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Choosing a Real Estate Listing Agent

Fact: With 1.3 million members, the National Association of Realtors™(NAR) is the largest trade association in the United States.

Fact: Realtors™ (i.e., members of NAR) constitute about half the population of people who are licensed to sell real estate in the United States.

Fact: As a home seller with almost 2.5 million agents to choose from, you should be able to find a qualified agent to help you.

Finding the Best

The first step in choosing an agent is figuring out where to find the good ones, and there's no better place than right outside your door. Seriously. Take a walk or a drive around the neighborhood and check out the For Sale signs. Are there a lot from certain companies? Are their signs well-maintained, are there fliers or other marketing materials available, and do SOLD signs go up after days, weeks, or not all? 

Or, to put it another way, if an agent isn't actively marketing his or her other properties, chances are he or she won't be much more committed to you.

You can also:

  • Stop by open houses for other homes on the market. It's a good way to meet agents in a casual atmosphere, collect business cards, and see how friendly, informative, and professional they are.
  • Check out the Web sites of the companies you come across. Are they well-designed, with good photos, virtual tours, and home descriptions that are enticing but not overly embellished?
  • Get recommendations from mortgage lenders, appraisers, and other professionals who regularly work with real estate agents.
  • Ask friends, relatives, or co-workers who have sold homes about their experience. Would they work with the same agent again?

Of course, if any of those friends, relatives, or co-workers recommend themselves, thank them for their interest and let them know it's not personal. It's business. You have to qualify them just as you would any other agent; they might work even harder for you because of your relationship, but if they aren't good agents you are better off going with someone who has great references.

How to Choose

So, you've narrowed your search to just a few agents (not bad, considering there were 2.5 million or so to choose from). Now it's time to interview a few — we recommend at least three — to determine exactly who's going to get the privilege of selling your home. There are hundreds of questions you can ask, but it's good to narrow them down before your interviews begin.

When a High Price Is a Bad Deal

Let's say you interview three real estate agents and one suggests a listing price substantially higher than the other two. Maybe that agent is a truly exceptional salesperson. Or maybe he or she doesn't really know the market. Or maybe they're doing what's known as "buying the listing."

Less-than-scrupulous real estate agents know that a high price is music to a seller's ears. And in the worst case scenario, they may lure you into signing a contract, knowing they'll still get their commission once you've been forced to drop the price to a more reasonable level.

A good agent, on the other hand, will help you set a price that reflects the market — high enough to maximize your profit, but not so high that it scares off buyers. Conversely, if an agent has consistently sold homes for less than their listing price, it's worth finding out why.

Real Life Example...

Who: Jennifer, who just decided to sell her home
The agent: Leah, a former co-worker who'd gone into real estate after moving to another town.
What happened: Leah called Jennifer and said, "Let me sell your home for you. I know you, you know me, and I know how to get you a good price." Jennifer, who had already been dreading the idea of finding an agent on her own, was only too glad to sign a listing contract.
Oops: There was just one problem. Leah was no longer familiar with the local market and priced the house a few notches above similar homes in the area.
Outcome: After several months with few lookers and no offers, the contract expired — along with what remained of Jennifer and Leah's friendship.

Unless you've sold a home before, the prospect of selecting a real estate agent can be pretty intimidating. And if you have sold a home before, you probably already know that the agent you choose can make the experience pleasant or painful and profitable or not.

By Diane Tuman

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  • Last edited October 12 2012
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