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If I Hired a Realtor…

December, 2006 - Download this article

By Richard Stanley

Realtors call the current market “challenging”, “normal”, “back to basics”— whatever it’s called, this market demands sharper skills to achieve success than recently. If I were hiring a realtor to sell my house in Los Feliz today, here’s what I would look for:

1.     The Right Company – So far as sellers are concerned, the day of the mom-and-pop real estate office is over. Small companies cannot offer the breadth or depth of marketing that large companies do. Look at the Sunday Los Angeles Times: the ads, if there are any, for the small companies are lost among the pages and pages of ads, including the covers, that the big companies reserve every weekend. If you want prime ad placement, and you should demand this service for your commission dollar, go with one of the big companies. Plus, big companies have a momentum small companies do not. They have their own title, escrow, mortgage, relocation and other ancillary services that can be called upon when necessary to pull together in ways that unrelated service providers cannot. Further, big companies have legal departments that can stand behind its clients and agents. Even medium-sized companies do not have such liability protection.
2.     Local presence – Why hire an agent from a distant office? Imagine how long it takes to drive, for example, from Beverly Hills to Los Feliz. For me, the rule is that the longer it takes an agent to drive from their office to your house, the fewer times your house will be shown and/or held open. Other salient advantages to hiring a local agent are that they are more likely to know the local market (important in helping you price your house) and to know what is happening in the neighborhood (important in helping you meet your seller’s disclosure requirements). Often, local agents are asked by out-of-area agents to help price properties in Los Feliz. These agents’ sellers would be better served if their agents would co-list such a property—or simply refer the client to a local agent.
3.     Teams – It’s been said that two can do the work of three. I agree, if the partners work well together. Ask a team how the labor is shared. Would both partners be away together? Who covers absences? Don’t hire a team of more than two, because when many are responsible, no one tends to take initiative and responsibility. Likewise, beware of agents who operate mini-boutiques within companies. Real estate, like law or medicine, is a personal service business. If you want lots of attention from the most responsible person, don’t hire a cheerleader for a team of junior agents and assistants. If you are paying a commission to a brokerage and an agent, you should get the personal attention of that agent all the time. Also, remember that a team of two can just mean double trouble, in which case, you might as well stick with one real estate champ.
4.     Availability – Be sure to ask agents you interview about when they expect to be out of town. Agents can be very coy about offering this information. If they tell you that people don’t buy houses when they plan to be away, show them the door. Your commission pays for representation the entire length of the listing agreement.
5.     Agent skills – The best choice for a seller is someone who excels in marketing, isn’t afraid to spend their own money on their marketing efforts and has successful results to back up their claims. Ask for marketing details. If the property doesn’t sell after 30 days and the agent discusses a price reduction, you want to know for certain that market resistance is due solely to the price. A great agent should also be a skillful negotiator, attentive to details, thorough, well-groomed, punctual, reliable and knowledgeable about the market and real estate law.
6.     Experience – Hiring a real estate agent is like hiring a Girl or Boy Scout: for the same commission, you can hire a Tenderfoot or an Eagle Scout. Though many fine people have entered real estate in the last eight years, in this toughening market, give me an agent who has the battle scars from the last market downturn. Choose a survivor to help you survive a soft market.
7.     Commission – Some agents entice sellers with discounts or rebates. People are coin-operated: shave down the agent’s commission, and you’ll get shaved down service. Ask how much the buyer’s broker will earn. If your property sits unsold, will you wonder if a reduced commission is penny-wise and pound-foolish?
8.     Reputation –People like to work with others who have a reputation for fair play. Ask around.
9.     Chemistry – Finally, would you like to work with this person for possibly the next six months? Today’s market is not hurried.
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