Publication Date: Friday, October
A cut above
How does a seller choose an agent?
by Terry Tang
a homeowner, finding the perfect real estate agent can be as harrowing
as a parent searching for the perfect nanny. After all, each is
seeking someone to take care of a cherished and valuable possession.
And little mistakes could result in costly consequences.
For some, advertisements or referrals from friends are the
only background information necessary. But, whether it's one representative
or a whole team, the hired agent will be working closely with the
seller, dealing with everything from contracts to carpeting. So,
property sellers should contemplate doing their own research --
whether it's verifying references or spending time with the agent.
In fact, people may want to search for an ideal candidate the way
Donald Trump would and question an agent's past experiences and
When Martin Mazner decided to sell his Palo Alto home in January, he talked with
six agents recommended by others. He then narrowed the group down to three agents
and asked each one to write up a one-page marketing plan. Mazner wanted to know
what kind of advertising would be done, how they would handle open houses or
whether flyers would be used. Most importantly, he coveted a quick sale without
endless open house days.
"Of the final three, one of them did it and he did a very good job. He thought
it was perfectly logical," Mazner said. "Another one did it --
I don't want to say begrudgingly -- but he was not comfortable with the process.
third one thought I was ridiculous. He said 'This is who I am, take it or
it.' We decided to leave it."
For Joy Valentine of Coldwell Banker in Los Altos, an agent refusing to do that
seems atypical. Home sellers shouldn't be afraid to request something laid out
"Of all the characteristics I've seen in this industry, the greatest I've
seen is the enormous diversity and variety of agents -- in terms of their personalities,
what they're willing to provide," Valentine said. "I would
expect that most Realtors would be quite willing to do that."
Mazner, a high-tech entrepreneur with a background in marketing, said
conducting thorough interviews simply made sense. The entire process
be to the homeowner's advantage. He can see early on how organized
-- or mediocre -- an
agent can be. He also finds it helpful to drive through the neighborhood
to see if any Realtors handle a majority of the sales. An agent
who is familiar with
a seller's residential area will have a good idea of how to market
Besides trend awareness, an agent can never have too many safeguards
for clients. Sellers, said Bob Taylor of Palo Alto-based Taylor Properties,
would be wise
to invest in errors and omissions insurance, which will decrease their
liability for any mistakes or misrepresentations made by an agent.
should be able to provide clients other resources if complications
"A lot of what you want is to be able to have access," Taylor said. "If
a more complex transaction comes up, a good agent has access to
legal assistant and more advanced help in case you need it."
Sometimes personality trumps business skill. According to Bob "BC" Cross,
also with Coldwell Banker for the past three years, an agent-client
relationship will be a lot more productive if the two parties establish
"If you can talk to them about anything other than the real estate transaction
and find some common ground, you'll have a better chance of landing them as a
client," Cross said. "It has nothing to do with the level
of experience. It's more of a comfort level because you have to
working with. It's just a symbiotic thing that works."
Screening five or six prospective agents, however, isn't always crucial.
In Valentine's opinion, choosing the first agent one meets after careful
consideration is just
as safe and reasonable.
"I don't think there's any right or wrong way to do that," Valentine
said. "The person doing the interviewing knows what it is
that's important to them."
Another issue sellers should contemplate is the repercussions of pursuing
the best salesperson. Some people want seasoned real estate agents
who are in the
company's top tier. But, successful agents may end up assigning transactions
to assistants and only meet clients during the initial contract signing.
"It may be better to deal with someone new who has more time, more energy
and more interest," Valentine said. "The only way they're
going to find out is by talking to that person but be clear from
what's important to them."
A knack for multi-tasking is another quality sellers should focus on.
The paper trail that real estate agents amass per client has only increased
over the last
few years. Besides drafting contracts, they are expected to deal with
inspections, update multiple listings or set the stage for an open
house. Sometimes, agents
must accomplish all this while owners go on vacation or reside elsewhere.
With the Internet, agents do more advertising and business with out-of-state
buyers and sellers. More people look to Web sites before the local
paper. An ideal agent knows how to stay wired but without alienating
"If the client is Internet savvy, that's important. You can do so much through
e-mailing listings, contracts and closures to clients," Taylor said. "If
you have an older-fashioned type client, then an agent should be
able to do it both ways."
In the end, doing more investigation in deciding on the right agent
should help put the seller at ease in the long run. At least, that
was the case for Mazner.
He was impressed at how his agent managed the whole process in a well-conceived
manner. In March, the chosen agent conducted one open house a week
after listing his residence. Several offers and eight days later, they
closed on escrow.
"I didn't appreciate him as much as I did until I heard from some of the
other [agents]," Mazner said. "I liked his approach;
it made sense to me...it became very clear why he was the top 1
Although luck and timing play larger roles at times, people can limit
that by doing their homework and not choosing an agent on a whim.
"It's kind of a potluck approach," Taylor said. "You never know
what's going to happen. But, the more people can do in advance to get to know
the person ... sometimes even an agent referred by someone else who has used
that person may not be the right one for you."