Hiring a Realtor to Sell Your Home: Who Has What it Takes?

Hiring a Realtor to sell your home and not sure where to start? First, congrats on any work you’ve already done to get to this point. Second, don’t take this decision lightly!

The truth is, you won’t have trouble finding someone willing to put for-sale sign in your yard with their branding on it. The real estate industry is oversaturated and, despite the profession’s tendency to attract part-timers and hobbyists, 75% of sellers aren’t willing to do much homework on this hire.

Instead, most sellers consult with a single agent and say “good enough,” so the outcome of their sale is left to chance. We’re here to help you navigate the hard part: how to tell if an agent will do your home justice. Will this person provide the level of service you need and deserve? No one wants to be stuck with poorly lit listing photos, terrible communication, and a house that sits on the market for six months. Follow this guide, and you won’t risk having those regrets.

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Do I have to pay a Realtor to sell my house?

Real estate agents get paid a commission when you sell your home, as a percent of the property’s sale price. According to HomeLight’s transaction data, the national average real estate agent commission is 5.8%. Over the past three years, commissions have averaged 5.47%. That commission covers the listing agent and buyer’s agent fees (it’s customary for the seller to pay both).

Is paying commission worth what an agent brings to the table? A little math can help us figure that out.

In 2019, agent-assisted sellers sold their homes for a median of $280,000, compared to $200,000 for FSBO sellers, according to data from the National Association of Realtors.

If you subtract the national average commission rate from the agent-assisted price, you get $263,760 ($280,000 – $16,240), still well above the FSBO seller’s bottom line.

Still, 6% of the sales price is significant, and not all agents are created equal. So, it’s critical to hire someone worth their salt.

Does it cost money to talk to a Realtor?

No, it does not cost money to talk to a Realtor. Real estate agents don’t get paid until your home closes. You can interview real estate agents and they will not charge you anything for it. They know that this will be part of their business generating process, and that some clients will end up hiring them, and others won’t. A Realtor will likely even walk through a home with you and provide you with a recommended price as part of their listing presentation (aka sales pitch) to you.

Once you decide to hire an agent, you’ll receive paperwork and likely sign a listing agreement. Most listing agreements are the “exclusive right to sell” kind — meaning that for a designated period of time (usually 2-6 months) this agent will receive the agreed-upon commission if and when the home sells.

Should I interview real estate agents?

Absolutely. Interviewing real estate agents is a great idea and an important step in your ultimate goal of hiring one.

“I would interview at least two to three agents and really talk about your needs,” says Kim Daneault, a top-selling agent in Manchester, New Hampshire. “You’ve got to feel good with this person. You want to be able to laugh and cry with them. You’ve got to feel that you’re being heard.”

If you’re not outgoing by nature or just don’t have a lot of practice in this role, the idea of interviewing strangers can be a little intimidating. For that, HomeLight has a helpful guide on how to interview a Realtor in a brief 15-minute phone call.

When should I contact a Realtor to sell?

The ideal window for contacting an agent is around three months prior to selling, and no sooner than six months before you aim to list the property. By connecting with an agent early on, however, you can get professional input on which upgrades and repairs to invest in, and which ones to skip so you don’t waste time or money on unnecessary fixes.

For example, an agent might advise you to focus on curb appeal rather than updating the kitchen countertops, as buyers in the area will be likely to gut and remodel the whole kitchen anyway. It all depends on area trends, though, and how hot the market is.

A realtor and a home seller having a conversation about a home.
Source: (Christina @ wocintechchat.com / Unsplash)

11 signs you should hire that Realtor

OK, so now that you know the basics around real estate hiring norms, how can you tell whether someone is the right fit, and that they’re not going to disappoint you? Look for these 11 signs.

1. They get back to you right away.

“We can’t come to the phone right now. Please record your message and we’ll get back to you…” That’s the last thing you want to hear when you’re trying to accept an offer on your house, or chomping at the bit for a response on a counteroffer.

