As the real estate market continues its hot streak, many folks are considering taking advantage of this opportunity to sell their home. One of the biggest decisions you will make when listing your home will be whether to use a real estate agent or go the for sale by owner (FSBO) route.
It is certainly tempting to list FSBO and keep those listing commission dollars in your pocket. Trust me, I've been there. That said, a good agent will generally cover their commission by netting you a higher sales price or better terms than you would likely be able to negotiate for yourself.
A great agent should bring you a return that more than covers their commission. In other words, a great agent should net you more proceeds than if you went the FSBO route (and with less effort on your part!).
Assuming the agent just covers the cost of their commission, they still removed the hassle associated with listing your property. The right agent will save you time and headache while maximizing your returns.
Why you should list with an agent
Real world example: we finished construction on The Blouin Project and were approaching the two-year residency mark (meaning we would not pay capital gains tax on sale proceeds – more on this IRS loophole in a future post), so we were looking to get it listed and sold so we could move on to the next project.
Had we listed it FSBO at the price we were considering, we would have netted significantly less than what we netted listing with an agent. Full disclosure: it was an owner-agent listing, but assuming we paid a full commission, we netted more than what we were going to net with our FSBO plans. Like five-figures less. And we considered ourselves somewhat knowledgeable of our local market after having bought several rental properties and a couple primary residences in recent years. The market had just taken off in a way we were not able to anticipate.
On your own, even if you believe you have a finger on the pulse of the local market, you simply do not have access to the same tools as an agent (no, Zillow's Zestimate and recently sold data will not give you enough information to properly price your home or justify your price when a buyer's agent calls).
Also, how familiar are you with the standard real estate contracts and required forms in your area? In some cases, even simple mistakes can open you up to future legal liability, especially when it comes to disclosures.
Additionally, how confident are you that you will be able to negotiate the highest price and best terms for your sale? As a homeowner, you have almost certainly invested money, sweat and tears into your home, and you are proud of it - for good reason!
Now be honest with yourself, are you going to be able to leave the emotions at the door when it comes time to negotiate? Agents provide a critical filter to ensure emotions stay out of negotiations so you do not give away more than you should. Hiring a great agent will guarantee a strong position in negotiations to get you the best price and terms that the market will provide.
And finally, in today's age of online tools for researching listings, marketing is more critical than ever. It's all about getting your listing in front of as many buyers as possible as quickly as possible. In addition to listing on the MLS, your agent should be marketing your listing on social media and through his or her own networks. It is so very much more than a sign in the yard.
So how do you find a great agent? And what should you expect your agent to do for you when listing your home?
How to find a great real estate agent
Yes, you can Google "best real estate agent" and come up with a list of folks with great ratings, and many of them will make great candidates. That should only be part of your search, though.
Referrals have always been and continue to be an excellent way to identify and vet potential agents.
Excellent sources for referrals could be friends or family members who recently sold a home (assuming they had a great experience), lenders and title companies.
A quick Google search of the names referred to you should allow you to whittle the list down to a manageable number. Be sure to look at the candidates' current and past listings, comparing them to the criteria found below.
Once you have identified your top three or so folks from Google and referrals, reach out to schedule an interview with them. Below are some questions to consider working into your conversation with candidates:
How long have you held your license?
Please don't totally write off new agents. In fact, new agents may be able to give you a more hands-on experience and will oftentimes be more responsive than overloaded agents who may have a large list of clients. That said, inexperienced agents should receive some additional scrutiny to ensure they are familiar with the complexities of real estate transactions and are capable of successfully marketing your property for sale.
In what areas of town do you primarily operate?
You want an agent who is knowledgeable of your area, and if they are in the market day in and day out, the chances are better that they will have market insights that give them a leg up.
Would you say you specialize more as a buyer's or seller's agent?
Representing a buyer is very different from representing a seller. You want to be sure to list with an agent capable of negotiating from the buyer's position and knows how to ensure you are protected from potential legal liabilities.
Do you own your home?
While this is not a deal breaker, agents who have not experienced a real estate transaction from a buyer's or seller's first-person perspective require some additional investigation to ensure they can handle the transaction and protect your interests.
Do you own any investment properties?
Again, certainly not a reason to automatically turn away an agent, but this should be considered if you are searching for an investment property.
How do you plan to market my property?
We will go into detail on this below, but it certainly must include more than simply snapping a few photos, putting out a sign and posting a listing to the MLS.
