How to Work With a Real Estate Agent: Here Are 7 Things They Wish You’d Do

As a homebuyer, you’ve meditated on the qualities of your ideal real estate agent. Honest, savvy and communicative. Likes: long walks on beach-front properties. Dislikes: receiving low offers.

You know the characteristics you want and need in an agent. But have you thought about what an agent wants and needs from you?

During the process of selling a home, your agent plays the role of captain. Unfortunately, you are not the passenger. You can’t simply sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. You are the crew, the cargo and the financier. You have responsibilities, and your actions — or lack thereof — make a difference in the outcome of the sale.

To help you be the best home seller you can be, we’ve compiled these seven rules for how to work with a real estate agent. These are the things your agent secretly (or not-so secretly) wishes you would do to help maximize their efforts and make the process smooth sailing.

Yes, we are still milking that boating metaphor.

Just by listening, trusting, communicating and sniffing — yes, we said sniffing — these rules will help your home sell quickly, easily and for the right price. Your agent will thank you. Possibly with flowers.

Want to know how to work with a real estate agent? Don't let pricing be a battle.
Source: (Derek Gavey / flickr, via Creative Commons)

1. Pick Your Battles. Price Shouldn’t Be One of Them.

The biggest aggravation for listing agents isn’t your constant questions or your after-hours phone calls. It’s the fact that home-sellers rarely agree with their agent’s listing price.

“Most times, it’s a battle,” says Alexander Boylan, a Realtor with Edina Realty in the Minneapolis area. Boylan is ranked in the top 1 percent for homes sold in Minneapolis. “It’s very rare that a seller agrees with your price. They want more than it’s worth. That’s usually because either it’s their emotions tied to the house or they need so much money out of their house.”

What’s the problem with a seller placing a high price tag on their lovely abode? As your agent will tell you: If a home is priced too high, it won’t sell. Even if you lower the price of the listing later, buyers begin to think there is something wrong with the house.

“A lot of people think their house is worth more than it is, so maybe (the agent) will increase the price to make them happy,” Boylan says. “… Unfortunately, two months later they say, ‘Oh we should do all those things to get the house to sell.’”

There’s research to back this up. A study in Real Estate Economics asserts that, “Mispricing the home in the initial listing is costly to the seller in both time and money. Homes with large percentage changes in list price take longer to sell and ultimately sell at lower prices.”

“When the seller prices right and does everything you tell them to do to get it ready, the home sells quicker and for more money,” Boylan says. “That’s your dream seller.”

The goal is for the price to be compelling: not too low and not too high. It’s got to be just right. The Goldilocks price is often oh-so slightly below market value to entice multiple offers. According to the National Association of Realtors, pricing a home 10 percent under market value can attract 75 percent of available buyers; when you price it at market value, it attracts 60 percent of potential buyers. But that can often depend on your area.

hot to work with a real estate agent
Source: (Sarah J / Pexels)

2. Consider Your Agent an Expert

A listing agent’s job is to help buyers emotionally connect with your home. It’s like turning a spark into a flame or a shared glance into a blossoming romance.

To create emotional connection, it’s all about the first impression.

While there isn’t a ton of research on the psychology of home-buying, the work of Professor Pascal Van Lieshout has shown that a first impression can have a strong emotional impact on the potential buyer.

His example: If a buyer sees something wrong with your home, this can be an emotional trigger, causing the buyer to become suspicious. They may begin searching for other flaws or inaccuracies. It may not turn them away completely, but it can impact the sales process. And it’s probably gonna be annoying.

Doing a walk through of your house — the aesthetic, the sounds, the smell (more on that later) — can influence a potential buyer’s subconsciousness. In fact, according to one Harvard Business School instructor, 95 percent of purchase decisions take place in the subconscious mind.

So while your price, your school district and your square-footage may get potential buyers in the door, the visual appeal of your home is what subconsciously motivates them to sign on the dotted line.

That may be news to you, but your agent knows the importance of your home’s appearance.

“Getting the home ready is really important,” Boylan says. “But most of the time, (sellers) don’t want to pay to get it ready. Or they bought new carpet 15 years ago and they think it’s still in good condition. They don’t want to spend their time or money.”

It’s a constant source of frustration for Boylan and other real estate agents. Clients are either blind to their home’s mismatched fixtures, outdated appliances and shabby curb appeal, or they simply don’t want to spend the money on these projects. Still, top agents like Boylan make sure their clients know what needs to be done.

“We take a walk through the home. I’ll talk about the things they need to do to get ready for market,” he says. “I list things that buyers will see, like changing things that are old and outdated. It’s different for each home.”

Make your home pretty and pristine. The paint should be new, the lighting should be updated and the hardware should be consistent. Your fixtures should match the style of your home. The heat should be just right, the lights should be on.

“You don’t want to give the (potential buyer) a reason to say, ‘What the heck?!’” Boylan says.

He often sees sellers listening to their family, friends and co-workers who are playing amateur interior designer. Did your Aunt Susan’s chiropractor say gray is really in? Did your doctor’s wife read an article about wallpaper making a comeback? You will hear no lack of suggestions.

