Choosing an agent to represent you in either the sale or purchase of a home (we’ll include condos in the generic term of home) is an important part, perhaps THE most important part, of beginning your quest to sell or buy a property. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly put too much emphasis on things that they only think are most important. Home improvement and real estate shows have put predictably edited-for television versions of the truth into our psyches, so we associate reality TV shows with actual reality. ( You are allowed to look at more than three homes). So if you don’t want to end up with this guy, read on.
If you read much of what agents use in their marketing, words such as ‘Integrity’, ‘Trust’, and ‘ Experience’ are used extensively. Those are all admirable qualities in people, but I would opine that saying you have integrity should be a given. “I drive on the right side of the road’ is a nice trait as well, but we all should do that. So then, what should the average person put on their list when searching for someone to represent them in a very major event in their life? Sometimes, those of us in the industry forget that most people don’t pay much attention to real estate until they need to. Sort of like when you get a new vehicle and suddenly you notice every other one that looks just like yours. Perhaps it’s easier to start with factors that you should not base your decision on:
Someone tells you that they have a buyer for your home. This probably one of the most misunderstood aspects of selling a home. The odds of this happening is incredibly small. Why? Well, you are counting on a buyer wanting your home, on your street, in that size and style, with your amenities and features, approved for the price you want, at the time you want to sell, who is ready to buy it at the price you want. It’s the proverbial needle in the haystack. That is not to say that we can’t find you the buyer once we begin marketing your property, but at that point we have started to filter out those who don’t meet some of the criteria I just referred to. Don’t believe it, its a bait and switch technique. Those ‘buyers’ somehow magically disappear after the contract gets signed.
Commission. Ah yes, the elephant in the interview room. Many new real estate agents are petrified of this question. By law, commissions are negotiable, but offices and agents can set their own fees and stick to them if they choose. My point on this topic is that you choose someone based on what their skills are, their reputation, and their plan to accomplish what you set out to do. Savings can be real, or they can disappear in the blink of an eye, when you consider that agents are paid anywhere from one to three percent (per side) of the total price of the property. With Calgary homes selling currently at around 97% of list price ( my average is over 98%), it’s a very small piece of the overall pie, and can get absorbed pretty quickly in the sale of a home that went for much less than you were assured you could get. Put that down the list, not at the top. (Also true for lawyers, plumbers, electricians, dentists….)
‘I see their open house signs all the time’. Let me just say that open houses are not a bad thing. They can be a useful tool for getting feedback from buyers. But to be honest, they are fishing tools for agents to gain new clients. This relates to our first topic, having a ready buyer. The odds of someone coming in and wanting that exact house for that price, etc, etc are very, very slim. We sit open houses as part of our overall exposure, but we don’t do them week after week, as that isn’t marketing, and many do it because all it costs them is time. ‘Hope and a prayer’ isn’t marketing. I have NEVER sold a listing off of an open house.
‘I get recipes and a free pumpkin every year’. Everyone loves soft, warm and fuzzy touches in their life. That has nothing to do with how knowledgeable or proven an agent is in your market. Like having integrity, being a nice person is a fine attribute, but that’s one item of a long list that should be important when you’ve finally sold your home or purchased your dream home. Ok, so what should you be looking for?
Rapport. Does the person you are considering share some of your values, seem to understand what you are trying to accomplish, and have some ideas that you hadn’t considered? Does he or she tell you the ABSOLUTE truth, or do they sugar coat things in order to get your approval. As I tell every client, the truth is always there. It just takes time for it to reveal itself, and you don’t want to choose someone based on what you want to hear. Good or bad, you need someone who will tell it like it is.
A Plan. If you’re selling your home, you need a comprehensive marketing plan. What does it include, how long does it last, who are they targeting? More than a sign and an MLS® posting, you need to be found by the most people that could be interested in your home. I tell my clients that I have one adage to marketing; ‘Tell everyone’. This comes under the category of getting what you pay for. Keep in mind, if you’re selling you don’t pay if you don’t sell. These are my costs. If you are on the buying side of the equation, the plan comes down to filtering your wish list to find the right home without seeing every listing. It also means being prepared financially and discussing term and conditions to make it the right one. Which brings us to…
Communication. Seems simple enough, but as we all know, common sense isn’t very common, and communication skills didn’t seem to stick to everyone after high school. It’s very important to stay in touch, in whatever manner is most useful to you, as I can stay in touch by email, text, phone, and of course, in person. What matters is that you are getting valuable information on what is happening, what is selling, new listings, your competitiveness (if you’re selling), and either a broad perspective or narrower focus on what will help us accomplish your goal. Understanding and managing expectations is a key element to our ongoing communication.
The Price. This one is for sellers, and it is the most important part in listing your home. I tell clients that this is 80% of our marketing. This is done with a comprehensive evaluation, not a dart board or rainbows and unicorns. We want a price that will draw buyers, based on the current market, so that we get you the highest price the market will bear. This is a topic for another day, but it is largely why my sales to listing price ratio is higher than average, and why my selling clients are pretty darn happy at the end. I can create fist fights in the driveway if we price a property too low, and you’ll sell fast, but it may not be what you wanted to accomplish. On the flip side, I’m not in the business of listing, but rather selling homes. Getting it right, (or making it right if the competition changes) is paramount to success.
The Devil is in the Details. Preparing a home for sale, ( I use professional home staging as part of my service) writing good ad copy to accentuate the selling features, professional photography, and making sure everyone living there is ready to be part of the ‘team’ when selling is vital to the final price and a successful sale. For buyers, that means knowing what you have to do to get out of where you currently live (notice to a landlord, selling your current property to align with a purchase), getting a pre-approval for a mortgage, and making a list of wants and needs so that you don’t become overwhelmed with viewing properties. My average number of homes shown before writing an offer is twelve, which comes from listening, filtering and suggesting options as we go.
Knowledge of a Geographic area. This one can be misleading, as many good agents don’t necessarily know much about a community. Not as big of a deal if you’re buying, but much more important when selling. The caveat here (for me anyway) is that I was born and raised in Calgary, so I have a pretty good idea of most communities. Someone who came to Calgary in the last three years and started in the industry may not have that same comfort or knowledge of every quadrant of the city. If they call themselves ‘area specialists’, they better know a lot about what makes a community tick, the school names, HOA fees, peculiarities of certain streets, etc. I once had to tell an agent that the offer he brought was way off, as he hadn’t factored in that his comparisons were for homes that didn’t include lake privileges. What you don’t know can hurt you.
I have to constantly remind myself that clients don’t know what they don’t know. It’s easy to assume that everyone knows how to sell or buy a home, but in almost every deal I handle a question that gives me pause, and I realize that I bring value to them by having answers to questions that I may have answered many times. it’s just new to them. If you focus on these factors, your experience in buying or selling should be much more positive. We do this every day. You shouldn’t have to know it all.