Phone, text, and email tag is never fun. That’s why “What’s your response time?” is one of the first questions you need to ask every agent you interview. You might just be surprised by the answers you get:

“My best attribute is my response time. I’m blessed with not needing a lot of sleep, so I’ll respond early in the morning and as late as 12 midnight,” says Daneault.

And don’t just settle for a vague window of “within 24-hours.” Dig into the details by asking:

  • Do you take client calls before 8:00 a.m. or after 8:00 p.m.?
  • What is your policy on taking calls when you’re with another client?
  • Do you have staff/assistants who will respond when you’re unavailable?
  • What is your response time policy during weekends/holidays?

And you should judge the agent’s communications with you prior to the hire as well. If an agent isn’t attentive before they even have your business, what are the odds they’re going to call you back when you’ve already signed the listing agreement?

2. They’ve got experience in your price point and property type.

The right agent with the right knowledge and experience can likely sell your house faster and for more money than the typical area agent. But what qualifies as the “right” experience?

Surprisingly, it’s not just about finding a Realtor who’s sold a ton of houses.

“It’s important to hire an agent experienced in selling within your home’s specific price point, property type, and location,” explains Daneault.

“That agent will know what buyers are looking for in homes like yours, and how fast homes are selling in your area. They’ll also know how best to show your home.”

It sounds so simple, but there is no better indicator of an agent’s ability to sell your home than the fact that they’ve sold someone else’s just like yours in your area. So ask prospective agents for these relevant stats:

  • How many homes have you sold in my price point within the past year?
  • How many of those homes were in my neighborhood?
  • How long were those homes on the market before they sold?

3. Their stats don’t lie.

Every agent who you interview is going to want the job of selling your home, so they’re going to highlight their most relevant sales — but don’t just take their word for it. It’s vital that you do your own research and check out their full stats history on sites like HomeLight’s agent directory.

You can check out a map of the agent’s transactions to see just how many homes they’ve sold in your specific area, and find all the data you need to see if their actual stats back up their claims. The main figures you need to look at are:

Average sale-to-list price ratio:
The sale-to-list price ratio tells you what percent of the asking price a home actually sells for. If a house is listed at $250,000, and sells at $230,000, the sale-to-list ratio would be 92%. 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.

Days on market:
An agent’s average days on market reflects how long it typically takes for their listings to attract an offer. Days on market tracks the time between when a house is listed and when it goes under contact with a buyer (the time from contract to close is not included). Most sellers would prefer a faster sale, so if an agent’s days on market is lower than the average for the area, that’s a good sign of their performance.

Total number of transactions:
You can look at how many homes an agent has sold in the past year, and also throughout the course of their career, as a basic indicator of general experience in the field.

Transaction volume:
An agent’s transaction volume refers to the total dollar amount of homes they sell in the calendar year. While useful in gauging an agent’s overall success, this metric can be a bit misleading. A high transaction volume does not necessarily indicate a high number of total sales, or sales that would be relevant for your needs.

For example, let’s say that during your interview, your agent shares two success stories of homes sold in your price point. Then you check their stats online and the list-to-sell ratio looks great, and their transaction volume is off the charts — they sold $10 million last year!

Before you sign on the dotted line, take a closer look at those stats. Turns out that they’ve only had those two sales in your $250,000 neighborhood — their other sales are luxury properties going for $500,000 to $1.5 million.

That is one superstar agent…perfect for luxury homeowners. Your modest, midrange home sale is destined to be small-potatoes on the back burner for this Realtor. You need one who will treat your listing like a five-star, full course meal.

4. Their comparative market analysis (CMA) holds up to questioning.

Agents won’t just come to their interviews armed with their personal stats, they’ll bring a comparative market analysis (CMA) with them, too, and you need to go over that data with a fine tooth comb — because the CMA is the data your Realtor will use to set your list price.

