Dear Ms. Lank: I am taking your advice to interview three agents before picking one to sell my home. Do you have advice about how to judge them when they get here? — F. I.
Answer: Those initial interviews will cost you nothing, and you won't be obligated in any way. Even if you like the first one who calls, keep all three appointments before making your choice. There's lots to learn along the way.
The listing is an employment contract where you agree to pay a commission to the broker's company for securing a purchaser who is ready, willing and able to pay the price and accept the terms you've specified. In most cases, your contract is made with the brokerage, not with the individual agent sitting in your living room.
No Simple Answer
There's no simple answer about whether you'll do better choosing a man or a woman, agent or broker, young or old, small firm or large, independent office or national franchise.
In the end, nothing matters as much as the particular individual you choose. A beginning agent, if properly supervised, could be enthusiastic about the job. On the other hand, you may prefer an experienced broker with a track record.
If a multiple listing service is available in your area, choose a company that participates so that other firms can bring their buyers to view your property.
One first test is how easy and prompt it is to contact the agents, because you want someone who will be responsive to potential buyers. Next, you can expect them to have done some preparation. They may know your property tax figures, lot size or even what you paid for the property. They should bring data on recent nearby sales — and if they've had listings and sales in the neighborhood, you'll certainly hear about those also.
A good agent cares about your situation. Questions like "When do you need to move?" and "Where are you planning to go?" are not impertinent. Rather, they mark the kind of information gathering that makes a skilled agent. You want someone who will ask similar questions of prospective buyers.
If the agents do not volunteer information on previous dealings, ask. Also ask about their training and courses of study in real estate. You may eventually decide to go with a personable newcomer, but you should know how long your agent has been in the business and what kind of success has been achieved.
Real Estate Background
A beginning agent may have studied only the material required by the state for licensing. Top agents, though, are likely to attend seminars, real estate conventions or courses in topics like appraisal, finance or construction. It's acceptable to ask about the agents' background. Don't be surprised if it's in teaching — many experienced teachers enter real estate.
You might mention a ridiculously high asking price just to test the agents' reaction. They are in a delicate situation then. If they sound pessimistic, they run the risk of losing your listing. But they know that an overpriced listing receives little attention, wasting time and advertising. They should try, tactfully as possible, to talk you out of an unreasonably high asking price. And while hesitating to criticize your home, they could often make suggestions for enhancing its appeal. Be sure to ask for suggestions.
Beware of anyone who readily agrees to your ambitious price and promises a sale within a week. Houses are not supposed to sell that fast. But of course, you do want someone who is reasonably enthusiastic about your place.
Cross off your list anyone who tells you commission rates are set by law or by the local Association of Realtors. Commission rates are legally negotiable, though agreement from the supervising broker is required to change the firm's customary rates. Remember that you want a reward that will attract cooperating offices as well. It's perfectly acceptable to ask how commission would be shared if another firm were to produce the eventual buyer.
Neighborhood expertise is a plus. Stay alert for the agent who knows special programs at the nearby grade school or serves on the local Boy Scouts committee.
Hire an Attorney
Even if it isn't customary in your area, you are well-advised to have your own attorney right from the beginning. In some states, lawyers routinely handle real estate closings. Even in those areas where transfer of title will eventually be handled by a title company or escrow firm, it's prudent to retain one's own attorney.
It's an adventure. Now relax and enjoy the process!
Contact Edith Lank at www.askedith.com, at [email protected] or at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester NY 14620.