Until recently, I had never sold a home before. I had watched plenty of HGTV shows about selling a home, but to my dismay, television can only prepare you for so much (although I’d still like to think that my years of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer have given me some inkling of what to do should I ever come across the Cullens). Every market and home is different, but as it happens, friends in our apartment building whose home is very similar to ours decided to sell their place a few weeks after we placed our home on the market. We were able to make some pretty direct comparisons of how our real estate agents performed – and wow, were there ever differences! In some areas my agent performed better, in some areas their agent did. So wouldn’t it be nice if you had an agent that did all the right things? The experience was an education and I’m hoping to pass along some of that to you so that you can get the most from your real estate agent when it’s time for you to sell your property.
No matter how much you like and trust your agent, before you sign anything you absolutely need to have them spell out exactly what their services will entail – and if there’s something missing from that list, respectfully ask about it. The worst that will happen is they will say no and hopefully provide you with a reasonable explanation about why the suggestion isn’t worthwhile for your selling situation. Remember – you’re paying the commission – which in my neck of the woods is about 5% of the sale price + tax (half of which goes to the buyer’s agent) – and that’s not chump change, especially when you consider the growing number of for-sale-by-owner options available. If real estate agents want to compete for your business, they absolutely need to make their fee worthwhile and provide above-and-beyond value to their clients.
And just what kind of services can they provide? Hopefully this list gives you a good idea of what to discuss with your agent:
- Pre-listing advice. It’s in an agent’s interest for you to get top dollar for your property – and the condition of your home plays a big part in that. They may suggest that you get a status certificate (for condos) or a professional home inspection first. Your real estate agent should be able to use this information to guide you on adjustments to your selling strategy or even suggest you take care of some of the work flagged before putting your home on the market. Some real estate agents will even pay for your status certificate or home inspection. And the bonus? Having these available to buyers means they likely won’t have getting one listed as a condition (and the less conditions on an offer, the better!).
- A solid pricing strategy. Your realtor should show you the comparables in your building and / or neighborhood and provide you with a well-thought out pricing strategy for your home. The market will dictate what your home is worth, and hopefully your agent is able to read it well. You should also discuss what your bottom figure is (what you refuse to sell below) and a strategy should your home not sell / get viewings as quickly as you need it to. Talk about these things upfront to not only ensure you have realistic expectations but so that there’s a plan based in reason and not desperation.
- Knowing the selling points. You know your home better than your agent – so make sure she or he knows about the things about your home or neighborhood that are great selling points. Similarly, if you can predict some concerns would-be buyers might have, bring them up along with a potential counter argument. For example, my condo is above a bar. People presume it’s noisy – but we actually don’t hear a thing! We gave our real estate agents a bunch of examples of times where we should have heard noise (New Year’s Eve, Stanley Cup Finals) but didn’t hear a peep thanks to the great construction of the building. Your agent can be proactive and pass along these observations when talking to prospective buyers and / or their agents.
- Offer date or open offer strategy. In some hot markets, agents will suggest that you hold off receiving any offers until a particular date. This is meant to bring as many people in before and forcing interested parties to submit their interest at once, ideally creating a multiple-bid situation. Is this realistic for your market and home? Or would you prefer to keep it open so that if an interested party wants to make an offer right away, they can (and hopefully only have your home on the market for a short period of time)? There are pluses and minuses to both – discuss those with your agent.
- A well-timed listing. Your agent should outline a strategy for the best possible timing of your listing. Maybe this depends on how many other comparable homes are on the market, or perhaps it comes down to a good time of year. Many realtors have their clients on an email list where they get notifications of new homes that fall into their criteria – and it’s these emails that prompt a lot of requests for visits right at the beginning. Make sure yours is going up when it makes sense. On a Sunday of a sunny long weekend? Not so much.
- Staging assistance. Your agent’s experience in buying and selling homes should give them a good idea (and hopefully a good eye) for what will help your home show well (and we have some home staging tips for you, too!). They should visit your home before you list it and in the very least, provide you with some customized suggestions. Our friend’s agent visited the home, provided them with a prioritized list of “to dos”, brought over some simple staging props, and even helped move a few pieces of furniture around to provide the best angles for the photos. This does not mean that your real estate agent is obligated to clean your home and fully stage it for you (we wish!) – but they do hopefully have some contacts at companies that can offer those services should you need it (which you would pay for separately unless otherwise negotiated).
