What Is a Listing Agent and Do You Need One to Sell Your Home?

If you’ve never sold a home — or if it’s been a few years since you went through that process — the language of the real estate world might seem intimidating. Between acronyms such as MLS and terms like “broker” and “agent” that people use interchangeably, it’s enough to make you want to Google whatever you can before you put your house on the market.

Let’s lend a hand by defining a listing agent. When you’re selling your home, a listing agent is your main representative and contact. In fact, in 2019, 89% of sellers chose to use a listing agent, data from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) shows.

“A listing agent is somebody that exclusively represents the seller’s best interests. Their ultimate goal is to sell the seller’s home for the most money in the least amount of time,” says Tom Heuser, a top real estate agent in the Las Vegas, Nevada, area who sells homes 36% faster than the average agent there.

No wonder this person is a valuable guide. Here’s a more detailed look at what a listing agent does—and how one can help you sell your home for the best price.

A library where you can learn about listing agents.
Source: (Davide Cantelli / Unsplash)

How does a listing agent differ from a “selling agent”?

In real estate terms, a “selling agent” actually represents the buyer. That sounds confusing, right? Wouldn’t the selling agent represent the seller?

Although we conversationally refer to a “seller’s agent” as someone who represents the seller, the real estate world views a “selling agent” differently. A “selling agent” (sometimes called a “cooperating agent”) is any agent who sells a property, the NAR says. In a sense, the “selling” agent may not list the property but is helping the property sell by bringing a buyer to the table. The key is in the suffix: –er versus –ing.

Because they’re on the opposite side of a real estate transaction, selling agents have opposing goals — mainly, to help the buyer purchase home for the least amount of money and to negotiate so that the current owner or seller handles certain repairs, again saving the buyer money.

“It’s kind of weird verbiage,” Heuser admits. “Many articles and the Realtors’ board will reference the buyer’s agent as the selling agent because they are the ones representing the buyer and helping the property sell.” When in doubt, switch “selling agent” to “buyer’s agent” in your mind and that’ll help you keep track.

What does a listing agent do?

A listing agent does much more than just put a “For Sale” sign outside of your house. For one thing, a listing agent lists your home in the Multiple Listing Service, or MLS, a tool where real estate agents for buyers and sellers share information on available properties. That’s instant advertising, even without promoting the home on the agent’s website or through other online marketplaces.

A listing agent also:

Sets the asking price:

When you’ve lived in your home for even a short amount of time, you become emotionally attached. This can hinder you from gauging your property’s worth accurately. A listing agent knows the market conditions and researches homes that are comparable to yours in terms of size and other features to arrive at an asking price.

That price tends to be about 40% higher than homes sold without using an agent, in other words, those “For Sale By Owner” (FSBOs), NAR data shows. That’s more money in your bank account, even after an agent’s commission (more on that below)—and without doing that research and legwork yourself.

Advises you about repairs:

After your home inspection, a listing agent can help you sort through which repairs are required by the buyer’s lender, which are structural or safety issues that need to be addressed, and which are cosmetic and not necessary to close the deal, said Shane Neal, a veteran agent in the San Antonio, Texas, area, who sells 18% more homes there than the average agent.

Helps you stage your home:

Home staging, which pares down clutter and revamps rooms to show off their purpose and features, helps properties spend 86% less time on the market, according to the Real Estate Staging Association (RESA). One RESA study found that without home staging, properties spent an average of 107 days on market compared to those that were staged, which sold between 18 and 25 days. Much of this benefit shines through marketing, including online photos, videos, and 3-D virtual tours.

Markets your home:

Listing agents often arrange for professional photography of your home’s interior and exterior, videos, live walk-throughs, and 3-D virtual tours. Heuser says his office provides a landing page for each property they sell with such information.

“Buyers right now are demanding to have video. We have water running, a ceiling fan spinning, fireplaces going — it just really creates more of an ambiance. It makes buyers want to see the house.”

These marketing efforts can also help you as the seller cut back on needless showings. If [potential buyers] can do this virtual tour and see that they do not want the house, then we don’t need them to go through the house,” Heuser says. “If they’re like, ‘Wow, I think that this is a good fit for me,’ then when they actually go inside the house, that is a more legitimate showing.”

