You’re standing at an open house. In the back of your mind, you also know you have a home to sell. Suddenly you’re bombarded by a pushy sales pitch and uncomfortable questions about your moving plans. You think to yourself: This is why many people dread finding a listing agent.
And you wouldn’t be wrong. The quest to find the right listing agent can be fraught with stress and pressure. However, have faith — there are some amazing agents out there who will help you maximize value and navigate selling obstacles. Research from HomeLight shows that the best agents are worth their salt, helping to sell homes for as much as 10% more than the average agent.
What’s more, improvements like client reviews on the web and public sales histories have made it a whole lot easier to find the gems. So, skip the open house hopping, put on your research cap, and follow these tips on how to find a listing agent who you can be sure checks all your boxes.
1. Focus on the agent, not the brokerage
Do you see a ton of Coldwell Banker, Keller Williams, or RE/MAX signs in your neighborhood? Some real estate franchisors may have more prominent branding in your city than others, making you inclined to trust a certain office simply because you’re more familiar with the name.
While certain brokerages do offer better training and tools to their agents, it doesn’t always translate directly as a better listing experience because real estate agents are independent contractors, not employees. So, the quality of the service you receive is going to depend more on the individual agent. Focus on what the agent brings to the table, rather than which office they’re part of, as you make your decision.
2. Watch out for all sizzle, no steak sales pitch
Some agents will appear engaged and enthusiastic to help you, until you sign the listing agreement. Then they become mysteriously difficult to get a hold of. Others might communicate well but let you down when it comes to market knowledge or business acumen, leaving you with a lot of “what ifs” after a rocky sale.
Once you sign the listing agreement, you’re usually giving the agent the exclusive right to sell your home for the next two to six months. That makes it difficult, legally, to fire this agent and get a new one, which can really set you back.
So avoid signing with an agent on the spot. Instead, listen to their pitch and let them offer you their information. This gives you a chance to do your homework. You can always get back in touch after you’ve done more research.
3. You’re hiring for a job — so call references
This tip comes from John Kriza, a top-selling Chester County, Pennsylvania real estate agent with two decades of experience selling homes: “Anybody can say anything about themselves they want when they’re sitting across the table from you,” Kriza warns. “But having past clients who are willing to go on the record and vouch for you is important.”
Kriza comes to seller consultations with a list of references on hand and encourages potential clients to contact them. Having that list signals that an agent is on good terms with old clients. Plus, speaking with these people who’ve worked with an agent firsthand can give you a more candid idea of what the agent’s work style is like and if it lines up with your preferences.
4. Look at an agent’s stats like an athlete’s box score
Numbers don’t lie. Athletes, for example, are measured by what’s called a “box score,” which aggregates performance indicators like their field goal or free-throw percentages.
What you may not realize is that real estate agents have “stats,” too — such as percent of listings sold, average days on market, and number of five star reviews. Yet these key performance indicators are often overlooked by their clients.
Here are some of the stats that would make up your agent’s “box score” so to speak:
Years of experience:
Finance and real estate expert Dave Ramsey recommends working with a listing agent who has no less than two years of full-time experience selling homes. That way, they know the ins and outs of the process, including forms to file, deadlines to meet, and contacts in the area. However, there are exceptions to this if you like what you see from a smart and driven agent who’s newer to the business.
Average days on market:
Compare an agent’s average days on market (DOM) with the average DOM of your market. If an agent sells homes faster than the area average, they know how to price and market homes and keep them from going stale on the market. Keep an eye out for HomeLight’s “Sells Homes Fast” badge, which is awarded to the top 5% of agents based on average DOM for seller transactions.
Transactions per year:
If an agent sells fewer than four homes in a year, they’re likely a hobbyist or part-timer who helps friends and family on the side. A dozen or two sales per year is probably indicative that an agent is more established and has consistent clients. Agents with 50 to 100 plus sales most likely have help in the form of transaction coordinators or a team working below them. In this case, it’s helpful to find out how involved the listing agent is with each of their individual clients, or if you’d primarily be working with someone else on their team.
Homes sold in your area:
When you go through HomeLight to meet your real estate agent, you’ll be able to see their number of transactions isolated by year. In addition, our transaction heat map drills down into the number of transactions at the neighborhood level. To get even more granular, you can do a search for your location using the “Transactions Near You” feature.
An agent who regularly sells homes just down the street from yours could have valuable insight into your specific market. They’ll also be advocates and experts for the area, highlighting perks like nearby shops, parks, and restaurants.
Average over asking price or sale-to-list ratio:
The sale-to-list price ratio is a number assigned to a transaction telling you what percent of the asking price a home actually sells for. If a house is listed at $325,000, and sells at $318,000, the sale-to-list ratio would be 98%. If a house sells over asking, the sale-to-list ratio will be over 100%.