- Professional photography. Yes, you should expect that the pictures taken of your home are of really good quality. Just because your agent has a little “handy cam” in her purse doesn’t mean that’s what she should rely on. If your agent is doing the photography himself or herself, ask to see the pictures as they’re being taken (some Realtors do use high-end cameras and know what they’re doing – but if they don’t, ask for better). Good lighting, angles, and photo quality make a huge difference in selling your home on sites like Realtor – and it’s those pictures that prompt people to make appointments.
- Virtual tours. Panoramic style shots done by a professional that people can explore online are a great bonus, especially if your home is large. Realtor.com has specific buttons and links to these and they’re a great sales tool.
- A professional write-up. Everyone knows that mistakes happen, but they should be few and far between. The sales copy that accompanies your listing should be engaging, accurate and free of spelling and grammatical errors. Anything less than that is sloppy. Insist that you get to see the ad and materials before they are posted or printed and sign-off on them only if you’re satisfied.
- Well-designed printed materials. With so many affordable digital printing options available, there’s no excuse for your agent to produce anything but a full-colour brochure for your home. Providing you with only a black-and-white copy of the MLS listing is both lazy and cheap. People who make the effort to come to your home should be greeted with good quality bonus materials to take home.
- Online presence and advertising. Most homes are marketed online now – the big marketing tool, of course, being Realtor. If your agent has a website of their own (and they should) you should expect to see your listing (with additional photos, virtual tour and information) listed there as well. It never hurts for your Realtor to use social media to help sell your home – like via their professional Facebook page and Twitter account. Classified-style websites like Craigslist and Kijiji are also at their disposal. If your area or home attracts on older clientele, ask your agent about plans to place an ad in your newspaper or other real estate publications.
- A big-ass sign. Have a house? There should be a large, clean and professional-looking “for sale” sign on your front lawn. I’ve seen some rickety and shabby ones that looked like they were on the verge of collapsing. This is unacceptable and shows zero pride in the listing.
- A good system of notification for viewing requests. If you need to grant permission / get a lot of head’s up before an agent can come to your home with their client, talk to your agent about this. Otherwise, it’s best to let people show your home easily, without first getting your permission for each appointment. For us, we received an instant e-mail alert that an appointment was being scheduled. I had these e-mails forwarded to my Blackberry, so I was easily and instantly able to keep track of viewings no matter where I was. However, if you don’t have a smart phone and aren’t online for much of your day, talk to your agent about getting phone call notifications.
- Viewing feedback. After an agent has shown your home, will your agent call them or email them for feedback? And will those be passed onto you right away? This is important as feedback can allow you to address questions or concerns, make changes in your home or materials as need be, and gauge the overall interest level. If you’re not getting any feedback, press your real estate agent to do an additional follow-up.
- Agent’s open house. Many agents have a pool of clients who are looking for the perfect home. Your agent can give those agents a nice sneak peak of your home – right as or after it’s listed – during an agent’s open house. It’s customary for agents to provide some light refreshments during this time to draw a few more agents in (everyone likes free food). The agent’s open house is ideal as it gives your agent an opportunity to sell the home’s features and address concerns about it before clients are brought in.
- Public open house. Apparently only about 5% of all sales are from people who walk into an open house. Don’t let this discourage you from having one: A lot of agents take their clients to open houses and it’s easier than scheduling an appointment (especially if they’re going to number of homes over the weekend). Plus, an open house – and the fear of a bunch of people seeing and loving your place – can light a fire under the butt of someone who has seen your home and doesn’t want it to get away from them.
- Special arrangements for building tours. This is a special note for condo / apartment sellers: There are probably elements to your building that are selling features: amenities like garden rooftops, gyms, and party rooms. Your agent should think ahead and ensure that these are accessible to visitors by speaking with your building’s concierge / providing a special key and instructions for visiting agents to view these areas with their clients.
- A discount on their fee. Have you worked with your agent before? Used them (or plan to use them) to also buy your next home? Perhaps your loyalty is worth something – like a 4.5% rate instead of a 5% rate. It never hurts to ask – but again, this needs to be something you discuss upfront, not after you’ve signed any papers.
- Works well with your lawyer. Sold? Congratulations! Now it’s time for all that fun paperwork. You’ll need to work with a lawyer directly to provide some information, but your real estate agent should also be working along with you, supplying paperwork related to your sale that she has access to.
Did you have a real estate agent who went above and beyond and provided a service not listed here? Or perhaps you ARE a real estate agent and want to weigh in on what’s a realistic service for an agent to provide? Let us know! Share your thoughts!