are a lot of real estate agents out there, so it’s not uncommon for a homeowner to know someone who’s in the business. Consequently, when it comes time to sell, some people will call on a buddy. There can often be a number of problems with such a decision.

First, your friend might not be all that experienced in listing property. Some agents specialize in representing buyers, some focus on listing homes for sale and a few do a little of both. If your friend hasn’t had much experience in listing homes for sale, it might not be a good idea the let him cut his teeth on yours. And, as has been said many times, the best way to lose a friend is to go into business with her. The stress associated with selling a house can be too much for even the best of friends.

Never select an agent based on his proposed list price: Most homeowners think their house is worth more than it actually is. As a result, it’s human nature for people to gravitate toward agents that recommend the highest list price.

Unfortunately, it has been shown time and time again that people who initially overprice their house ultimately get less for the property than if it were priced properly from the start. Nevertheless, some listing agents will appeal to the greed in us all and use inflated list prices as a way to get the listing.

If an agent is doing her job, she should be able to show you some concrete evidence supporting her estimate of what your house is worth. Also, don’t fall for the ploy of letting an agent ask you what you think your house is worth. Make agents tell you first, and press them to show you how they came up with the numbers.

Don’t choose an agent based solely on commissions: When you hire an agent, an important consideration will be how much he charges. All brokers independently set commission rates, and depending on the broker, individual agents also have some latitude in modifying those commissions.

But, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Even though some agents might save you a few thousand in commissions, much more than that can easily be lost if the agent fails to properly price your house or effectively negotiate a contract. Plus, when an agent discounts the commission, all that normally means is she’s coming up short in the ability to show you the performance, results and expertise necessary to justify the fee.

Make sure the agent is selling your house and not himself: Different agents have different strategies for being successful in this business. Some are very customer-oriented and focus on selling homes one at a time. Other listing agents work by the laws of large numbers and try to get as many listings as possible, figuring that, even if they only sell half of them, they’ll make a decent living. That might be fine for the agent, but for sellers, you don’t want to end up in the half that don’t get sold.

Additionally, there are agents who will take listings, knowing they have a low probability of selling, because they can use them as bait to get new buyers or other listings. In short, be sure that the agent you select is dedicated to selling your house and isn’t just looking to add another property to the assembly line or use you to generate other business.

Beware of agents who say they have an exclusive group of buyers: There are a few listing agents out there who will lead you to believe that if you list with them, they can tap a secret network of buyers who will beat a path to your door and pay you top dollar. Before the Internet, that might have been true; but in today’s world, it’s a bunch of balderdash.

Regardless of who the listing agents are or what broker they work for, all buyers have equal access and equal opportunity to purchase homes listed for sale. In this way, the Internet is the great equalizer. Where listing agents can really make a difference is in how they present your property for sale. Suggesting that they have some inside track on a select group of buyers is a false promise. You want a listing agent who will show your house to the world, not an agent who will limit your pool of potential buyers to a favored few.

Don’t be afraid to give the new agent a chance: Although experience is an important part of being an effective agent, we all need to start somewhere. With the proper guidance from their broker or the assistance of a fellow agent who’s been in the business a while, newer agents can often do just fine in getting the job done. What these agents might lack in experience is usually compensated for with enthusiasm. Plus, a new agent is often more up-to-date than the old-timers with respect to the latest technology and selling tools. That’s not to say that agents who have been around a while aren’t also on the cutting edge, but some tend to get a bit too comfortable in doing business like it’s always been done.

Real estate is a dynamic profession, and, to be successful, it’s necessary to stay on top of the most recent developments in not only technology, but also economics, politics and the law, as well as the softer skills surrounding negotiations and customer service.

Find someone you’re comfortable with: Last, and perhaps most important, find an agent that you like and trust. Selling your house is a big deal on a number of levels. It’s a huge financial endeavor that, if not handled in an effective and professional manner, can cost you not just money, but your sanity as well. Plus, your house is your home. There is often an emotional attachment that your listing agent must also acknowledge and understand.

Bob and Donna McWilliams are practicing real estate agents in Maryland with more than 25 years of combined experience. Their email address is