There are all kinds of ways to choose a real estate agent to sell your house. You may use your brother-in-law, for example, or take a recommendation from a co-worker. But according to an informal survey of agents from across the country, there are plenty of things you shouldn't consider.
The aforementioned relative is one. "I'm sorry, but you just can't mix business and family," said Liane Jamason of Smith & Associates Real Estate in Tampa, Fla.
Don't go with an agent just because he or she has the most listings or the most signs up in the neighborhood, say some of the realty pros. Those agents are probably overextended. If they have lots of listings, said Karen Netterstrom-Dooley of RE/MAX Elite in Melbourne, Fla., "they are not going to give you much attention."
Somewhat surprisingly, the agents who answered the question, "What one attribute would you look for if you were hiring an agent to sell your house?" tend not to think too much of professional designations, the agent's brand or whether he is part of a team.
While the letters behind a name signal a certain degree of professionalism and extra education, many agents said they meant little. "Designations mean nothing to me. I have worked with agents who have their walls lined with them and they are lost," said Kenneth Nance of Only Way Realty in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Some respondents believe being affiliated with a large, well-known brokerage is an advantage. But Bev Hourlier of HC Realty Services in San Diego said it doesn't guarantee the agent is any better qualified or trained than an agent from a smaller firm.
Respondents had plenty of comments about the attributes that indicate a standout agent. Here are the ones that seemed to rise to the top:
-- Fit. Agents used all kids of terms to indicate how you "click" with an agent, including philosophy, presence, personality, integrity and trust.
"Chemistry," said Allan Glass of ASG Real Estate in Los Angeles. "Clients who don't establish a personal connection with their agent or broker will put themselves at a disadvantage."
Emily Morrison Griffin of John L. Scott Real Estate in Seattle agreed. "There has to be that special spark that makes you and your Realtor a great team."
"All other characteristics are secondary ... to the ability to trust your agent," said Lou Sansevero of the RE/MAX Alliance Group in Sarasota, Fla.
-- Referrals. Referrals are "golden," advised Joshua Hanoud of Tropic Shores Realty in Spring Hill, Fla. Without them, "you don't know you've gotten a bad apple until you are too far into the process to make a change easily," he said. "As a result, going into the game with someone who has a strong recommendation from a friend or relative can make a huge difference."
Beware, though, warned Paul Howard of NJHomeBuyer.com Realty in Cherry Hill, N.J. "Recommendations are based on the outcome of a particular transaction that may have been uneventful and may have little relevance to a future transaction that may have obstacles the agent has to help the consumer navigate."
-- References. Cindy Greenwald of Prudential California Realty in La Jolla wants to see the agent's current list -- not more than 90 days old -- of clients. Brenda Cunningham of West USA Realty in Mesa, Ariz., looks for someone who has used the agent for more than one transaction. Kimberly Tapscott of Keller Williams Prestige Properties in Stamford, Conn., said the agent should bring the names of at least three past clients that you can call on the spot.
-- Experience. There's nothing like a proven track record, said Sandra Geary of RE/MAX Pros in Rohnert Park, Calif. "While experience is no guarantee of skill, real estate, like many other professions, is mostly learned on the job," said Rae Catanese of Prudential Tropical Realty in Tampa.
-- Sales volume. Isabel Williams of Keller Williams Luxury Homes in Jupiter, Fla., said it's better to work with an agent who's closing 40 deals a year than the industry average of four.
Kirstin Willingham of Bergman Beach Properties in Marina del Rey, Calif., pointed out that recent sales volume is most important because today's market is far different from just a few months ago. And Harold Huggins of Harold H. Huggins Realty in Burtonsville, Md., suggested looking at sales similar to yours.
-- Other statistics. A key ratio for Robert Kelly of RE/MAX Main St. Realty in Moorestown, N.J., is the selling price of recent transactions in comparison to the listing price. An agent who is getting 95-plus percent of the asking price is doing a great job, he says.
Another important number is average days on the market. "An agent whose days-on-market average is 35 or less also is doing a great job," Kelly says.
It's not a good sign if the agent does not provide these key statistics at the first interview, according to Jamason, the Tampa agent. If they don't know their list-to-sale ratio, it's an even worse sign, she said.
-- Technology. Because nearly eight out of 10 buyers start their home searches online, today's marketing is more than just sticking a sign in the front yard. Technology is essential for word-of-mouth advertising and viral media campaigns, said Florida agent Catanese. Can your agent prepare a YouTube video? Can he or she respond in an instant?
Check the agent's online presence, advised Ines Hegedus-Garcia of Majestic Properties in Miami. An agent who knows how to market himself should also be able to market properties, she said.
"The agent who walks into my home should at the very least have a tablet and know how to use it, and show me examples of his listings' social media footprints," said Tapscott in Connecticut.
-- Photography. Pictures are "the language of real estate, yet most agents' look like they were taking pictures while drunk with a cellphone," said Hanoud in Florida. "The level of detail needed for good photography is usually indicative of an agent's attention to detail throughout the process."
Ken Pozek of Keller Williams Realty in Novi, Mich., said good photos can result in a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in showings.
-- Listening skills. "I want (agents) to answer my questions clearly and be able to explain the process of buying and selling," said Teri Andrews-Murch of Lyon Real Estate in Auburn Calif.
Asked Barry Sulpor of Shorewood Realtors in Manhattan Beach, Calif.: "Do you get a strong feeling that this is an agent who will listen to your needs?"
So listen up and follow the advice of these experts to find an agent who's just right for you.