Negotiates on your behalf:

A real estate transaction has more moving parts than many of us realize. Beyond coordinating showings, an experienced listing agent helps you and the buyer arrive at a sales price, iron out any contingencies (such as a mandatory appraisal for financing), and navigate any problems with the title search, as well as the closing details. Those are all steps where you won’t want to feel like you’re in over your head.

A listing agent assisting a seller.
Source: (Windows / Unsplash)

What value does a listing agent offer versus selling your home yourself?

In addition to the responsibilities and offerings mentioned above, a listing agent is there to be a sounding board and confidante throughout your transaction. The listing agent will communicate with the buyer’s agent on your behalf, and provide guidance each step of the way. They will help you negotiate the best price and terms for your real estate contract, and provide insights into your local market.

Let’s say you receive an offer that’s $15,000 under the asking price. Your knee-jerk reaction could be to reject it outright and say, “Sorry, that’s too low.” An agent who is one step removed from your personal connection to the sale might be able to walk you through more viable options and considerations to keep in mind. They may point out that the buyer is well-qualified, or can offer you a flexible move-out date, or would be open to your counter offer. Now you’ve turned an emotional reaction to a low offer into an opportunity to hammer out an attractive deal.

How does someone become a listing agent?

Any real estate agent must be licensed, although the requirements vary by state. Regardless, their experience pays off: A top agent who puts in 60 hours or more a week earns a median of $100,000 a year, compared to those who work less than 20 hours a week and earn $8,930, according to one NAR survey.

While there’s no industry prerequisite or exam to separate listing agents from selling agents (a.k.a. buyer’s agents), real estate offices can set their own requirements. On Heuser’s team, agents must close a minimum of five transactions working with buyers before they’re allowed to work with sellers on the listing side. The team also has an administrative assistant who only works on listings because of the marketing and other skills required.

How does a listing agent get paid?

The listing agent and the buyer’s agent both are paid by commission, also called “cooperative compensation,” or “co-op” in agent terms. The national average real estate agent commission rate is 5.8% of the sales price, which is split between the agents facilitating the sale. (Curious about what the commissions are in your area? You can access local commissions data for your city with our handy Agent Commissions Calculator.)

Because each side takes half of the commission, the listing agent calculates both their commission and the buyer’s agent’s commission upfront in the asking price. A strong listing agent will find out what commission other sellers in the area are paying so that your listing is competitive with those; otherwise, a buyer’s agent might be tempted to show clients only the properties with higher commissions, even though guidelines such as the NAR’s Code of Ethics & Standards of Practice don’t allow this.

“Rules, laws, and ethics are different than what truly happens in the marketplace,” Heuser says. “You could really be doing your seller a disservice if you are a weak agent and you tell them to discount that commission, but the other sellers in the same area are offering higher commissions.”

A notebook used to write questions for listing agents.
Source: (Thomas Martinsen / Unsplash)

How to find a good listing agent

Whether you find a listing agent through HomeLight or another means, such as a friend or relative’s referral, you’ll want to ask certain questions:

  • How long have they worked as a listing agent? How long have they worked in your community?
  • How many properties do they list and sell on average monthly? In what price range? How long are they typically on the market?
  • Do they have photographers, a home stager, contractors, and other resources they use or can recommend?
  • What’s their marketing plan for your home?
  • Do they recommend any specific upgrades or repairs for your price range?

Many agents highlight a lot of this information on their websites, but don’t be swayed just by statistics. Focusing on your price point is crucial.

“You want to make sure that the agent works in your price range and the price point of what this home is going to be sold at. If an agent is used to selling $200,000 homes, their marketing and negotiation process is not going to be what it is to sell a $1.5 million home,” Heuser says.

It can be hard to think of a home where you’ve made so many memories as a product — but with a good listing agent in your corner, you don’t have to do that. Allow them to do that heavy lifting so that you can reap the rewards of a successful sale.

“If you go to any retail store out there, the packaging is one of the most critical things that get people to buy that product,” Heuser says. “When a seller’s house is going on the market, it is the listing agent’s job to help them understand how to properly package this product to market it the best and sell it for the most money.”

Header Image Source: (fizkes / Shutterstock)

Find a top agent in your area