Are you truly serious about selling your home?
Then find an agent who will be a cheerleader for your property, rather than sit on the sidelines hoping it will sell.
"You want an agent who is in the business of selling houses -- not praying buyers will drop by," says Peter G. Miller of Silver Spring, author of the new HarperCollins book "Inside the Real Estate Deal."
Too many sellers make the mistake of believing that someone with well-styled hair, nice clothes and a fancy car who makes a slick presentation to get your listing will be aggressive when it comes to marketing your home.
"In truth, it's a very small percentage of agents who are really active," says Robert Irwin, author of the McGraw-Hill book "Tips and Traps When Selling a Home." He estimates that some 20 percent of the nation's 2 million licensed real estate agents and brokers sell 80 percent of all properties.
An active agent will have a specific selling plan that spans at least the first six weeks after the property goes on the market, says Sandy Sadler, sales manager at the Pasadena office of Prudential Preferred Properties.
"It's a mistake to take an agent just because he says he's wonderful," Ms. Sadler says. "They've got to have a comprehensive marketing plan that covers, among other things, how he'll advertise, how often and in what media."
During the listing presentation, the agent should convey that he's focused on the sort of market most suited to your property -- rather than implying it could be sold like every other house ever marketed.
"Is your property a ranch home whose customized marketing plan should be geared to an empty nester? Or is it an uptown town house that should be marketed to young, single professionals?" Ms. Sadler asks.
Don't just ask the agent for a marketing plan. Make clear that you'll hold that agent responsible for following through with the plan.
Mr. Miller, the author, suggests that you ask the agent to attach a detailed marketing plan to your listing agreement and that you tell him the agreement is contingent on fulfillment of the plan. A hard-working agent who means what he says won't be bothered by this condition, Mr. Miller insists.
"This is the agent who gets up each morning and says he'll do everything possible to sell that property," he says.
For those searching for an active agent, real estate specialists offer these pointers:
* Check the agent's recent track record.
"There's an old saying in real estate that some agents are 'listing agents' and other agents are 'selling agents,' " Mr. Irwin says. He explains that some agents are very adept at attracting new listings but actually do very little to promote any given listing. Instead, they rely on a numbers game -- making the assumption that at least some of the many properties they list will sell.
"These 'numbers agents' list your property and then you never hear from them again," Mr. Irwin says. "That's not what you want. You want someone who is out actively publicizing your property like a press agent."
To determine whether a successful agent will actually do the most for your home, Mr. Irwin suggests that you ask for a numerical breakdown of the agent's track record for the prior month. How many homes did he list and how many actually sold?
"Quite frankly, if an agent can sell one or two listings a month, they're doing pretty good," Mr. Irwin says.
* Ask for references on the agents.
Some people are so impressed with the initial presentation made by an agent that they believe it's unnecessary to go beyond the obvious and ask for references.
But the reality, says Mr. Irwin, is that the skills involved in making a smooth listing presentation and the skills involved in doggedly promoting a home can be quite different.
"What it all boils down to, in the end, is servicing," he says.
To find out what sort of service a prospective agent has offered to his past sellers, request a list of recent clients, Mr. Miller recommends.
"Ask a past seller such questions as these. 'How did the agent behave on your behalf? Did he represent your interests properly? Did he do what he said he would? Did he assist the buyer with information? Did he follow up with things that proved necessary for closing?' "
* Consider an agent for whom real estate is a livelihood, rather than a sideline.
Although the point is controversial, some real estate specialists believe that agents who have another source of income, such as a comfortable pension, may prove less aggressive than those with an essential need for the commissions that come from a sale.
"What you want is someone who is hungry. If they don't make it in real estate, they're not going to eat," Mr. Irwin argues.
* Select an agent with whom you find it pleasant to deal.
Chances are that an agent who relates well to you will also have the people skills necessary to market your home effectively. Anyway, as Mr. Miller points out, a pleasant agent will help you work your way through the arduous selling process more comfortably. "Selling a home is a very difficult, emotional experience and it's just easier if you have an agent you like," he says.