How to Choose the Right Real Estate Agent

Many home owners choose the estate agent who puts forward the highest valuation of their property. Unfortunately, they often then spend six months tearing out their hair, dealing with an unresponsive agent, few visits, and no offers–before reducing the asking price.

You need to do a bit more work if you want a good price and a hassle-free sale. Treat your first contact with an agent as a job interview, and you'll get the best results.

Do Your Preparation

Before you contact an agent, establish their area of expertise. Obviously, they need to know your neighbourhood, but you should also look at their listings to see what end of the market and what type of property they sell; an agent who specialises in selling top-end apartments may not be best at marketing suburban family homes. If your property is worth around $700,000 and they're selling mainly above $1m, are they the right agent? If you have an unusual property, check to see whether the agent has successfully sold other atypical homes. If the agent has a blog, read through to get a feel for the way they think about their job.

Also do your basic due diligence; check out the agents' professional memberships and registrations, and the basic legal work. You'll also want to look at internet reviews. Do take these with a grain of salt, and remember that while things do sometimes go wrong, the real test is how an agent responds. Pick an agent who clearly engages with poor reviews, or who is praised for having managed to put a tricky sale back on track.

Plan Your Interview Questions

You'll probably find that this process has already put two or three agents to the top of your pile, and these are the ones you want to contact. Before you meet them and show them the property, think about the questions you want to ask.

  • Ask about their experience. How many properties do they have listed? How many do they sell every month or every year? Have they had problem properties? How did they sell them?
  • Ask about their competitive strengths. What are the two or three top reasons for using them? (If you get marketing speak back, instead of really good reasons, factor that in when making your decision!)
  • What kind of marketing does the agent do? Do they have particular strengths like social media marketing, 360 degree views, or video that other agents don't? This might be a good time to check out whether your marketing campaign is all included in the overall fee, or whether some marketing costs are charged as extras.
  • Something that vendors often forget to ask regards the other end of the process – sales progression. How does the agent make sure that once an offer is received, the sale goes through with no problems? What kind of checks do they carry out on prospective buyers?

The purpose of asking the questions now is to get a feel, not just for what the agent offers, but also for how they present themselves. In a personal interview, too, agents can freely mention relevant experience of fraught negotiations, difficult sales, or 'problem' properties in a way they might not feel happy to do in a more public setting.

Other questions, particularly on fees, can be followed up by phone or email later. There's a good check list here–it highlights all the points you should make sure are covered before you sign on the dotted line.

How Well Does the Agent Know Your Area?

You also want to get an idea of how well the agent knows your area, and understand what makes properties sell. You can start with a few general questions; what's driving the market, how long do properties take to sell, and what kind of buyers are interested? An agent who can tell you about local developments such as a business taking on new staff who are looking for homes, or a big new apartment block being built a few streets away, is clearly keeping up with the market.

If they can tell you about a better place to get your morning coffee, that's really impressive.

Listen–Don't Just Ask Questions

You'll also be showing the agent around your home. This isn't just a chance for you to try to impress the agent with your property's selling points; it's also a great time to observe the agent at work and see if they know their stuff.  

Don't do all their work for them! A good agent will notice things like new extensions for themselves, and ask questions about them–when the work was done, whether it's under warranty, and so on. They might also offer ideas which might make the property easier to sell–for instance, blocking off an unsightly view.

You may have already mentioned your circumstances and particular requirements, such as a quick sale so that you can move to a new job. Has the agent been listening? For instance, a single owner who frequently worked at home, but wanted a quick sale, was told that he'd stand a much better chance if he refurnished the home office as a bedroom, to appeal to young families. That was great advice, tailored to the individual's needs; the agent got the job.

You might prompt the agent by asking what they think is the best way to market your property, and what kind of buyer will be most interested.

If you're selling a property that is atypical or has issues, ask the agent for any similar challenges they've handled; can they give advice? What trade-offs might be involved? For instance, if your property is under spec for the area (one bathroom rather than two), will it sell more quickly as a refurb prospect, though at a lower price? Or should you do the work and shoot for the higher price?

Think of a Number! Any Number!

At some point the agent will start talking about the valuation of your property. However, just getting a number is not particularly helpful. A good agent will deliver a range of valuations and be able to justify the selected asking price or guide price. But it's quite important to know how they arrived at that figure; what comparisons are they using? How does your property compare in terms of decorative standard, condition, and specifications with others they've sold recently, and what impact does that have on the valuation?

Time for a Chemistry Lesson

If so far the agent is impressing you, it's time to think about whether you're really hitting it off. You shouldn't just choose the agent you like best as a person (some bad agents are very, very personable), but if you really don't like them on a personal level, it's going to be difficult to have the level of trust and confidence you need to make a success of the sales process.

Don't Jump in at the First Meeting

If you're impressed by an agent at an appraisal, it's tempting to jump right into agreeing a contract. However, it's best to be honest, and say you're impressed, but you want a while to think, and you might have some supplementary questions. (If the agent gets heated at hearing this, strike them off the list! That's not a professional attitude.)

Take notes immediately after the meeting. It can help if you create a score sheet to mark the agents you see against headings like "communication", "knowledge of the market", "marketing", "fees", and so on. Look carefully at any paperwork you've been given to spot hidden extras or small print, and check the fees; some items may be negotiable, but others may not.

Feel free to ring up with supplementary questions, but try to keep them short and on-point. Once you have everything you need, it's time to make a decision; bearing in mind all of what you've seen, not just the fees, which agent do you think will do the job best?  

And just before you make that call and sign that contract, read this great article on how to spot a bad agent. If any of it rings true, you need to think hard before hiring that agent!

Best wishes and good luck!


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