An agent’s average sale-to-list ratio indicates how accurate they are at pricing homes, and how much of a seller’s list price they’re likely able to deliver. The higher their average sale-to-list price ratio for sell-side transactions, the better their track record.
5. Prioritize experience tailored to your home sale
In your search for a listing agent, you’ll likely find several qualified agents with a history of selling homes successfully. That’s a good start. To narrow down your pool further, you should look at the following factors to determine how relevant their experience is to you. Check to see if their previous sales look familiar when it comes to:
- Price point: An agent with million-dollar listings may be impressive, but they likely won’t be passionate about pricing and marketing your $350,000 home.
- Location: When an agent has sold homes on your street or within your neighborhood, they’re better equipped to market not only the home but the benefits of the surrounding area.
- Property type. Make sure the listing agent has expertise in selling your type of property. If you want to list a condo, don’t work with an agent who solely sells single-family homes and won’t understand how to navigate your bylaws and HOA fees.
6. Get the agent talking about your home and market
Your home is going to be the biggest topic of discussion between you and your listing agent. So use your home early on in the process as a way to gauge a real estate agent’s skills and acumen.
Use the CMA to get a sense of their knowledge
For one, the listing agent should provide you with a comparative market analysis (CMA). The CMA pulls together pricing information and property details on recently sold homes like yours called “comps” to come up with a pricing strategy. The CMA should be provided free of charge and give you a chance to ask questions like: What do you believe my property is worth? How did you come up with that conclusion?
At this point, a good listing agent will be able to walk you through their thinking as far as what price range your home falls in, what they would list your home for (high end or low end of the price range), and why. Their answer should indicate whether they’re able to speak intelligently to the market as a whole, the nuances of your neighborhood, and what they’re seeing in the comps.
Listen for specifics and honesty
A good listing agent should be getting as granular about the types of buyers your home is likely to attract and how it measures up to your neighbors — i.e., “You have a beautiful sunroom which is unique and adds value, but I had to account for a $20,000-$35,000 price discount for your lack of cosmetic upgrades.” An agent who sugar coats or glosses over your home’s flaws is probably just trying to win your business, and will likely flip the switch once you’ve signed the agreement.
7. Investigate their social media presence
To avoid hiring an agent with the old, outdated “Post and Pray” marketing mentality, you’ll want to scope out how they’ve promoted their listings in the past and whether they have a robust social media presence. When they get a new listing, do they put it on Facebook or Instagram? How much engagement do those posts get? Do the photos they’re posting look professional and like real estate “eye candy?” Would your home get the same treatment?
This type of research will give you a sense of an agent’s general digital savviness, the strength of their social media following, and whether you can trust that they’ll take advantage of all the modern tools available to market your property.
8. Give points for digital offerings like virtual tours
You should also find out how far your agent has leaned into digital offerings. Virtual tours may have boomed in the past year in response to the pandemic, but the technology is here to stay. See if your agent has embraced any of the following tools or practices for making the transaction more efficient and safe:
HomeLight identifies agents who are helping clients buy and sell safely during COVID-19 by giving them a Move Safe Certified badge.
9. Pick the listing agent with a ‘no job too small’ mentality
Traits like flexibility, responsiveness, and humility in an agent could actually be a better indicator of whether you’ll have a great home-selling experience than their level of monetary success.
If an agent doesn’t appear too smug to take care of the little tasks like flipping on the light switches between showings, running out to Home Depot to get wall spackle in an emergency, or answering the smallest question to put your mind at ease, then it’s probably a sign that they’re going to treat this sale — and your home — with dedication, care, and attention to detail.
An example is the case of sellers in Columbia, Mo. whose agent sold their house while they traveled the country in an RV. That level of service exists. You can inquire about how hands-on an agent is when you do your reference calls, or ask your listing agent straight up how involved they tend to be in efforts like home prep, staging, and showing the home.
The best listing agent vs. the best listing agent for you
We won’t sugar coat it: The real estate industry is a mixed bag with lots of people claiming to “do real estate” when they only sell a handful of homes per year. The challenge of finding a great listing agent is actually why we started HomeLight back in 2012.
Now, after nearly 10 years of working with people selling their home and matching them with superior listing agents in their area, we’ve just dished on some of the main clues and signs we’ve seen at HomeLight over the years that an agent is (or isn’t) the right fit for you and your property.
Remember, when you hire a listing agent, you form a partnership. Who do you want in your corner during the stressful moments? Who do you get the sense will make you feel like their only client? Who can speak about your home and location most authentically? These are the questions that will guide you toward the right person. Whenever you’re ready to start your search, HomeLight is here to help introduce you to some fantastic candidates.
Header Image Source: (Matthew Henry / Burst)