A CMA is a compilation of comps (recently sold homes comparable in size and location) that’s analyzed to provide a value for your house that you’ll need to set the list price. That value is reached by looking at both the hard data (square footage, lot size, number of rooms, etc.) and more nuanced factors (upgrades, appliance age, curb appeal, lot positioning etc.).

It’s the art of putting a value on those intangibles that requires the expertise of an experienced agent. You can tell if your agent has what it takes by asking:

  • How did you arrive at the suggested list price for my house?
  • What are the differences between my property and the comps that impact its value?
  • What features, upgrades, assets, and flaws did you consider when calculating my home’s value?
  • How does my neighborhood impact my home’s value?

“When I help my sellers set the right list price for their home, I look at the value much like a bank appraiser would — because in the end it’s not about how much a buyer is willing to pay, it’s about how much a bank will lend on the house,” says Daneault.

5. In the initial walkthrough, they rattle off recommendations.

One thing to remember when you’re listening to the rundown of your home’s value is that the suggested list price isn’t set in stone. And the right agent will rattle off a list of recommendations on their initial walkthrough to potentially increase that number.

The right agent won’t just give you a to-do list designed to put your home back into “brand new” condition. Instead, with the right experience and knowledge, an agent can transform your home’s flaws and awkward areas into assets.

They’ll also help you maximize value by advising on where to spend and also where not to spend on renovations. For example:

DON’T: Drop big bucks on a full kitchen renovation

DO: Make cosmetic improvements like replacing cabinet pulls, faucets, and light fixtures

DON’T: Refinish the basement, attic, or add a bonus room

DO: Repaint and install new flooring throughout the house

DON’T: Replace an old, but functioning HVAC

DO: Install a new, smart thermostat

DON’T: Completely renovate the bathrooms

DO: Replace the faucets, towel bars, mirrors, and outdated sink/vanity

Keep in mind that this do/don’t list may not necessarily be right for your house. It all depends on what buyers are looking for in your area, and how your home’s condition stacks up against your competition.

That’s where the right agent’s knowledge and experience can assist in picking projects that’ll help your house sell without breaking the bank.

6. Their local connections run deep.

If you’re going to get your home ready to list on a tight timeline you’ll need a great crew — and the right agent can help you with that, too.

Every great agent maintains a network of qualified contractors and other home repair experts who know how to meet a deadline and a budget.

That’s why you should ask ask all prospective agents how many of these home prep experts they have in their network:

  • Home stagers (either in-office or who they partner with locally)
  • General contractors
  • Landscapers
  • Interior/exterior house painters
  • Electricians
  • Plumbers

Also ask for ballpark figures for all the repairs and upgrades you’re considering making, and how much room these contractors have available to fit your projects in.

7. Their marketing expertise shines through.

“Evaluating an agent’s marketing plan is super important, because you don’t want to hire one who’ll just slap it in the MLS and that’s it,” advises Daneault.

But how do you tell if an agent’s marketing plan is up to snuff?

Start by looking at the days on market for their listings — as well as some of their competition. If your prospective agent’s listings sit on the market for 60+ days, yet competing houses sell in a week or two — that agent probably has no marketing game.

The right agent for you needs to have solid answers to marketing questions like these:

  • What is your outreach plan to attract buyers? Does it include: Mailers? Open houses? Online listings beyond the MLS? Social media?
  • How important are the listing photos? Do you provide professional photography?
  • What is your marketing budget for my house?
  • How will you adjust your marketing plan if we don’t get any showings?
A coffee shop near a home for sale.
Source: (Nafinia Putra / Unsplash)

8. In chatting about the neighborhood, you’re surprised by how much they know.

Homebuyers aren’t just evaluating how your house will fit their needs, they’re sizing up your neighborhood, too. That’s why you need an agent who knows your neck of the woods like the back of their hand.