What is involved in a listing (the bare minimums)?
During your interviews, if a prospective agent does not plan to do these things (at a minimum), you may want to move on to the next candidate. Going a step further, if your property is listed with an agent who is not doing these things, you may consider finding a new agent if your listing expires.
Again, these are the minimum; a great agent would be doing these things plus a whole lot more to ensure the success of your listing:
High quality, professional photos - see below for more, but if an agent wants to take photos with his or her cellphone, move on to the next candidate, simple as that
Completely filling out any MLS forms - it can be tempting to skip some of the non-mandatory blanks when inputting data, but this can come back to bite you in terms of reaching as many potential buyers as possible
A well written description (no typos!)
Market analysis to determine and justify pricing
Assistance with completion of all necessary forms and disclosures
At least one pre-listing walkthrough to help you prioritize work items to prepare your home for photographs and showing
Importance of listing photographs
As mentioned above, the success of a listing ultimately depends on how many prospective buyers see it. More views lead to more showings. Showings lead to offers. And (fingers crossed) offers lead to a contract and eventually the sale.
Nowadays, Zillow, Realtor.com and many other websites have made it easier than ever to get your listing in front of buyers. But that doesn’t do any good if the prospective buyers do not click on the listing in their inbox.
The quality of your listing’s photos drive buyers to click on listings (or not). That is just a fact. It is incumbent on your agent to include high quality, professional photos in your listing.
Yes, iPhone camera technology has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, but they still can't compete with a high-quality camera with professional lenses. Also, professional real estate photographers are trained to take photos in a way that highlights attributes buyers find desirable.
Care to guess which of the below photos was taken with my iPhone vs the professional listing photo?
Unless your agent has professional photography training, insist that a professional photographer takes your listing photos.
What makes a successful listing?
Now that we've covered the minimum requirements for a listing, what differentiates a successful listing from an average one?
Again, it ultimately comes down to marketing - how well your listing attracts and holds a buyer's attention long enough to justify a showing.
Here are a few things that can give your listing an extra edge over similar, competing listings:
Video tour/virtual walk through - use a professional (no amateur cellphone videos!)
Digital floor plans (not hand drawn)
Staging - does not have to be professionally staged (unless perhaps in the luxury category), but a great agent will provide advice (and maybe even loan you some furniture and decor) for how to decorate for photographs and showings (hint: it is likely different from how you decorate a home to live in)
Social media promotion
Similar to photos, a high-quality video does wonders for attracting the attention of buyers. Also, a video (and a digital floor plan) allows potential buyers to "tour" the property before attending a showing. This means the folks who come to a showing already have a feel for the place and are more likely to be interested enough to put in an offer (meaning the leads are a higher quality).
Videos have the added benefit of serving as excellent content for use in social media promotion. A great agent should be pushing your listing to his or her contacts on social media and promoting your listing with social media ads. And a video walk through makes an excellent clickable Facebook ad!
Staging is one of those things that may or may not be necessary depending on the price point and size of your home, but your agent should be consulting with you to prepare your home for photography and showings.
Cleaning is another non-mandatory item, but it is a nice service an agent can provide for his or her clients to show care and ownership of the listing.
In addition to the listing (which is just the first of many steps in the real estate transaction), you need to be comfortable with your agent's ability to negotiate and advocate for your interests.
Yes, the price is critically important, but there are many other aspects of a real estate deal that need to be considered and agreed upon. Oftentimes, an offer with a lower sales price can be a stronger offer if it comes with more favorable terms, like fewer contingencies. An agent will be able to sort through all of this with you to ensure you are getting the best possible deal.
Speaking of contingencies, an agent will be there to help you stay on track when things go wrong. It is an unfortunate fact that most real estate transactions involve hiccups along the way.
A great agent will work to keep the transaction moving forward at all costs and will be able to get it back on the market quickly if things fall apart.
More than just a transaction
Ultimately, you want an agent who will treat your home sale as the start of a relationship, not just a transaction. You want someone who will take ownership of the listing and fight for your interests. Your agent should be basing their success on the success of your listing.
Hopefully this information is helpful in your search for an agent to help you sell your home. We will cover more aspects of a real estate transaction (like negotiations, contracts, inspection periods and closings) in future posts.
In the meantime, if you would like help selling your home or investment property, get in touch with Sally or check our SoldWithSalBR on Facebook. Or if you'd like to talk to us about real estate questions, renovations, Baton Rouge or pretty much anything else, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.