But what you need is expertise.

“Listen to your Realtor. A good Realtor is educated enough to know what buyers want,” Boylan says. “They can make buyer’s emotionally connect with your home.”

Make sure you only use a home value estimator as a preliminary step before you meet with your real estate agent.
Source: (HomeLight, Home Value Estimator)

3. Be Careful What You Search For

About 90% of home buyers search online during the home-buying process, according to the National Association of Realtor’s Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers. Likewise, home sellers are digitally connected. Just like your doctor discourages you from diagnosing “that thing on your back” on WebMD, your listing agent likely will discourage you from obsessing over real estate sites and sites that estimate the value of your home.

Mostly because those sites’ estimates are often wrong.

Determining a listing price for your home is part art and part science, and an algorithm won’t be able to account for special features and unique characteristics (the gorgeous views or the pervasive hum of the freeway in your backyard). Just remember that your agent knows your community, knows what buyers are buying and knows how your home will fare within the marketplace.

google be careful what you search for
Source: (Edho Pratama / Unsplash)

4. Raise a (Simple) Stink

Over the years, your home has been filled with countless smells. The smell of charred ham from that one Christmas — you know the one. The smell of golden retriever. The smell of teenage boy.

But now that you want to sell your home, those smells all need to disappear.

That’s right, your agent may need to have the “I think you’re great but your house smells” conversation with you. That’s because smell matters.

Research out of Washington State University shows that there is a connection between smell and sales. According to WSU’s Eric Spangenberg, complex, strong smells can be distracting to a potential buyer. In fact, no smell is better than a complex smell.

That means the smell of last night’s Chinese food or even fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies may take the attention away from the house, which is where it should be.

However, in Spangenberg’s studies, sales increased by about 20 percent when there was a simple smell. That means lemon, vanilla or orange.

smell in the house
Source: (Immanuel Starshov / Unsplash)

5. Communicate Your Expectations

There are two types of sellers: Those who communicate and those who stew silently, pickling in their own bitterness about unfulfilled expectations.

Are you the kind of person who has a hard time verbalizing their needs?

If you want your agent to chauffeur you around á la Driving Miss Daisy, you should let them know. If you don’t understand the contracts and documents you are filling out, you should definitely let them know. If you don’t know how your agent is marketing your house or if your agent is qualifying potential buyers, ask.

Prefer text over phone? Only want to hear from your agent when there’s an offer?

Just speak up.

Your agent should give you a rundown on their processes, jargon, timelines and actions. However, make sure your Realtor knows what they need to do to make you happy, informed and satisfied.

“I tell them that I’m here for them,” Boylan says about working with his clients. “I tell them how I communicate. I tell them that they will hear from me every Friday. If they want to hear from me more than that, tell me. You tell me what you need as a seller. If you have questions, call me. Let’s have a conversation. I wait for clients to tell me what they need.”

communicate your expectations to your real estate agent
Source: (Martin Knize / Unsplash)

6. Realize Your Agent Is Not a Baller

You can envision your agent now: Cruising around town in a Tesla, lounging by their infinity pool, cooking dinner on their Carrara marble countertops, making it rain in da club.

It sounds like you’ve been watching too much Million Dollar Listing.

Chances are your agent isn’t rich. In fact, according to the National Association of Realtors 2016 Member Profile, the average gross member income was $39,200. Realtors with 16 years or more experience grossed around $73,000.

That puts most of them squarely in the middle class. Sorry, agents!

So you may be helping your real estate agent send their teenager to college or pay their car loan, but you are likely not buying them a Maserati or tennis court.

Why is this important?

Because how you view their compensation will likely impact how you treat them.

Plus, you are in charge of negotiating and paying their commission. That commission pays the seller’s agent and broker as well as the buyer’s agent and broker. Your agent’s portion of their commission goes toward marketing your home, agent fees, self-employment taxes, health insurance and benefits, 401ks and more.

Remember, you may be paying 6 percent, but that’s not what your agent is taking home. So play nice.

timeline expectations top real estate agent
Source: (Gades Photography / Unsplash)

7. Have a Reasonable Timeline

You’ve listened to your Realtor, you’ve priced your home competitively, you’ve purchased half a dozen overpriced vanilla-scented candles.

You have learned to be a communicative, trusting home seller.

And now that your home is on the market, the offers are coming in. You are now ready for this whole charade to be over with. You are ready to collect your money and move on to greener pastures (or a three-bedroom ranch with hardwood floors and golf course views).

Before you say good bye to your agent, realize you still have a long way to go. Selling a home takes time — not hours, not days, not weeks. Think in terms of months.

Even if your home is priced to sell, it can take weeks to find the right buyer, days to negotiate and a month or two to prepare for closing. There will be disclosures and inspections. There will be attorneys to deal with and documents to sign.

We know this bums you out. But good things will come to those who wait. Patience is a virtue. All idioms aside, it’s just how it is. The sooner you realize it, the easier it’s going to be on you and your agent.

Plan for a six-month process from your first Google search for “real estate agent” until closing. If it’s quicker, pop the Champagne and light up the vanilla candles.

Find a top agent in your area