While you’re peppering prospective agents with questions on how they’ll market your house, slip in a few questions that’ll show how well they know your neighborhood. Ask them on how they would respond to potential buyers asking about:

  • The best local coffee shops and restaurants
  • Location and quality of nearby schools
  • Traffic patterns and drive time to business areas or local attractions
  • Recommendations for walking trails, dog parks, bike paths, and playgrounds
  • Basic crime and safety statistics

9. Their selling style matches your preferences and needs.

All the experience in the world selling in your neighborhood and price point doesn’t  make an agent a good match for you — especially if they have a personality type and selling style that rubs you the wrong way.

“It’s all about establishing a comfort level to determine if an agent is a good match for you. And the best agents know how to read what that seller is looking for in an agent,” says Daneault.

“I can be very funny and happy, but I can also be a very serious agent. If I see that a client needs to see my serious side, that’s what I give them — and I keep that mindset and communication style throughout the entire relationship.”

Selling a house is stressful enough without having to deal with an agent who gets on your nerves. But how can you tell if that’s going to be the case from one interview when they’re sure to be on their best behavior?

Start by evaluating how you like to be sold to — that’ll tell you a lot about the personality you want in the agent who’ll be selling for you:

  • Experienced and larger than life: Superstars with name recognition and faces plastered on bus benches. You’ll feel like a member of their entourage, but their star status will draw in the buyers.
  • Low key and scrappy: Laidback, roll-with-the-punches type agents won’t put the pressure on, but they’ll pitch in wherever needed, even packing or cleaning. Perfect for the overwhelmed seller.
  • Serene and serious: Walking dictionaries of the real estate game, these info-ready Realtors keep calm and carry on no matter what happens. The ideal agent for Type A sellers.
  • Step-by-step hand holder: These patient, nurturing agents know how scary it is to sell a house. They’ll walk you through the whole process as often as you need, and happily calm all your fears. The nervous-nelly seller’s dream agent.

10. It’s easy to talk to this person from the start.

No matter how fast you get your house sold, you’ll be working side-by-side with your real estate agent for at least a few months. You’ll have tons of questions and concerns you’ll need to talk over — so you need to pick an agent that you can really talk to.

“Communication is the biggest and most important part of the relationship between a realtor and the seller,” says Daneault.

“Even if you’ve worked with an agent as a buyer, if you’ve never sold a house before, this will be your first time learning how to prep a house to sell. So you need an agent that you’re comfortable with who can explain what the process looks like.”

And it’s not just the ins-and-outs of the home sale process that you’ll lean on your agent for. At the end of the day, an agent isn’t just a random body selling your house, hired solely for their real estate expertise.

No, a great Realtor wears many hats for their clients, including a counselor, a confidante, and sometimes even a shoulder to cry on.

11. They have a history of going above and beyond.

If you were to call your Realtor’s past clients, would they say that the agent did a great job? Or would they say, “This Realtor went above and beyond to get my home sold.”

When it comes to great agents, there are the helpful and then there’s worth your weight in gold, like this one who sold their client’s house while they toured the country in an RV.

Every agent will gladly sing their own praises when asked, but how do you tell which ones will go above and beyond? You’ve got two places to turn: online reviews and personal referrals.

You’ll already be combing your prospective agents’ profiles for their stats, but while you’re at it, run through their online reviews for little nuggets that demonstrate a willingness to go the extra mile for their clients.

At the interview, ask each agent to provide a short list of satisfied clients that you can call or message to get a first-hand account of just how helpful the Realtor was throughout the entire home selling process.

A phone used to hire a realtor to sell your home.
Source: (Clique Images / Unsplash)

Reclaim your right to say ‘No thanks’

Saying “thanks, but no thanks” to a Realtor who put time and effort into creating a CMA, touring your home, and sitting for an interview is never comfortable.

But a little discomfort is worth it to find the right agent who will help you sell your most valuable asset for the best price. Don’t worry, they’ll understand.

“A seller has a lot to consider when choosing an agent to sell their house. This is a big decision and we understand that it’s not personal when a client decides to go with another agent. It just wasn’t a match,” says Daneault.

So feel free to take this knowledge that’ll give you the inside track on finding your perfect agent.

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